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A good student on a bad path found new direction at TCC


May 15, 2014 — As a student, Marcus Baker earned A’s and B’s all his life, but he couldn’t stay out of trouble.


He was never violent, but the mischief that started in third grade escalated to suspensions in high school and a respect issue that led to dismissal from Chowan College.


Marcus Baker

On May 16, Baker will become a first-generation college graduate when he walks across the stage at the Old Dominion University Ted Constant Convocation Center. As the student speaker selected for the class of 2014, he will share his journey from the projects in Portsmouth to Norfolk State University as a Links scholar.


He will transfer there this fall after earning his associate of applied science in social science from TCC. He would like to mentor youth and ideally start a nonprofit that prepares middle schoolers for college.


“There’s nothing I can do to change the problems I created and the stress I put on my family and community,” he says. “The only way I can fix it without changing the past is to make a brighter future for somebody else.”

As hard as Baker’s parents tried to remove him from the rough element surrounding him, he couldn’t stay away. When he was 12, a good friend was killed coming home from a party. Instead of that making an impression, Baker continued a path of self-destruction that included an unsuccessful semester at Chowan and a stint in the military that was also short-lived.


“After that, I came home and went head first into the streets,” says Baker, who was unfazed by being hit in the shin by a stray bullet in 2007. “I’d always promise to do better, but there I was, out on the streets again, even on crutches.”


Meeting his current girlfriend, Chinita Booth, changed his direction. Booth had earned her bachelor’s at Norfolk State, and she didn’t just encourage Baker to start his education at TCC, she arranged it. She filled out the admissions application and turned in his paperwork for financial aid. He even recalls her dropping him off to take his placement tests.


“I did well; no remedial classes,” he recalls.

The academics didn’t prove difficult for Baker, who carried a 3.7 GPA in high school. But becoming immersed in TCC campus life nurtured him in a way life on the streets never did.


Baker worked with Upward Bound, a program that assisted low-income students with college preparation until it was discontinued. “I got off at 3 and I’d look up and it would be 5, and I would still be there,” he says. “I loved working with the kids.”


When the Portsmouth Campus launched the student ambassador program, Baker was among the first selected. In becoming an advocate for Student African American Brotherhood, he discovered the Student Government Association, where he served first as a senator and then president for the 2013-14 school year.


“At that point, my impact became real to me,” he says. “I went on Twitter and Instagram and deleted old pictures of myself. I realized I was representing the school, and people there had put their trust in me. I knew the impact I could have as a leader, and I didn’t want to lead people in the wrong direction.”

Marcus Baker

The important people in his life – his parents, Booth, his three children and stepson, his extended family and church family – will be listening to his words and celebrating with him.


“Education is the key,” he says. “If you want to come to TCC and change, there’s people here to help you. They always say, ‘From here, you can go anywhere.’ They should say, ‘Anybody can go anywhere from here.’ TCC is a place where they let me be me despite my mistakes. This school helped me grow as a man.”

With a TCC degree, he has designs on the future


May 14, 2014 — Matt Keane came to Tidewater Community College after a six-year stint as a Navy photographer, snapping images in dozens of countries and circling the globe. Twice.

After two years at TCC, he steps into a new career as an interior designer, fulfilling a lifelong dream. He will graduate May 16 with an associate of applied science in interior design.


“As a career switcher, I feel even more prepared to embrace this career and love every minute of it,” Keane says. “I enjoy helping people and believe through interior design, I can change and improve lives.”


He adds, “From the first day of class, we were treated like working professionals and given the opportunity to interact with those already in the field. We met paint people, carpet people, antique shop owners – you name it. Combine that with classroom lectures and projects, and we were quickly immersed in the field.”


While at TCC, Keane served as co-president of the student chapter of American Society of Interior Designers, working to provide fellow students with portfolio-building activities. During the past year, the group hosted a furniture auction for charity, creating pieces for home and office. The group also hosted a Pallet Challenge, encouraging budding designers to creating something new from discarded shipping pallets.

Matt Keane

“When I first started here, it felt kind of like we were competing with each other,” Keane says. “By working as a cohort, bringing creative minds together, we became a team and learned even more than we thought possible.”


TCC’s affordable tuition was attractive to him. “This program cost a fraction of what I’d have had to pay at another institution,” he says. “And the quality of the curriculum and the faculty, most of whom are working professionals, all add up to an amazing education.”


In the days ahead, Keane hopes to continue designing for his own clients, bringing his blend of spirituality and practicality to the table. “I believe design must embrace the essence of life and all areas from physical to spiritual to emotional,” he says.


“I love working with clients and matching their personalities to the design, but I’m also hoping to gain industry experience in a firm. Having the opportunity to work side-by-side with other professionals on time sensitive projects will certainly lend to my growth.”

Matt Keane

Keane regularly works pro bono, spending his time and resources to help those who have experienced a traumatic life event. “I live for the ‘reveal’ moment. It’s that point in time when you see if you created a space that matches the person’s desires and needs,” he says.


He continues to hone skills by participating in area design projects. He and his design partner, Julie Francis, recently placed second in a room competition for the Mid-Atlantic Home and Garden Show, held in April. In less than eight hours, the pair designed an “orange crush” game room with stunning orange and silver details.

Keane says class topics seemed to come at just the right time, paralleling projects underway. “Words of wisdom and industry tidbits, offered by faculty, those are the things that stay with you,” he says.


“Even though I’ve completed this phase of my education, I know I’ll be a lifelong learner, reading and experiencing design in many different ways.”


TCC helped human services graduate overcome long odds


May 14, 2014 — Dominique Horton was homeless in high school. And when she had a home, it was unstable, with an alcoholic mother who worked low-paying jobs and a father who wasn’t around.


Horton was often mother to her younger sister, trying hard to keep things together. At Maury High School, she began running with a rough crowd. At one point, she tried to end her own life.

Dominique Horton

She had her son, Masiyah, while still in high school. “It was tough being pregnant, having no job and hearing people say I was not going to make it,” Horton said. “But something changed for me then. I knew I had to make a way for myself and my baby, so I started thinking about things in a more positive way.”


Horton’s aunt, Elysse Greenwood, a Tidewater Community College nursing graduate who is now at Norfolk State University, encouraged her to consider TCC despite Horton’s poor high school grades. “My aunt saw something in me, and she wanted me to have a better life than what I’d come up from,” Horton said.

She will graduate with an associate of science degree in human services when TCC holds its 58th Commencement Exercises May 16 at the Old Dominion University Ted Constant Convocation Center. Her passion is helping others overcome similar odds.


“When I think of my life before, I shudder. It’s only because of God and sheer determination that things have turned out so differently,” she said. “I want to open a counseling business and a shelter to help others facing similar circumstances. It’s the only thing I can see myself doing.”

Horton works at Broad Creek Community Center, where she connects with teens and provides programs to get them off the streets. “I love working with youth and listening to them, because I’ve been there,” she said.


Horton is engaged to her best friend, Albert, and has a stable home life now. “I’ve grown so much. When I first came here I was bitter, angry and unsure of myself. Now I’m happy, productive, and I want to make my world better.”


An Open Door participant and student worker, Horton credits the staff there for her success. “They go above and beyond for their students,” she said. “They provide an ear, while instilling those nuggets of wisdom. They’re grooming me to be a respectable business woman, and they believe in me 100 percent.”


Horton says Ivory Warren, formerly with the TCC Women’s Center and now program head for human services, provided that tough love. “She encouraged me, but also pushed me. I owe her so much.”

Dominique Horton

Horton plans to transfer to Old Dominion University to become a psychologist or counselor. “I’m not really a school person, but I’m going to keep going,” she said. “My time at TCC has shown me that I can do it, and that means everything.”


Dad is the latest in this "TCC family" to graduate


May 12, 2014 — Mike and Matt Nichols were the first Tidewater Community College graduates in the family. A year later, it was Rachel Nichols’ turn.


On May 16, Bryan Nichols, dad to all three, makes the walk at the Ted Constant Convocation Center for TCC’s commencement. Mike, Matt, Rachel and daughter-in-law Emily, another TCC grad, will be in the audience cheering him on.


“I guess you could say we’re a TCC family,” Bryan Nichols says.

Bryan Nichols finishes with an associate of applied science in funeral service. Matt and Rachel earned associate degrees in social science and Mike in engineering. Both sons are now graduates of Old Dominion University. Emily Nichols earned her associate in business administration.


Growing up in metropolitan Detroit, Bryan Nichols had an interest in funeral services that he never pursued, choosing the military instead. After 20 years as an aviation electronics technician, he went to work as a test engineer for a local company.


“But really I am a people person,” Nichols says. “Even in the Navy, I enjoyed my time as a Navy counselor and worked at ceremonies and re-enlistments.”


A Saturday morning Bible study at Family Choice Funerals & Cremation in Chesapeake reminded him of his fascination with the field as a youth. He mentioned it in passing to Steve Zittle, vice president at Family Choice, who told him about the TCC funeral services program. Zittle introduced Nichols to program head Frank Walton.

Bryan Nichols

“We were approaching summer semester,” Nichols recalls. “I think it was starting on a Monday and this was a Thursday. He asked me if I was ready to go.”


A few days later, Nichols enrolled in his first college class, unsure of how easy it would be to return to school after so many years. He credits Deb Porter and Debra Griffin, two of his early professors, for facilitating the transition.


“It had been 30-plus years since I had been in school, and they were such a help,” he says.

Nichols family

Another boost: Nichols received post-9/11 GI benefits, which covered 80 percent of his costs.


In addition to his classroom experience, Nichols has completed the required 3,000-hour funeral service internship at Family Choice, where he plans to work full time after passing the licensed funeral service provider and state licensing exams. Nichols embraces all that comes with his new career.


“The first time I was able to go through the experience with a family, I realized how much it meant to them,” he says. “We’re together not because a loved one passed, but because a loved one lived. There’s a story to celebrate, and that’s what I’m here for.”

TCC laid the foundation for his long-awaited career path.


“TCC was a really great experience,” he says. “I’m finally in the right place.”

Heavy but rewarding load has kept nursing student hopping


May 12, 2014 — Brittany Mitchell isn’t worried about the sleep she’s missed or her messy house.


That’s because her education has never been in better shape. Mitchell will graduate from Tidewater Community College with her associate in nursing on May 16 and from Old Dominion University with her bachelor’s in nursing in August. She completed classes in the two programs concurrently.

Brittany Mitchell

“So my life has been school for the last two years,” says Mitchell, president of the Student Nurses Association at TCC.


She’s also worked 30 to 35 hours per week as clinical coordinator at Medical Center Radiologists in Virginia Beach, but is good natured in saying, “Really, I don’t sleep.”


Mitchell’s progression into medicine is a circuitous one, as she earned her initial bachelor’s in psychology from Old Dominion in 2008. But real life appealed to her more than research and the daughter of a surgeon’s assistant realized where she belonged after volunteering with the Kempsville Rescue Squad in Virginia Beach. She began TCC’s nursing program in fall 2012.

“TCC is regionally and nationally accredited for nursing,” she says. “Being a military spouse – my husband has been in the Navy for eight years – I had to go somewhere nationally accredited in case we are stationed somewhere else.”

The rigorous program and dedicated instructors appealed to her, as did the simulation labs that allow students to respond to a variety of medical situations. TCC’s relationship with numerous area hospitals also impressed Mitchell.


“It’s allowed me to network, and I’m all about networking,” she says. “We do clinicals at a variety of hospitals, so I’ve been able to network with a bunch of hospitals, not just one.”


Despite her rigorous load, Mitchell is active within the college. She attended the Virginia Community College System leadership conference last fall and recently attended the National Student Nurses annual convention in Nashville. She was also part of the initial mentorship program the nursing school offers allowing current students to guide newcomers to the program.


“I love being in a leadership role that allows me to make a positive impact,” she says.


While her long-term goal is to be an emergency room nurse, Mitchell also talks of becoming a legislative nurse, noting, “There are so many issues out there in health care and politics that affect nurses. I want to make sure all nurses have a voice.”



Brittany Mitchell

Graduation for Mitchell will only lead to more school, as she’s exploring master’s programs at Johns Hopkins and Vanderbilt universities. “TCC gave me the opportunity to start, but in nursing, you have to keep going,” Mitchell says. “School never ends. TCC gave me a great beginning.”

A high school honor student, he chose to start his higher education at TCC


May 9, 2014 — Hezroy Hammil has fond memories of growing up in rural Jamaica. “My first pet was a goat, and we spent hours running, never walking, around my dad’s farm,” he recalls. “I always loved school, and it was a big thing in my house to do well.”

Hammil’s family relocated to the United States in 2001 to give Hammil and his sister, Elaine, more opportunities.


The plan worked.


Elaine Porter is an Eastern Virginia Medical School-trained pediatrician with a thriving practice. She and her husband are raising a family of their own.


And on May 16, Hezroy Hammil will march in Tidewater Community College’s 58th Commencement Exercises at the Old Dominion University Ted Constant Convocation Center. His associate of applied science in information systems technology will be his ticket to a four-year school and an exciting career in robotics.


“My mom made a big sacrifice leaving her home to start a new life here,” Hammil says. “She stressed learning at home and had us reading the classics. She taught me to always do my best.”


A 2012 honors graduate of Oscar Smith High School, Hammil decided on TCC to keep costs low. “So many of my friends went off to school, and now they regret it, because they are under the gun with debt,” he says.

Hezroy Hammil


Hammil jumped into college life at TCC’s Chesapeake Campus his first semester, becoming a Student Government Association senator, and a year later, president of the group. “I got involved and realized right away that I have a passion for serving and giving back,” he says. “I also enjoyed advocating for the student body during a time when the new buildings were under construction.”


He and other student volunteers had an active voice in the planning of the Chesapeake Campus Student Center, and his portrait, along with other current SGA members, will hang onsite as a reminder of the hours committed to helping create a student-focused place for learning and success.


An honor student who holds a 3.8 GPA, Hammil hopes to one day develop robotic limbs for those who need them.


“I taught myself to program in HTML in middle school, and it snowballed from there,” he says. In high school Hammil placed third in a Future Business Leaders of America web design project. The other winners worked in groups; he worked solo.


“TCC has been a great place for me because I’ve grown as a leader and thrived as a student,” he says. “I like the family atmosphere of the campus and know that the people here have my best interest at heart.”


Hezroy Hammil

Hammil added with a wide smile, “It’s also been great having a support system at home. My mom makes sure I’m well fed.”


On the go from dawn to dusk, Hammil also served as Chesapeake chapter president of the Phi Theta Kappa (PTK) national honor society and has been an active member of the Computer Club, Bible Club and Student African American Brotherhood (SAAB). He also served as parliamentarian for the Student Government Federation Council.


Hammil was the student speaker at the dedications of the Chesapeake Academic Building and the student center, as well as the college-wide PTK inductions for 2013 and 2014.


In his free time Hammil sings bass in his church choir. “My faith is important and has helped to keep me focused and on the right track,” he says.


Hammil doesn’t know where he’ll be going to school next year, but he has applied to some impressive universities, including Cornell, Carnegie Mellon and Stanford universities; University of Pennsylvania, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Virginia Tech. He plans to work toward a Ph.D., and hopes to one day open his own computer robotics firm.


“I’m ready for the next step,” he says. “My time here has honed academic skills, but more importantly gotten me ready for my future. I’m really happy that I started here.”