Posted on Monday, May 23, 2016

VCCSLogo-smallFor dozens of GE students from eleven of Virginia’s Community Colleges, a recent all-expenses-paid trip to Virginia Beach was much more than a well-deserved getaway. It was an attractive return on an investment made years ago; an investment in their own futures. And for some, it was the first time they had seen the Atlantic ocean.

GE-beach-students_21For three days, the students hung out together, playing miniature golf, eating seafood buffets, visiting the aquarium, exploring the beach and strolling the boardwalk. The weather was accommodating albeit a tad cool at times. 

The event also afforded the students ample opportunity to reflect on where they’ve been and where they’re headed.

Twenty one-year old Harley Olinger, who’s just finishing up at Mountain Empire Community College, plans to transfer in the fall to East Tennessee State University where she will major in criminal law. Had it not been for the GE program at MECC, Olinger says she’d probably be in a crack house somewhere, wondering where her next meal would come from.

“Today, all I see is a straight road to an ETSU diploma,” Olinger gushed with an unmistakable southern accent.

Viviana Carcamo just graduated with an associate’s degree in general studies from NOVA and has been accepted at James Madison University. But, she’s waiting on a potential job offer that would grant her the independence she’s been craving for years.

“I’m 22 and while my foster mother is very supportive, I feel like any other kid who’s eager to have their own place and provide for themselves.”

Richie Miller, who’s just a handful of credits short of getting his ASE certification from Patrick Henry Community College, says he wants to open his own auto repair shop one day.

“The Great Expectations program actually picked me up when I was getting ready to fall. It dusted me off and said, ‘No! Go back and try it again.’”

The students almost always credit their GE coaches with their success. MECC career coach Jayne Stamper says the beach getaway was both a reward for the students’ efforts and an incentive for them to continue their education. When asked what prompted her to become a coach, Stamper says she couldn’t imagine being a young adult and having no family support.

“Come on. If we could all go back, we would all probably do things differently just to have someone there when they make mistakes and say it’s okay – we’re all human.”

The GE event culminated with a luncheon on the Virginia Beach campus of Tidewater Community College. VCCS Chancellor Glenn DuBois and TCC President Edna Baehre-Kolovani were on hand to personally congratulate each of the students.'

Craig Butterworth

A native of Richmond, Craig Butterworth is an award-winning broadcast journalist and communications professional. He has worked as a spokesperson, staff writer and editor for a variety of non-profit and for-profit organizations throughout the Richmond area.

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