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News Release

Students Meet with State Legislators to Discuss Impact of John Tyler Community College

Primary Media Contact:
Holly Walker
Public Relations Manager

Secondary Media Contact:
Heather Busch
Creative Services Manager

Released on February 24, 2014

Students Meet with State Legislators to Discuss Impact of JTCC (l-to-r): Asein Ta; Gagan Marwah; Sen. Donald McEachin; Silvia Garcia; Belsi Avalos Jordan; Melissa Kelly

CHESTER and MIDLOTHIAN, Va. – After working in a variety of fields, Melissa Kelly, an Air Force veteran, wanted a career that gives her the opportunity to positively impact the world. So, she turned to John Tyler Community College (JTCC) – a place she says is allowing her to reinvent herself as she studies Mechanical Engineering Technology with a specialization in mechatronics. Gagan Marwah began exploring his interest in information systems while still in high school. When he discovered that his dual enrollment classes were part of John Tyler Community College, he decided to continue his education at the College, and that decision opened new doors – including a prestigious internship. Khiem Tran says thanks to John Tyler, he was able to complete an associate degree with zero debt and was given the opportunity to transfer to Virginia Commonwealth University, where he is just months away from completing his bachelor’s degree. These are just some of the stories John Tyler Community College students and alumni shared with state legislators during meetings on February 4, 2014 and February 12, 2014. During the trips, the students, accompanied by Dr. Edward “Ted” Raspiller, president of John Tyler Community College, College Board member Linda Hyslop, and College staff, met with several senators and delegates. They included Sen. Stephen Martin, Sen. Donald McEachin, Sen. John Watkins, Del. Betsy Carr, Del. Rosalyn Dance, Del. Riley Ingram, Del. Roxann Robinson, Del. Lee Ware, and Del. Thomas Wright. The students also had the opportunity to speak with the legislative assistant to Sen. Frank Ruff.

In addition to sharing their personal stories and talking about their experiences at John Tyler Community College, the student delegation talked to legislators about the importance of affordable tuition, program variety, and financial aid. The students asked the legislators to support a budget amendment that would help the College move forward with renovations to update science labs to better support science, technology, engineering, mathematics and health-care (STEM-H) education and to expand space for workforce development efforts at JTCC’s Chester Campus. More information about the proposed renovations may be found at

To hear what students have to say about the way John Tyler impacts their lives, watch our video on YouTube at Photographs taken during the two trips may be found on the College’s Flickr page at

The student participants included (zip codes appear in parenthesis):

Renato Arenas (23235)
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 (23234)
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, as well as 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 (23139)
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 (23831)
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 (23234)
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, Garcia Murcia 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 (23002)
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 (23114)
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 (23836)
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 (23112)
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 and land a coveted internship with Dominion Resources. 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.

Asein Ta (23235)
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 from 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.

Khiem Tran (23112)
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.

John Tyler Community College is a two-year, public institution of higher education and is the fifth largest of the 23 community colleges in Virginia. With campuses in Chester and Midlothian and off-campus classrooms throughout the area, John Tyler offers quality and economical opportunities for students who want to earn a degree or certificate, transfer to a four-year college or university, train for the workforce, or switch careers. The College, which served more than 14,000 students during the 2012-13 academic year, offers 17 associate degrees, seven certificates, and 34 career studies certificates. The institution also serves 15,000 non-credit students and more than 1,200 companies and government agencies annually through the Community College Workforce Alliance. The College also is committed to sustainability. In July 2010, it received a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver Certification for Hamel Hall on its Midlothian Campus, becoming the first in the Virginia Community College System to receive such recognition. John Tyler Community College is accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

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Holly Walker, Public Relations Manager


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