2014 General Assembly Student Delegation Biographies
Renato Arenas was surprised to develop an interest in business during a trip to Peru to visit family. He saw his aunt working in a business where she was part of a team, and he realized he would like to be part of a similar team. So, he came back to John Tyler Community College and switched his major from General Studies to Business Administration. Renato says John Tyler was a good choice for him because tuition is affordable, the College is close to home, and it offers a great education. Renato says he knows he’ll be well-prepared for the next phase of his education, which he hopes includes the University of Virginia’s McIntire School of Commerce. He plans to earn a bachelor’s degree before going into the workforce to gain experience in international business. His long-range goal is to earn a master’s degree and to one day manage his own team.
Belsi Avalos Jordan
Giving back by helping others is not just something Belsi Avalos Jordan wants to do; it’s how she lives her life. Belsi, who graduated from Meadowbrook High School after moving to the United States from Guatemala, didn’t think she could afford to go to college. She also was afraid she wouldn’t be able to succeed in higher education. So, after high school, she decided to go right to work. That’s when she met Silvia Garcia, a John Tyler student. Silvia told Belsi about the College and its programs, and she explained financial aid options. Belsi decided to try John Tyler, and she was astonished to discover that she could thrive in a college environment. Belsi credits the College’s faculty and staff, as well as the support of her friends, for her successes. She describes John Tyler Community College as “hope.” She says no one is an outsider at Tyler, and everyone has the potential to succeed at the College. Because of that, she encouraged her sister to enroll at JTCC in Fall 2013. Belsi is currently working on her pre-nursing courses, and she hopes to be accepted into the College’s Nursing Program in Spring 2015. After completing that program, she wants to transfer to Virginia Commonwealth University to earn a bachelor’s in nursing.
Blake Beulike believes in the importance of planning. So, when he realized after high school that he had not determined his career interest, he decided to join the Marine Corp. Through the Corp, he’s spent time at Paris Island, Camp Lejeune, and 29 Palms. He was also deployed to Okinawa as part of the Unit Deployment Program. When he returned to Virginia, he decided to enroll in John Tyler Community College. Blake says he chose John Tyler because of the value and comfortable class size. And, because he has to support himself, Blake says the College’s flexible class schedule allows him to juggle work and school. It was while taking his classes that Blake discovered his interest in economics, history and philosophy. Those interests and concerns about the financial crisis caused by the mortgage bubble brought Blake’s career plans into focus. He says after he graduates from JTCC with his General Studies degree in Spring 2014, he wants to transfer to the University of Virginia to study economics. He hopes to eventually earn a master’s degree and to work in the public sector, helping others avoid financial crises.
Alex Clark wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with his life. He knew that after high school, he wanted to go to college, but he also knew that he wasn’t quite ready to leave home. So, he chose to go to John Tyler Community College. Alex says he was comfortable selecting John Tyler because he had a good experience with the College through his high school dual enrollment classes and because his mother and uncle had attended JTCC. He also appreciated the College’s wide variety of courses, which would allow him to explore his various interests, and its lower tuition costs. When he started considering his degree options, Alex thought about earning an IT degree. However, after taking a class in the subject, he realized it was not a good fit for him. Soon after, he made another discovery – that he has a true love for history. Through his classes and his involvement in the History Club, Alex built on that interest and decided to make it part of his career goal. During the Fall 2013 semester, he wrapped up his General Studies associate degree at John Tyler. He plans to start Virginia Commonwealth University in 2014, where he hopes to earn a bachelor’s degree in history with a minor in graphic design. He then wants to go to Virginia State University to earn a master’s in history before pursuing a Ph.D. in history from Central Michigan University. Ultimately, he wants to put his love and knowledge of history to work by getting a job with the National Park Service or by becoming a history professor.
Silvia Garcia’s life has taken some unexpected turns, but one thing has held constant – her desire to be a physician. Silvia was born in Honduras, and as she was growing up, her family always talked about the importance of getting an education. Silvia took that advice to heart, and she thought about trying to go to Cuba to study medicine. But, then, her life took a new direction when her father brought her to the United States. He ended up being deported, but Silvia wanted to stay. She was placed in the foster-care system, which moved her to Virginia where she began attending Meadowbrook High School in Chesterfield and continued to work on teaching herself English. After graduating, she enrolled at John Tyler Community College. The College was highly recommended by her high school teachers, and Silvia liked that it had a strong Nursing Program. When she started at Tyler, Silvia immediately got involved with the College’s Great Expectations program, which has provided her with a variety of resources and support – things for which she’s grateful. She wants others to know that their lives can change too. She regularly reaches out to friends in the Hispanic community and encourages them to come to Tyler to get an education, something she is very focused on doing. Currently, Silvia is working on her pre-nursing courses, and she plans to apply to Tyler’s Nursing Program in Spring 2014. But, that’s just the start. Silvia is determined to become a physician, so after she earns her nursing degree and gets some work experience, she plans to start medical school. Her top choice? Johns Hopkins.
Luke Griles enjoys exploring new opportunities, and he says that’s what John Tyler Community College is allowing him do. Luke, who was home-schooled, enrolled in John Tyler as a concurrent student in the fall of 2012, so he could jump-start his college education. He says the College was a good choice for him. It came highly recommended by his friends, was convenient to his home in Amelia County, and offered classes in a variety of formats. Luke says when he first started his classes he wasn’t sure what to expect. But, he said the faculty did a great job of helping him transition into college-level work. The experience inspired him to continue his education at JTCC. Now, a full-time student, Luke is working on earning a Liberal Arts degree with a specialization in communications. At the same time, he’s very active in the College’s Disciples of Christ Club and the Student Council. Luke calls his time at John Tyler an “excellent experience,” one that is helping him prepare for the next leg of his education. He plans to transfer to Regent University after graduating from JTCC in the fall of 2014. At Regent, he wants to study psychology, and, perhaps, earn a doctorate so that he can go into counseling and help others.
Nik Grimsley knows that he wants to work in business. In fact, he’s already trying his hand at ownership by operating an online company. But, he’s thinking bigger and says he sees himself eventually starting a major business. Before he does that, though, he wants to get a solid education that will teach him the skills he needs to be successful. Nik didn’t want to go into debt to go to school, so he researched his options and found John Tyler Community College to be a smart financial choice. Nik says John Tyler gives him a top-notch education by providing him with faculty who have different backgrounds, who are connected to the real world, and who want their students to move into successful careers. Nik plans to graduate with his associate degree in Business Administration in May 2013. After that, he hopes to use a guaranteed transfer agreement to continue his education at Virginia Tech.
Melissa Kelly tried out many types of jobs. She learned new skills from each but just could not find the perfect fit. That’s when she decided it was time to refocus and reinvent herself. She thought about her interests and realized that she had developed one in particular while in the Air Force – an interest in equipment. So, as she researched possible colleges, she turned her attention to technical programs. Through internet searches, Melissa found that John Tyler Community College offers a wide variety of technical programs. She soon found her direction and entered the Mechanical Engineering Technology associate degree program with a specialization in mechatronics. Melissa says she’s found the College to be a close-knit community full of teachers who truly care about their students’ successes, and because of that and the material she’s learning, she’s excited to come to class every single day. She will be graduating in 2014 and is anxious to put her new skills to work. Her goal is to get a “forever” job that will give her the opportunity to create something that impacts the world in a positive way. She says John Tyler is helping her achieve that dream and find her place in the world.
Gagan Marwah jumpstarted his college education by taking John Tyler Community College dual enrollment classes in Oracle at the Chesterfield Technical Center. By the time he graduated from high school, he had earned 16 college credits. After looking into his options, he decided to continue his education at John Tyler and enrolled in the College’s Information Systems program. Gagan says it was the right move for him because JTCC is affordable and offers a well-rounded education. The Information Systems program, he says, provides a good mix of business and information technology classes. It also gave him the opportunity to compete for an internship with Dominion Resources. He landed one of the coveted spots and says he was the only community college student to do so. The experience has been invaluable, and Gagan is pleased that John Tyler cultivates relationships with businesses like Dominion. Such partnerships, he says, are vital to students who need to gain real-world knowledge. Gagan is taking what he learned at JTCC to Virginia Commonwealth University, where he plans to earn a bachelor’s degree in information systems.
When Natasha Miller lost her job, she wondered if she needed to redirect her career goals. She already held a master’s degree in psychology but thought it may be time to gain new knowledge that would allow her to focus on one aspect of human services. She began exploring her options and discovered John Tyler Community College’s On-Ramp program, which provides a variety of assistance to those who are unemployed and who want to earn a college or industry credential. Once at John Tyler, Natasha met with the head of the Human Services program, who helped Natasha determine the Substance Abuse Assistant career studies certificate would be the best program for her. Now working as a mental health skills builder, Natasha says what she’s learning at John Tyler has made her more relatable and has given her the tools she needs to help her clients succeed. She credits John Tyler and its faculty and staff with boosting her confidence about her abilities.
Phillip Parker likes to know how things work. He thinks that may be why he developed an interest in becoming an engineer. Phillip says he has a plan to achieve that goal. In Summer 2014, he expects to graduate from John Tyler Community College with an associate degree in Engineering. Then, he wants to continue his education at the Colorado School of Mines and become a petroleum engineer. His path is clearly defined, but Phillip admits that was not always the case. He dropped out of high school in tenth grade, got his GED, and then began taking classes John Tyler. This was not his first experience with the College. When he was in fourth grade, his mother was a student at JTCC, and she enrolled him in art classes at JTCC. He described the experience as exciting, and he never forgot it. After taking enough classes to earn 60 credits, Phillip joined the military. He served three-and-a-half years in the U.S. Army, spending time at Fort Riley in Kansas and in Iraq. After completing his service, he decided to use his G.I. Bill to help him complete his degree at John Tyler. Phillip says he was able to transition back into civilian life fairly seamlessly, but he realizes not all veterans are able to do that. So, he became involved in John Tyler Community College’s Student Veterans Organization (SVO). He says through the organization, of which he is now president, he can provide support to other vets and help them pursue their career goals. Phillip believes Tyler, overall, is a great fit for veterans. He says the small class sizes, the assistance and support offered by faculty and staff, and organizations like the SVO can keep vets from feeling like they are getting lost during their transition.
Dustin Phillips loves acting. In fact, he loves it so much he plans to pursue a career on the stage. His passion for theatrics surfaced after taking an acting class at John Tyler. The discovery was an unexpected surprise. Dustin said when he was growing up, he was not involved in his high school’s theatre productions and that the closest thought he had about acting was a short-lived childhood fantasy of appearing on Saturday Night Live. Before coming to Tyler, Dustin spent just over four years in the Marine Corps, during which time he was deployed to Iraq and stationed in Japan. After leaving the military, he traveled around the U.S. before deciding to return home and enroll at John Tyler. Dustin admits the transition from military to civilian life has been difficult at times, but he says Tyler has helped him in numerous ways – from explaining the full benefits of his GI Bill to offering an orientation class designed with veterans in mind. He describes John Tyler as military-friendly and says, as a veteran, he feels welcomed. As a student, he applauds the faculty. He says his instructors are always willing to help him if he asks and are quick to jump in and offer assistance if they see a student struggling with the coursework. Once he completes his Liberal Arts degree with a specialization in theatre arts at JTCC, Dustin wants to transfer to Virginia Commonwealth University to continue studying theatre arts. He hopes to take the skills he learns to the stages of New York, and maybe one day, to the big screen.
Asein Ta believes education is vital. He also believes in the importance of giving back. Because of that, he not only wants to become an elementary school teacher, he wants to teach English as a Second Language (ESL) and travel as a part of the United Nations to help those who need assistance. Asein was born in a rural area of Myanmar (Burma), and after losing his parents, he moved to Thailand, where he lived in refugee camps for more than four years. When the opportunity arose to move to another country, Asein asked to be taken to the United States. In 2008, he came to Virginia and was placed in the foster care system. Asein was enrolled in James River High School’s ESL program, and at his request, he was placed with a family that only spoke English. Asein says he knew being immersed in the language would help him learn it. He first learned about John Tyler Community College while taking dual enrollment courses at James River. Then, when he graduated high school in 2012, his social worker told him about JTCC’s Great Expectations program, which offers support and guidance to foster youth who want to get a college education. Asein says he knew John Tyler would be a good fit for him. Not only did it have a program that could offer him additional assistance, it was close to home, had smaller classes, and it offered a class schedule that would allow him to still work. Asein says he feels like he’s part of a family at John Tyler, and he loves the College’s diversity. He believes Tyler is helping students make better lives for themselves. After finishing his General Studies degree with a specialization in elementary teacher education, Asein plans to transfer to Virginia Commonwealth University to work on a bachelor’s and then master’s degree.
Before moving to Virginia, Shannon Thompson had been in and out of college, trying to decide what she wanted to do with her life. By the time she relocated to the Commonwealth, she realized she needed to focus on her future, and for her, that meant returning to school. Her family suggested she check out the local community college, and that’s when Shannon discovered John Tyler Community College. Shannon says she was “blown away” and excited by the challenging classes and high-caliber faculty, and she was ecstatic to learn the College had an art department. Even though Shannon’s interest in art ran high, she was unsure if it was the program she should pursue. But, after some thought, she came to the conclusion that art is “universally useful.” So, she enrolled in the Visual Arts program. Shannon says the accessibility and flexibility Tyler offers to its students has been important to her. She is also thankful for the relationships JTCC and its faculty have with four-year colleges and universities. She hopes that one of those four years – Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) – will be her next stop. After graduating from John Tyler in Spring 2014, Shannon wants to transfer into VCU and go into its Communications Arts program with a focus on illustration. After that, she wants to put her skills to work by going into public relations or advertising for nonprofits.
When Khiem Tran first decided to enroll at John Tyler Community College, it was about the money. But, when he got to Tyler, Khiem says, he discovered so much more. He found the College to be a place of unexpected opportunities. He was given the opportunity to work on projects for real-world businesses, took part in trips offered by the College, and coordinated volunteers for a College fundraising event. And, that’s just to name a few ways Khiem found himself getting involved. He was also active in the JTCC Art Club, and he won numerous awards, including the 2011 Foundation Art Award. In 2008, he completed a Fine Arts certificate at the College, and then, in 2010, he graduated with an Associate Degree in Visual Arts with a visual communications specialization. He continued his education at Virginia Commonwealth University, where he is just months away from completing his bachelor’s degree. Khiem is looking forward to a career in advertising, and he thanks JTCC for helping him get started. He says John Tyler gave him the opportunity to graduate with an associate degree and zero debt, to learn important foundations, and to make lifelong connections.
Information Maintained by:
Heather Busch, Web Communications Manager