Meet a few Tidewater Community College graduates who defined their career pathways at TCC. Some knew where they wanted to go. Others explored their interests and found new opportunities. One of them may surprise you: Comedian Jay Pharoah, who is known for his spot-on impersonation of President Obama on “Saturday Night Live,” is one of TCC’s most famous alumni!
Jay Pharoah: “TCC was a great experience. I’m glad I did it.”
Long before “Saturday Night Live,” comedian Jay Pharoah was Jared Antonio Farrow, an unsure 17-year-old graduate of Indian River High School. Without a clear direction, he made the best decision he could at the time: Tidewater Community College.
“I was still trying to figure things out, so I thought, ‘What better way to do that than go to TCC and explore and see where everything leads?’” said Pharoah, 28, who returned to Norfolk for a performance in January 2016. “I really didn’t know. My senior year of high school, I was a procrastinator. I was a late bloomer.”
Comedian and TCC alum Jay Pharoah performed Jan. 30, 2016, in Norfolk.
PHOTO CREDIT: David A. Beloff/Getty Images
Like many TCC students, he balanced a full load of classes while holding down a job, in his case performing stand-up comedy and rap. In addition to realizing that 8 a.m. classes were not a good fit, he found confidence at TCC, particularly under the direction of theater Professor Ed Jacob.
“He taught me discipline in class; I remember that,” Pharoah said.
A decade later, Pharoah recalls these words from Jacob: “You are brilliant, and I would love to work with you.”
“That was the highest praise,” Pharoah said.
He graduated with an Associate of Arts in 2008 and an Associate of Science in 2010. Moreover, he had a stronger sense of who he was and where he was going.
“TCC was a great experience,” he said. “I’m glad I did it. It made me realize after I left that, ‘Man, you’re a performer. You’re supposed to be performing.’ ”
After one semester at Virginia Commonwealth University, Pharoah got his break. On Sept. 25, 2010, he debuted “live from New York” as a regular “Saturday Night Live” cast member.
Pharoah has been an advocate for college through social media and with Michelle Obama. He joined the First Lady for a “Go to College” rap campaign in fall 2015.
“TCC, you can go anywhere from there,” he said. “I’m definitely a living, breathing example of that.”
Elissa Sanford: TCC education is paving her way to medical school
Elissa Sanford’s 4.5 high school GPA and ridiculously high test scores made her a candidate for just about any college in the nation.
Instead the Hickory High School graduate chose Tidewater Community College, where she not only earned an Associate of Science, but settled on a major and career pathway largely thanks to inspiration from one of her professors.
“If I had gone to a four-year school, it would have largely been because of the social pressure,” she said. “I knew I could get the same education with my first two years at TCC.”
Now an honors graduate of Old Dominion University with a bachelor of science in biology, Sanford, 21, is applying for medical school and plans to become a trauma surgeon.
At TCC, Sanford earned a full scholarship, which allowed her to graduate without student debt. In addition to small class sizes, she enjoyed the engagement between students and professors.
In fact, it was anatomy and physiology Professor Kay Sourbeer who gave Sanford the confidence to consider medical school.
“She told me I was the best student she had taught in her 30 years and asked me if I had thought about med school,” Sanford said. “Having a professor tell you something like that is pretty profound.”
Sanford is applying to a plethora of medical programs on the East Coast but hopeful for acceptance into Eastern Virginia Medical School, where she took part last summer in a program for undergraduate research.
“I don’t have less of an education because I came from a community college,” Sanford said. “If anything I have more. Like they say, you really can do anything from TCC.”
Jerry Barthelemy: “All I have is an associate degree, and I make a great living.”
An Associate of Applied Science in Civil Engineering Technology from Tidewater Community College was all Jerry Barthelemy needed to land a dream position at a leading construction and general contracting firm in Hampton Roads.
“All I have is an associate degree, and I make a great living,” said the Great Bridge High School graduate, a project manager at W.M. Jordan Company.
Convenience and affordability led him to TCC. On a whim, he enrolled in a civil engineering technology course taught by Ron Lauster, a TCC alum and project executive at W.M. Jordan.
Barthelemy flourished in the class, applying innovative problem-solving skills to real-world projects, such as building a deck on a budget.
“Come see me when you graduate,” Lauster wrote on one of his assignments.
After graduation, Lauster hired him as an office engineer. Barthelemy has since progressed to project manager.
His multiple construction projects in the region, each ranging from $15 million to $30 million, include the chapel and several dormitories at Christopher Newport University; the student center at Norfolk State University; the Goode Theatre at Old Dominion University; and Tyler Hall at the College of William & Mary to name a few.
Grateful for the foundation he received at TCC, he enjoyed learning from professors whose sole purpose is teaching instead of research.
“They were products of their field,” he said. “They’ve worked as engineers and project managers, boots on the ground.”
Barthelemy, 43, didn’t grow up planning for a college education. He is the first on his father’s side to graduate and needed the discipline TCC provided.
“If I had gone to a four-year directly out of high school, I think I would have partied too much and been kicked out,” he said.
Receiving a job offer from a former professor was also unexpected. “If I wouldn’t have gone to TCC and taken that class, I wouldn’t be where I am today. You never know where that opportunity is going to be,” he said.
Eli Stacy: TCC gives you “the building blocks to go wherever you want to go.”
Eli Stacy never thought he’d graduate from college, let alone the University of Virginia. But on May 21, 2016, he is walking the iconic U.Va. Lawn to receive his bachelor’s degree in sociology.
Stacy, 29 and the youngest of six brothers, grew up with few resources. After his mom died when he was 6, the family struggled even more.
“I learned early on that when you’re worried about your most basic needs, it’s really tough to focus on school,” he said.
During his senior year in high school, the family became homeless. With determination, Stacy managed to graduate from First Colonial High School. “My education became very important to me,” he said.
He enrolled at Tidewater Community College to honor his mother’s wishes. “She wanted me to get an education and really do something to make a difference,” he said.
“I came to TCC because I knew it would give me access to the best four-year schools in Virginia,” Stacy said. “TCC was also affordable, and I was really interested in leaving college with little debt.”
Stacy earned his Associate of Science in Social Sciences at TCC in 2014, holding a perfect GPA. His transfer to U.Va., he said, was “seamless,” and he is graduating with a 3.7 GPA.
“I want students to know that they are not at a lesser institution,” he said. “You are at a place to get the building blocks to go wherever you want to go.”
He plans to work for Feeding America or another service organization. “My heart and intent is to now help other people move forward,” he said. “I know firsthand that food goes a long way to helping children succeed in school.”
While at U.Va., Stacy chaired the Luther Porter Jackson Black Male Initiative, where he worked to increase the academic and social success of black male students. “I want other students to see that success is always possible,” he said. “If you are really interested in learning and you keep that knowledge fresh, you really can go anywhere.”
Kerry Tebow: In mechatronics, “I knew I had found my niche.”
Kerry Tebow of Chesapeake was at Western Branch High School when she began working in food service.
“By the time I was in my 20s, I was tired of dead-end waitressing jobs and being yo-yoed around. I wanted out of that lifestyle,” she said.
“My mom encouraged me to find a hands-on career,” she said. “I’ve always been interested in taking things apart, and putting them back together. If you gave me a toy – anything from a Barbie doll with joints to a music box – it wouldn’t be long until I began exploring the inside of the thing.”
A single mom, Tebow knew education was the key to providing a stable home for her family. “I began this journey to make a life for my son,” she said.
Her first meeting with Thomas Stout, then program head for mechatronics at Tidewater Community College, gave her confidence. “He was very interested in my success, and right away put me on a track with classes that were right up my alley.”
The mechatronics program combines mechanical and electrical coursework, and prepares students for work in advanced manufacturing. Tebow added, “My initial classes included robotics and motor controls, and combined hands-on work with the lectures. I knew I had found my niche.”
Many times, Tebow said, she had questions about the material, or just wanted to better understand what she was studying.
“Not once did my teachers tell me to just look in the book or do some research at home,” she said. “I was always met with enthusiasm, and I felt very encouraged by the faculty to never stop asking questions. And to remember, that if you make a mistake, you can always try to fix it.”
Tebow completed her associate degree in 2013. Now 27, she works as a chemical process technician for Canon Virginia, Inc. in Newport News.
“I enjoy my job and the work I do with robots and automated systems,” she said. “I encourage other women to pursue careers in mechatronics. It’s very rewarding work, and we are beginning to make inroads in a once male-dominated industry.”