by John Downs, Sr.
Is the Chesapeake Campus of Tidewater Community College slated for an appearance on the popular television show “Extreme Makeover?” You might think so if you’ve driven by the college in the last few months. A transformation is taking place but it’s not for the benefit of a TV show. Dump trucks barrel back and forth from TCC down Cedar Road. Giant cranes reach skyward, hoisting I-shaped metal girders, while hard-hatted engineers pore over a sea of detailed blueprints.
In reality, TCC Chesapeake needs more of everything: classrooms, parking, student facilities, and staff. As students busily respond to the challenges of a secondary education, scurrying daily from classrooms to computer labs to the college library, the 39 year old institution itself is currently undergoing a major facelift. The landscape today bears little resemblance to the few lonely buildings that marked the humble beginnings of what former Provost Tim Kerr referred to as “the people’s college.”
When the Chesapeake location of Tidewater Community College opened its doors in 1973, the campus consisted of little more than a couple of portable trailers with hastily constructed wooden buildings that housed only a small number of modestly equipped classrooms. The area was surrounded by acres of undeveloped land for hopeful future expansion. Many of the 255 students who originally passed through the doors of TCC that year were seeking technical certificates in the blue collar trades while others had high aspirations of achieving an associate degree and then going on to a four year university. Student services, black top parking lots, office space for professors, and most basic college amenities like a book store or a food service were either sorely lacking or non-existent.
Today’s TCC Chesapeake, however, boasts of a Women’s Center, a Veterans Affairs Center, numerous state of the art science and computer labs, modern well equipped classrooms, in addition to the sounds of giant earthmovers making way for even bigger buildings, better parking, more classrooms and facilities, and an even brighter future for the more than 17,000 students who matriculate annually.
As emphasized in its new catchphrase: From Here, Go Anywhere, TCC now bills itself as the gateway to all major universities in Virginia. Prestigious institutions such as the University of Virginia and Virginia Tech readily accept TCC graduates along with practically all of their college credits in tow. How did this transformation from dirt parking lots and dimly lit trailer/classrooms to multi-story buildings and a sprawling, bustling campus occur?
Dr. Linda Rice is the current Provost of the Chesapeake campus. She assumed the helm of TCC Chesapeake in 2003 replacing her 30 year predecessor, Tim Kerr. She had previously served as Vice President of Workforce Development as well as both an adjunct and full time professor. She chaired two divisions, and was Director of Institutional Self-Study
Dr. Rice is quick to give credit for TCC Chesapeake’s phenomenal growth to the college presidents she has served during her career. “People like Dr. Deborah DiCroce provided the leadership and determination necessary for our growth. We are now realizing the fruits of their labor.”
The west side of the campus is a beehive of construction activity. Two major additions to the TCC campus are rising from the dust of the ever present construction vehicles. “The large glass and brick edifice that is nearly finished is our new academic building,” Dr. Rice explains proudly. “Hopefully it will be ready for occupancy in March or April next year. The spacious student center next door is moving along nicely and will be ready next summer, in June or July. Both buildings will mean so much to our campus. The academic building will bring much needed classrooms of various sizes, and we will finally have modern and well equipped office space for our faculty,” Rice said.
“The student center will be simply amazing,” said Rice. “We will have offices for student government, on-site food services, meeting rooms of every size and description, and a large multi-purpose area for all kinds of campus events like blood drives and club activities. I’m a great believer in campus groups.” She adds, with a smile, “We advance curriculum through extra-curricular activities.”
Dr. Rice is especially proud of the partnership that has developed between TCC and the local business community. “With the advice, participation, and generous support of our local business and community leaders,” Dr. Rice explains, “We get valuable input regarding the development of our courses of study.”
Another area that Dr. Rice regards as a sign of positive commitment for her students to go on to four year colleges and universities is cryptically named “Guaranteed Articulation.” “It’s a lofty term but very important,” Dr. Rice says. “It simply means that students who graduate with an associate’s degree from TCC with a minimum grade point average will receive guaranteed acceptance at twenty major colleges and universities throughout Virginia, including the University of Virginia, the College of William and Mary and Virginia Tech.”
As evidenced by continuing and unprecedented growth, the appetite for an education in Chesapeake leaves even greater challenges to be met by future administrators. In addition to the thousands of eager minds fresh out of high school, the student body of TCC Chesapeake is also populated by retired military, single moms, empty nesters, and senior citizens. A quick scan of the brochure rack at the main entrance demonstrates the remarkable diversity in academic choices. Culinary Arts, Administration of Justice, Funeral Services, Radiography, and Physical Therapy are but a few of the many career choices offered.
Are the growing pains over for now at TCC Chesapeake? Dr. Rice responds with a thoughtful grin, “Well, there’s still a lot land out back…..”