Thursday, February 6, 2020

Meet Loftan Miller

Library Services Coordinator

Where did you grow up and what was it like?
I grew up mostly in Chesterfield County and graduated from Midlothian High School in the county's first class of International Baccalaureate students. I was a super nerd – played viola in the Richmond Symphony Youth Orchestra and even on the weekends my friends and I would get together for studying parties. I really wish I was kidding. Earning an IB diploma meant that when I attended music school at Ithaca College most of my liberal arts classes were taken care of. I can only remember taking a math class titled, “What is Math?” which was naturally attended by mostly music majors. 

What brought you to Reynolds?
I started my professional librarian career in 2008 at Rappahannock Community College as the College Librarian. Though I loved being there, the commute really started to impact my growing family. When the position of Library Coordinator came up at Reynolds, I could not let the opportunity pass. It cut my commute in half and really opened up more opportunities for my family with having me be a lot closer to home. 

What is the most unusual situation you’ve had to handle in the library (no names, please!)?
I think my scale for unusual is a bit askew because libraries see a lot of really interesting characters and situations. It’s actually one of the things I love the most of working in libraries because no day is the same. Reference questions can often lead to some funny stories so I’ll tell you one of my very favorite questions I’ve ever received at the desk. This question came from a student when I was working at the University at Buffalo Undergraduate Library. She came up to me and asked me, “Where are the books for reading?” Turns out she was looking for the fictional books for pleasure reading but I really had to stop myself from laughing when I asked her follow up questions to find out what she was actually looking for. 

What are the most rewarding aspects of your job?
Essentially 99% of my job is finding ways to help people. We take people having a terrible day and we use patience and kindness to help them find something they need that might help make their lives a little easier. My tough days are far and few between the good ones and for that, I am very thankful. 

If you had one extra hour a day, how would you use it?
Sleep. I’m expecting my third daughter in June and there are just never enough hours in the day for me to get a full night’s rest. So I supposed I could lie and tell you I’d spend it reading a book but let’s be real, I’d spend it on sleep. 

What do you like to do outside of your work at Reynolds?
I’m naturally a homebody and though you might meet me and think I’m an extrovert, I really am an introvert. I love being at home with my kids and crazy dogs just cooking and cleaning around the house. When I’m not cooking or cleaning, I am running a taxi service for my children and their activities. I’m often not sure how I get everything done in a day but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I feel so lucky to have a job that not only lets me spend my workday doing something I love but also allows me to be a Mom to two great girls. 

What do like most about Richmond? Favorite places to visit? Favorite restaurants?
Richmond is such a wonderful city – full of music and arts and fantastic places to eat! My fiancĂ© and I love seeing concerts in the area. You would be shocked to know how many artists come to Richmond to play. It’s really hard to narrow down a list of favorite restaurants but if I had to they would be; Heritage for brunch; Edo’s Squid for a special occasion dinner (the arugula, white bean, and squid salad IS MY FAVORITE); Stella’s for amazing Greek food; Tazza Kitchen for its hot sausage and honey pizza and fabulous desserts and coffee; and Mamma Zu’s for Italian (but get there early because it’s super small). 

If you won $100 Million in the Mega Millions lottery what would you do with the money?
I would first hire a financial advisor and find out what to do with $100 million dollars! Did I mention I was a music major in college? We don’t take many classes on personal finance! I know I would set aside money for my children, give money to my church, and make a donation to the Richmond Symphony so hopefully they would name a concert series after me. Other than that, maybe buy a pony or two?! 

Monday, January 27, 2020

Meet Erica Cleaver

Customer Service Representative, Information Center

Where did you grow up and what was it like?
I grew up in Portsmouth, Virginia in the Hampton Roads area. I love Portsmouth. It’s creative, quirky, and there is water everywhere.

What brought you to Richmond? 
I moved to Richmond almost three years ago. My husband was given an opportunity in the Richmond area, and we decided as a family to go for it.  

What brought you to Reynolds?
It was kismet. I had been living in the area for about three months and we were all just riding around getting to know our surroundings, when I passed Reynolds on Parham Road.  My husband said you should work there the campus is beautiful.  I went home looked for jobs at Reynolds, found one, applied, and was working in the Information Center about three weeks later. 

What is the most unusual customer service situation you’ve had to handle (no names, please!)? 
We have a caller who has called the office for years, well before I ever worked here. She will call sometimes three times a day up to maybe eight times a week. She frequently requests college catalogs and literature about the college, but as far as we know she has never attended. She is extremely friendly and now the office has come to expect her calls. If we don’t hear from her we get a little worried. When we do get her call we announce it to the office just so everyone knows our favorite caller is doing okay.  

What are the most rewarding aspects of your job?
The most rewarding aspect of working in the Information Center is that we really get to help so many students. The services the Information Center provides are instrumental to the student who doesn’t know how to set their user preferences in order to make a payment, or the student who can’t log in to do their homework because they need a password reset. We are able to offer this help right over the phone saving valuable time especially to our students who are unable to make an in-person visit. 

If you had one extra hour a day, how would you use it?
If I had one extra hour a day I would either go to the gym or pleasure read.  I’ve been slacking heavily on both recently. 

What do you like to do outside of your work at Reynolds?
I really enjoy spending time with my family. I have an 18 year old daughter (who is in her second semester at Reynolds) and 14 year old twin boys. My twins play a lot of sports and that keeps me busy most of the year. I also, enjoy cooking, going to the beach, and painting. 

What do like most about Richmond? Favorite places to visit? Favorite restaurants?
I love exploring Richmond. My favorite thing to do is to wander the city without an agenda and just explore. I love the Canal Walk, the Pipeline Trail, Pony Pasture, Libby Hill, Brown’s Island, Maymont, etc.  And even as an ODU alumni have grown to love, support, and follow VCU basketball.

If you won $100 Million in the Mega Millions lottery what would you do with the money?
If I won a $100 million in the Mega Millions lottery I would of course have the splurges like a beach house in Ocracoke and lots of traveling, but then I would look to invest in the communities that invested in me. I would donate to my Little League in Portsmouth, my high school sports teams, and of course set up scholarships at ODU and Reynolds for students plus donations to make sure college projects can be completed.    

Monday, January 13, 2020

Steve Vehorn

Student Outreach – Recruitment Specialist

Where did you grow up and what was it like? 
I lived most of my childhood in Greensboro, N.C. and Virginia Beach. Growing up in Virginia Beach was fun as outside of school and sports, I had time to go surfing, crabbing and fishing. I’m fortunate that I still get to enjoy surfing and fishing and they are extra special when I get to do them with both my boys. Blue crabs are also still my favorite food. 

What brought you to Richmond? 
I went through ROTC at East Tennessee State University and after serving my active-duty commitment in the Army, I got a job working with the Colonial Athletic Association as a sports information intern. 

What are the greatest challenges of student recruitment today? 
The greatest challenge of recruiting students is communicating to potential students the number of different options that Reynolds and CCWA offer in a concise message. We have a tremendous product at Reynolds and with a very diverse student population, there is a strong need for a wide variety of options of flexible class schedules, programs and degrees – it is often tough to get in the full Reynolds message in just a few seconds.  

What is the most rewarding aspect of working with students? 
Seeing the hope that Reynolds and CCWA provide them – for many of our students, without Reynolds and CCWA, there would be no hope. 

If you had one extra hour a day, how would you use it? 
Tying fly fishing flies.

You are a surfer and love other outdoor activities like golf. What is your favorite outdoor activity and why? 
I love hiking to small mountain streams to fly fish for brook trout, but am passionate about surfing. Both fly fishing and surfing are sports that have allowed me to see some of Mother Nature’s most incredible landscapes from the babbling streams and waterfalls deep in the mountains to surfing alongside dolphins and sea turtles as the morning sun crests over the horizon. I also enjoy golf, but have found it more enjoyable when I don’t keep score.

Being passionate about surfing, what do you think about indoor surf "parks"?
I’m all for surf parks – anything to build the sport, and a park would be a great place to learn on perfect waves. I doubt any of the “real” surfers will use it unless it is winter when it is cold, but I’m all for them. This summer will be the first time they have surfing in the Olympics. 

I’ve got a surf trip lined up for March to Florida, as my oldest son Sam got a job in Jacksonville - going down for a week to camp at a campsite on the beach and surf the week. Wahooo!

What do like most about Richmond? Favorite places to visit? 
Favorite restaurants? I have lived in Hanover for over 25 years and the location of Richmond allows for easy access to many of our state’s natural treasures - two hours to the beach to surf, two hours to great fly fishing and hiking areas in the Shenandoah National Park and two hours to the top of Wintergreen Resort to snowboard – one day my boys and I were able to surf in Virginia Beach in the morning and snowboarded at Wintergreen that evening. Favorite restaurant: ZZQ and Fat Dragon. Favorite place to visit: Richmond International Raceway on race weekend. Go Chase Elliott!   

If you won $100 Million in the Mega Millions lottery what would you do with the money? 
I’d first pay off any of my church’s debit and invest in its future. I would then support a few of my favorite nonprofits: Special Olympics Virginia, Wounded Warriors Project, Richmond SPCA, Camp Hope and Reynolds.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

CCWA’s FastForward Program: 

Catching the Growth Tsunami

If you think the world is growing fast, you’re right.

If you think Virginia is growing fast, you’re right again.

And Richmond? 
It feels like a tsunami. Blink, and you’ll miss a new business opening. Take a vacation, and a new convenience store or apartment building will have sprung up in your neighborhood.

We are growing. And, here’s proof. 

  • In 2019 CNBC named Virginia, America’s Top State for Business. Why? Because of “its world-class workforce, high performing education system, and business friendly regulation.”1
  • From November 2018 to November 2019 an estimated 40,100 jobs were added in Virginia.2 The hottest job areas? Manufacturing and warehousing, education and health care, leisure and hospitality, food and beverage, professional and business services, and information security.

Here’s the good news: 
CCWA’s FastForward Program caught Virginia’s growth wave long before it reached its current tsunami. In 2016 the program got started by offering credentials in the key areas of health care, trades and manufacturing, information technology, business and customer service, and education. A perfect match for Virginia’s current and emerging employment needs.

Here’s even better news: 
In the current fiscal year CCWA’s FastForward program took the lead again as one of just two Virginia community colleges with the greatest growth rate in credential training program enrollments. “We are number two for FastForward enrollments in Fiscal Year 2020, number two for FastForward credential attainments, and we’ve ranked at or near the top for credentials awarded since the FastForward program’s inception in 2016,” says CCWA Vice President of Workforce Development and Credential Attainment Elizabeth Creamer.  “We’re always in a race with Germanna,” Creamer smiles when she adds this. 

Now, with the help of unprecedented proposed state funding3, FastForward is ready to move even faster in 2020 to meet Virginia’s ever-growing employment needs. “We’ve never gotten state-level public funds like those now proposed by the Governor’s budget for FastForward. These funds can be dedicated to skills development for any adult in the region who is interested and ready to prepare for a high-demand occupation readily available in the region” says Creamer, “This funding gives opportunities to young adult students, to at-home parents reentering the workforce, to Career Switchers and transitioning service members, and to employees wanting to increase their marketability. FastForward credentials are designed to open doors to the jobs most in demand in the Commonwealth right now.” This proposed new funding would make it possible to open those doors even wider than ever before.

“We need many routes to success for young people, hardworking parents, and anyone else who wants to earn better wages, and a FastForward workforce credential is a proven route to success,” continues Creamer. And she has the numbers to back up that statement. Since the program’s inception over 16,000 credentials have been earned across the Commonwealth, with more than 2700 of those through CCWA.  Graduates typically boost their earnings 25 to 50 percent in the first year following program completion. And, with a FastForward credential an applicant is twice as likely to be hired as an applicant without a credential.4

Yes, this program fills gaps – a skills gap in potential employees, a workforce gap in the labor market – but, more than just training and jobs are happening here. FastForward is a quick uplift on a rising wave, but it isn’t a one-time event or fix. Rather, it’s an uplift that can entirely change the course of a lifetime. 

Consider William Penaloza. William is originally from Equador. He wanted a new career after working in retail. Through FastForward he earned his CDL (Commercial Drivers License) and was hired immediately by US Express. William says, "I am grateful for the experience, the training staff and for the grant support." With a baby on the way, William is driving locally now, but he hopes to go over the road later when the child is older. "It was helpful to have trainers that partner with companies who hire CDL drivers." In William's case, the rising wave lifted three lives, not just one.

What’s next for FastForward? What could this additional proposed funding make possible? “New, more and customized credentials,” says Creamer. “The idea would be to work with a business association or a large business to combine third party validated industry credentials into a FastForward program of “bundled” credential training and assessments. For example, a company might want manufacturing, safety, and customer service credentials.  Another trend in FastForward programming is career pathways. In some FastForwad programs, not all, we’re already working with academic faculty to have credentials “count” for college credits, so participants in FastForward are always moving and preparing for the next step in their education.”

In a state, and a city changing so rapidly, the FastForward program is good news - a lifeline, a buoy, a ship - that has already helped its graduates ride the wave of growth rather than be roiled by its current. Just imagine what the next two years could bring with the support of the proposed new funding. 

To learn more about CCWA’s FastForward Program, visit their website.

1. CNBC website, 7/10/2019.
2. Bureau of Labor Statistics, December 2019.
3. On December 17, 2019 Governor Northam announced the proposed 2020 to 2022 state budget which included $13.5M this year for FastForward, $17.5M in 2021, the $21.5M in 2022. This funding is 100% dedicated to tuition support.
4. FastForward website,

Ambassadors Reunite

Special thanks to Kristine Dahm, Counselor, Student Engagement Services, for suggesting this story, and sending details and photos.

Group photo on the steps in Georgiadis: Back row, 4th row: 
Franck Kamga (2013-14), Johnathan Hancock (2017-18), 
Dylan Chaplin (2014-15), Kingston Joseph (grandson of
Christine Booker) 3rd row: Saadia Jones (2016-17), 
Cara Luyster (Coordinator of New Student Orientation 
and honorary Ambassador advisor), Muhahmmad “Moe”
Umar (2011-12) and his nephew, Chenelle Williams 
(2019-20) 2nd row: Theresa Johnson (2014-15), 
Ruxandra Zait (2014-15), Sakinah Jones (2019-20), 
Sharneice McDaniel (2018-19), Karen MacKay (2016-17) 
1st row: Kristine Dahm (Ambassador supervisor),
Christine Booker (former Ambassador advisor)
You've probably heard of the Reynolds Student Ambassadors program. The Ambassadors' primary role is helping with SOAR (New Student Orientation, Advising, and Registration) and giving tours for prospective students. You may also have seen them serving at information tables, and lending a hand at other campus-wide events like Convocation.

But, did you know the Ambassadors had a reunion this past December? Pretty cool, right? One Ambassador Alum was there from the Class 2011-12 - he is now in his last semester of law school. One current Ambassador brought along her sister who was an Ambassador in the Class of 2016-17. And, it's not just the students who are invited: a former Advisor attended who is now a professor at VCU.

Events like this don't just happen. There is always a "driver" who gets behind the wheel and mashes the gas. The Ambassador Reunion "driver" is Kris Dahm. 
Sakinah Jones (current Ambasador, 

2019-20), Saadia Jones (2016-17)
 – sisters.

Meg Foster started the Ambassador program in 2006. When Kris Dahm came to work at Reynolds in 2011 to fill Meg's position, Kris also inherited the Ambassador program and has been the Ambassadors' supervisor ever since. 

"Since I've been keeping an alumni roster (since my first group of Ambassadors in 2011-12)," says Kris, "we've had 57 Ambassadors. I started having reunions in 2014 and the plan was to have one at least every two years, although that didn’t always happen. We had another one in 2016 and then this last one in 2019.  It was especially important for me to have a reunion this year because my job is changing and I will no longer supervise the Ambassadors. I will miss working with this special group of students."

When asked what the best thing is about the Ambassador program, Kris has a clear list. "There are several good things," she says. Here they are:

  • Students learn valuable leadership skills as they learn how to work in a team, speak in front of a large group, manage conflict, and improve their communication skills.
  • The Ambassadors take part in the annual VCCS Student Leadership Conference, which is a weekend-long conference for student leaders in the VCCS. They attend break-out sessions on different leadership topics, meet students from across the state, and take part in a service project.
  • At the end of every year, I ask them if they think they have a greater sense of engagement with the campus community than they did before they started the program. Overwhelmingly, they say yes.  Being an Ambassador made them feel part of the campus community and they are able to get to know faculty and staff. Since they work so many SOAR sessions, they meet all of the advisors in Student Affairs, staff members in the Enrollment Management Division, faculty members who help with SOAR, and the Dean of Students and other upper-level Administrators.
  • They often form friendships with the other Ambassadors, which last long past their time at Reynolds.  

Ambassadors serve three semesters, summer, fall and spring. If you know a student who would make a good Ambassador, now is the time to encourage them to find out more about the program. 

At the start of this semester Kris Dahm is moving into a new role at Reynolds, Counselor, Student Engagement Services. Katelyn Eden, new to Reynolds, will be the Counselor, First Year Initiatives. Students interested in the Ambassador Program can call the general SOAR number: 804-523-5155 for more information.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Partners in Wine 

150 Gallons of Soup & 5,000 Chocolates

After appearing on Virginia calendars every February or March for the past 13 years, Richmonders probably know something about the Virginia Wine Expo.

But, what you might not know, and what might motivate you to attend or get involved, is one of the original goals for the event was raising money for a charitable beneficiary.

A short history: in 2008 Alex Papjohn approached the Virginia Wine Board (yes, there is a Virginia Wine Board) with the idea of holding a premier indoor wine and food event in the wintertime. The Board liked the idea and Alex, along with Tracey Leverty and Jessica Corbett teamed up for the first Expo.

Accomplishing its purpose, since its inception, the Virginia Wine Expo has raised over $100,000 for such organizations as Komen for the Cure, Feedmore, Richmond Performing Arts Association, and Autism Society Central Virginia. 

In 2020, the J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College Educational Foundation will join this list as the Expo's next charitable beneficiary, with proceeds supporting The Kitchens at Reynolds.

More short history: When Chef Jesse Miller came into the Reynolds culinary program in 2009, one of the first items on his “to do” list was a dinner with Business School Dean David Barrish and Alex Papajohn. “We discussed this event and our involvement, and it grew from there,” said Chef Jesse.

“Now, anywhere from ten to forty students volunteer per year; having exceeded a couple hundred student volunteers overall. They help with any, and everything, from food prep, to serving at the Reynolds booth, and setting up and cleaning up. The Expo is more than just a wine tasting, it’s an opportunity for attendees to learn.”

Yes, Expo attendees learn, but it’s the Reynolds culinary students who truly get an education.

“This is the perfect opportunity for students to learn about events and what it’s like to prepare for thousands,” says Chef Jesse, “this is difficult to do in the classroom, but the Expo is a great time to teach them to prepare 150 gallons of soup or 5,000 chocolates. This also gives them a chance to engage in offsite catering, which includes menu planning, purchasing, food prep, packing and loading, unpacking, setting up on site, meeting deadlines, all the while executing and assuring high quality food and safe handling. And of great importance to their future, it's a chance for the students to make connections with industry leaders at the event, many of whom have jobs to offer.” Whole Foods Market is among the industry employers and is providing a sponsorship of ingredients for Reynolds' culinary arts booth.

Fine wine. Amazing food. Education. What more could you want in a single event? How about the chance to volunteer in support of The Kitchens at Reynolds and its fabulous student chefs-to-be?

A portion of the proceeds from the 2020 event will go to the Foundation which will help fund projects such as scholarships, equipment, buildings and grounds, and curriculum enhancement. As the charitable beneficiary, the Foundation will recruit and manage hundreds of volunteers to help execute this event. You can help by volunteering! 

Volunteers will receive one complimentary walk-around pass to the Saturday Evening or Sunday Walk Around Grand Tasting (a $55 value) per shift completed. 

IF YOU WANT TO VOLUNTEER, please e-mail Ms. Ariel Cole, Special Events Manager at Reynolds Community College, at

IF YOU WANT TO ATTEND, the Virginia Wine Expo runs from Tuesday, March 3 to Sunday, March 8, 2020. Tickets to individual events and ticket packages are on sale now at

The Expo is a multi-day, immersive and educational craft beverage and culinary experience featuring more than 30 events. Enjoy an exceptional variety of brilliant wines, spirits, ciders and high-end craft beers (at the new Ultimate Brew Fest) with Virginia's vintners, distillers, cider-makers and craft brewers, including highly sought-after top-scoring bottlings. And, experience Richmond's vibrant and flourishing culinary scene, savor delicious cuisine from some of the region's hottest chefs and pitmasters at our signature dinners, lunches, brunches and larger culinary events. Among the ticketed events in a weekend full of activities is a sneak preview tour of The Kitchens at Reynolds.

The 2020 Virginia Wine Expo presented by Publix and is coordinated by Variant Events. J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College Educational Foundation is the charitable beneficiary of the event. Alex Papajohn is the Executive Director of Variant Events.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Meet Justin Ellis

Counselor, Student Life

Where did you grow up and what was it like? 
I am from the big little county of Surry, VA. As a youth, there was a saying "Surry is something special." This was instilled in us to help us believe in the strength of who we are and who we were raised to be. 

You are relatively new to Reynolds. What brought you here? 
A mentor sent me the job listing. After I saw the job post, I knew this was within my skill set and decided that this would be the logical next step in progressing in a career in higher education. I am so glad I applied. This has been a life changing year.

What sparked your interest in working with students?  
My personal philosophy on life is "to help everyone I meet become the best them they can become."  I also have a love for student engagement. The joy in seeing a student find a connection that pushes him or her to pursue his or her dreams is what got me started in higher education. 

What are the most challenging aspects of your job? 
The most challenging part of my position is not being able to reach all students. I know that it is truly impossible to reach them all, but my goal will always be to not have one student feel disconnected.

What are the most rewarding aspects of your job? 
The most rewarding part of my job is seeing students engage with people, events, and activities that he or she may not have done had he or she not participated in the Student Life event. Students often say they were so glad that he or she participated in the event. It was the best time they have had.

If you had one extra hour a day, how would you use it? 
Spending quality time with my family. I live in Suffolk and drive to Richmond daily. I love watching movies with my wife and son.

What do you like to do outside of your work at Reynolds? 
I love sports, so watching any sport is a great time. I like running as well. I have run one full marathon and three half marathons. I also play golf on occasion. Those are my favorite things outside of family time and work.

What do like most about Richmond? Favorite places to visit? Favorite restaurants? 
I still live in Suffolk so I am not very familiar with a lot of things in Richmond. My wife and I are foodies so I use yelp to find places to eat. Right now ZZQ is my favorite. I am a griller so good grilled food is amazing. 

If you won $100 Million in the Mega Millions lottery what would you do with the money? 
If I won $100 million, the first thing I would do is fund my wife’s business idea. Next I would purchase a lot of land that would be given to my son. I would also start a non-profit to help end homelessness. 

Friday, November 8, 2019

The Dynamics of Karim Sultan

Reynolds Community College Student

Seeking Degree: AS Mechanical Engineering

Karim Sultan is going to be an engineer. Minutes in to a conversation with him, it’s evident engineering is a perfect career choice. He’s studious, deliberate, direct, analytical, and he gets really excited by his classes.

This semester he’s taking Dynamics. Dynamics, if you're not familiar with engineering, is the study of unbalanced forces on a system, like the acceleration of a piston in an engine. If applied to Karim, Dynamics would reveal what moves him toward engineering is more than his personality. It’s his passion.

“I’m passionate about the Earth. I’ve traveled around the world, and seen some beautiful sights, and I want to do something to preserve our awesome planet. I want to work on alternative energy sources that preserve our environment.” And Karim has a plan to learn to do that. After Reynolds he is heading to VCU. “I want to study nuclear fusion after my bachelors degree is complete.” Not fission, he clarifies. Fission is breaking atoms apart; fusion is pushing them together – much more difficult but with less waste. “After VCU, I want to study Plasma Physics.”

There’s still more moving Karim. “My Mom went to Reynolds, and she has done really, really well. She is a high-level software developer in Washington, DC. She has gone far in her career, and speaks very highly of Reynolds. She got her start here. We came to the United States from Egypt when I was small. She didn’t speak much English. She got through her education and now she is doing great, she’s very successful.”

When Karim started at Reynolds he had an auto glass business and DJ’d at local bars to pay his bills. One of his first classes was Engineering Graphics. He started calling local engineering firms, and soon landed an internship. He knew immediately he had found his place in the world. Next he got his AutoCAD (Computer Aided Design) certificate. Then came a job as Drafter with Dominion Energy. Karim still DJ’s because it’s fun, but he’s given up his auto glass gig to focus on his studies and his work.

“I really like Dominion. I work with engineers all day, and I love it. I’m drafting electrical panels now and learning a lot about electrical engineering, not my field, but I will use the knowledge someday. Eventually Dominion will pay for my school.”

“Reynolds is great. I am really happy to be here and couldn’t imagine being at a better community college. I could say the professors are excellent teachers, but it’s more than that. The professors here pass on their real life experience, not just information. Professor Clay is my advisor. She can talk about the engineering job market, her life experience working as an engineer, and what it’s like in the field. I feel like I have a strong support team, and will come out of school knowing what to expect, and being prepared to deal with it.”

You don’t need to understand Dynamics to appreciate the vast distance travelled between auto glass and Plasma Physics. Reynolds has helped launch Karim Sultan on his upward trajectory, and we look forward to watching him cross the graduation stage and continue his journey.

Meet Paul Chapman

Academic Support Librarian

Where did you grow up and what was it like? 
My father was in the Coast Guard, so I grew up all up and down the East Coast and Gulf of the USA. I was born in Louisiana and then moved to Florida, Connecticut, Alabama, Virginia, back to Florida, back to Virginia. So it was a challenge as a kid always being uprooted and not being able to make friends that lasted more than two years. But on the other hand, moving around so much made me more flexible and adaptive to new situations.

Tell us a little about your background.
My academic background is in Fine Arts. I studied Studio Art in both my undergraduate work (JMU) and also have a MFA in Studio Art – Photography (GWU). Being the child of a military family and always moving around so much actually made me quite shy since I was always the new kid trying to figure out how I fit in, so I became more and more shy as I got older. But going to art school and constantly having to create new work weekly and defend it to my peers, helped me in so many ways.

I am a survivor of child abuse and I try to be as vocal about my experience as possible. I am a firm believer in speaking up and sharing about what I went through with others. By talking about my experience, it helps reduce stigma, lets others know they are not alone, and provides support to those who have gone through similar situations.

You are new to Reynolds. What brought you to Richmond, and to Reynolds specifically?
My Partner of 16 years accepted job at VCU last October. We still had a few months left on our apartment lease in Alexandria, so I stayed up there and continued to work while searching for jobs here in the Richmond area. Our lease ran out in January of 2019, so until just recently I was commuting from Richmond to Alexandria where I was a Librarian at Northern Virginia Community College.

I was very excited by the opportunity work at Reynolds because I fully support the mission and goals of community colleges and their essential roles as equalizers providing access to resources, technology, enrichment, and advancement opportunities for the entire community.

What sparked your interest in in becoming a librarian?
I have always been a teacher at heart. I love working with people and helping students to find their passion and inspiration for knowledge and lifelong learning. I grew up going to libraries as a place to do my homework. While pursing all of my degrees, I worked in some sort of library at each school. I don’t know why I didn’t consider Librarianship earlier, but it is interesting to look back at all the little things that led me to this career.

What are the most challenging aspects of being a librarian?
The most challenging thing about being a librarian is connecting with people outside of the library and effectively communicating what the library can offer. Most people, including teachers and administrators (not just students) don’t really seem to understand the true purpose and roll of the academic library.

There is a common misconception that libraries are just buildings full of books or that Librarians just sit around all day reading novels. Providing academic support services to patrons is our main goal, but in general people only come to the library when they need help with something. That point-of-need model limits how much interaction we have with patrons outside of those specific interactions. 

Libraries are here to provide access to so many different things: study space, technology, books, databases, Information Literacy Instruction, but above all our most important asset is our people. Librarians and Library staff are in the business of student success. It is core to our mission and therefore we are essential to our institution because our daily interactions with students directly impact enrollment, retention, persistence and ultimately student success.

What are the most rewarding aspects?
The most rewarding part for me is when students come back to you just to say thank you and that they got an “A” on the paper or project I helped them with.

Librarians sometimes have very focused jobs, but usually we need to be a jack of all trades. Being a service oriented profession, we never know what kind of questions or issues our patrons might have, so we are constantly being challenged. I love and embrace that I am constantly stimulated by learning new things, finding new things, keep up with changes in technology, changes in pedagogy, and myriad of other areas.

If you had one extra hour a day, how would you use it?
I love to cook so I would use an extra hour each day to try out more complicated recipes. Unfortunately, I have a few food restrictions, but that always makes for a fun challenge where I can try to convert and existing recipe into something that I can eat.

What do you like to do outside of your work at Reynolds?
I am writing my first novel. It is inspired by a nightmare I had a year ago. I woke up from the dream and immediately had to start writing it down.

Another passion of mine is Holistic Wellness. I am a firm believer that we all should strive for a balance of Physical, Nutritional, Mental, Emotional, and Spiritual Wellness.

I started lifting weights in 2010 and I got completely hooked. I wake up early every morning and go to the gym to lift. I still call myself an amateur bodybuilder, but I have no desire to compete professionally. Lifting is my “me time”. I put on my headphones, crank up the music, and just get lost in the challenge of trying to be better each day.

What do like most about Richmond? Favorite places to visit? Favorite restaurants?
I have only been living in Richmond full-time for a few weeks, so I am still learning all that it has to offer, but I really enjoy that there is so much access to the arts in this area. The other benefit is that we have all the advantages of being next to a city but without the traffic and overpopulation of the DC Metro area. I love that I can be out in nature or in the country in just a few minutes or head into the city for a concert or event without much trouble.

If you won $100 Million in the Mega Millions lottery what would you do with the money?
If I won a $100 Million, I would immediately pay off my debt.

I would purchase a small farm somewhere around Richmond and build my dream home. I am a huge animal lover and gardening is one of my many passions. It is my goal to eventually have goats, chickens, and to grow as much of my own organic produce as possible.

I would establish a scholarship for LGBTQA students.

Of course some of that money would go towards retirement.

Another dream I have always had is to own a large warehouse in a city and convert it into visiting artist studio space and gallery space. I would set up a visiting artist program where artists are paid a stipend to come and use the space while they teach art master classes and give lectures. It would be an amazing partnership with all the colleges in the area to help art students and the community learn how to appreciate and make art from successful working artists.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Josh Watson – Instructor - English

Josh Watson with sons Andrew (left)
and baby William (right).
Where did you grow up and what was it like? 
I grew up right here in Richmond, VA! Went to Godwin High School, attending Reynolds, and graduated from VCU with my BA & MA. 

How long have you worked for Reynolds?
As of August 2019 I have been with Reynolds for ten years.

What sparked your interest in English?
My high school English teacher taught me the value of expressing myself through writing and Paul Carlton (a retired professor from here) taught me about the fun you can have studying literature. 

What are the most challenging and most rewarding aspects of being an English Instructor?
Both would have to be giving each student the opportunity to work and explore beyond the walls of academia. Helping students see the application of what they learn here in a “real world” context makes the experience so much more real for them and I love seeing that realization evolve into energy and passion for their future.

You are in the first ACUE cohort group. What impact do you foresee the program having on Reynolds and our students?
Students will continue to see an engaged group of faculty that are making the classroom come alive with dynamic activities that will have them working with their contemporaries here and across Richmond. In that regard, Reynolds will grow to become even more of what it was always meant to be: a pillar for surrounding communities in every sense of the word. 

If you had one extra hour a day, how would you use it?
Reading with my sons. We’re currently working through the Last Kids on Earth series.

What do you like to do outside of your work at Reynolds?
I enjoy tabletop gaming (Dungeons & Dragons and Warhammer 40K) as well as making wooden cutouts for my Halloween display (tombstones, scary figures, etc.). 

What do like most about Richmond? Favorite places to visit? Favorite restaurants?
Lately my oldest son and I have spent quite a bit of time exploring the rich and diverse collection of cemeteries and graveyards around Richmond. His favorite is currently Hollywood Cemetery for its crypts and climbable trees. Our goal is to leave a single polished stone in every graveyard and cemetery in Richmond to mark our visit and honor those that have passed.  

If you won $100 Million in the Mega Millions lottery what would you do with the money?
Keep 10 million for my family and put the rest into a fund for independent projects in Richmond (conserving historical buildings, art instillation projects such as the mural project, tuition funding for college students, etc.). Investing (wisely) in the future is never a bad idea.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

The Golden Gate Bridge Came First

Meet Melissa Collier

Reynolds Culinary Arts Grad and 

Operations Manager at Everyday Gourmet

Melissa Collier handles event details the way a commercial Vitamix handles carrots and kale. On the outside she’s perfectly calm, while on the inside she’s furiously chopping, mixing and churning ingredients to make Everyday Gourmet incredibly successful: fantastic food, delightful dishes, and memorable menus, all seasoned liberally with thoughtful and gracious customer service.

Everyday Gourmet is more than just a catering business – “fast food chains can deliver box lunches,” says Melissa, “for me “catering” isn’t just food. “Catering” means catering to our clients’ needs and wants. I love making people happy, which means I love this business. But it’s not for everybody. You need that love. I dreamed of being this person. I’ve seen it in my mind. I’ve admired it. I’ve wanted it. Now I’ve made it, and love being this person.” 

Melissa has found her place in the world, and it’s culinary operations. Her joy and enthusiasm could inspire even the most kitchen-averse individual to put on an apron and get to work. It all started her senior year when she went to a new high school where she felt she didn’t fit in. To escape her discomfort, she signed up for cooking and baking classes in the tech center. She knew she was in the right place when given an assignment to build a gingerbread house from scratch. Instead of a simple house, Melissa constructed a replica of the Golden Gate Bridge complete with licorice ropes for cables.

After high school Melissa immediately enrolled in Reynolds Culinary Arts program. She had already started working full time in the food business her senior year. “This was perfect for me,” she says, “I could make my mistakes at school and then go to work and do everything the right way. I would get an idea in one of my classes and take it to work that evening, and it could be on the menu the next day. Working in the business helped me understand fully what I was learning in class. It was a great time for me. I had no idea there were eight ways to chop carrots, that potatoes must be washed in cold water, or what happens at a meat processing plant. Honestly, I wouldn’t be where I am without Reynolds.”

If she wasn’t so perfectly suited for catering operations, Melissa would certainly find success as a Culinary Comedian. She has stories, lots of them. Some about events gone right: a bridal shower, a wedding, and a baby shower for the same couple all in one year. And, some about events gone wrong: like only having three volunteers show up to serve 1400 people at an outdoor event, rain came down in buckets for four hours, and with more than 100 people left in the food line the tent company came and took away their tent. When put to the test, Melissa is the kind of culinary pro who laughs instead of cries, and keeps on serving.

A typical Saturday at Everyday Gourmet includes a mix of catering, weddings, and parties. They might have a 20k engagement party in the afternoon and a family reunion in a hotel ballroom that evening. Melissa has a roster of 52 servers, captains, drivers, and chefs to choose from, with 20 of those being event regulars. In addition to catering, Everyday Gourmet has a meal preparation and delivery service, Well Fed, which regularly serves about 75 customers.

Melissa calls on Reynolds culinary students to help out, too, and readily sings their praises. “Reynolds students are delightful. They come to work early, their attitudes are great, and they are diligent and detailed about their assignments. John Bradley helped at the “rain event”. He was amazing. He hung in there the whole time, and never complained about the situation. Sam Bausone  and Anna Zanetti helped at the Elby’s. They were both just incredible. That night Sam was named one of the students of the year at the event. He worked until he was called to the stage to accept his award, then came back to work after he received it. I didn’t even know he was getting an award, he was so humble about it.”

And, Melissa Collier knows “humble.” After she was offered and accepted her position at Everyday Gourmet it took her months to talk about it, to embrace it, and to see it as her own. She had wanted it for so long, when she finally got it, she first wanted to be sure she had it, that she was up to it. Now she knows for sure. Now, on any given day Melissa can be found quietly chopping, mixing, and churning her way through another crazy-busy week of event details. 

She has definitely arrived.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Meet Nakia James

EMS Program Coordinator

Where did you grow up and what was it like?
I grew up in Prince George, VA, a very rural county about 45 minutes south of Richmond, VA. I am an identical twin and one of 4 siblings. I grew up in a two parent household, in which I was very active in church and High School sports.  I grew up serving and helping others at a very young age through various outreach activities in the community and my church. I can honestly say I had a very good childhood in the sense of a loving and happy family. 

This summer you were selected as Reynolds EMS Coordinator, but you were already a member of Reynolds faculty. How long have you worked for Reynolds, and what was your previous role?
I worked as an adjunct faculty member through a high school EMT dual enrollment program and Governor's STEM Academy, located at the Richmond Technical Center as a part of Richmond Public Schools. I served as the Lead STEM Instructor (Department Head) and EMS Program instructor for 10 years, totaling 15 years as an instructor at the Richmond Technical Center. I also taught EMT courses for the Richmond Adult Technical Center at night. I have worked as a member of the Reynolds Adjunct faculty for 8 years.
What sparked your interest in EMS work?
My older brother who was in EMS sparked my interest well before I was old enough to participate in my local Rescue Squad. Instead, I would ride in the car with him as he responded to 911 calls from our home by way of his EMS pager/radio. I stayed in the car, watched and waited for him during many accident scenes and medical emergencies that he responded to. When I became old enough to join and volunteer, I enrolled in an EMT course after school hours and the rest was history. Interestingly enough my older brother stayed with EMS for a while and later transitioned his career into Law Enforcement to this date.

What are the most challenging aspects of your job?
As an EMS provider (firefighter/paramedic) I would assume this is a pretty standard answer, which would be  trying to change the outcome of a patients situation, knowing it may not change, due to the extent of injuries or illness the patient may have sustained or have been affected by. The daunting task of educating patients regarding bad practices/habits that negatively impact their lives and having to repeat this process by me (EMS) over and over as a result of repetitive poor choices/decisions. As an educator, It would be helping students to understand and tap into his/her full potential in spite of the struggles and challenges many of them face on a daily basis. 
What are the most rewarding aspects of your job?
Making a difference no matter how big or small it may be. Seeing students achieve their goal and often moving on to accomplish even greater achievements. It is nice for students to come back and say thank you, but not required. Knowing I helped them along the way, is gratification enough that I have done my job. Seeing that excitement and smile on their face when the light comes on in their head that they can do it!

If you had one extra hour a day, how would you use it?
I would likely spend it doing more work unfortunately as there never seems to be enough time in the day to get everything done. In reality, I would likely give that time to my family, as I could always spend more time with the ones I love.

What do you like to do outside of your work at Reynolds?
I spend some of my time with Church related activities as I am a musician and play for two churches currently. Family time is always a big priority for me whenever I can. When I am not doing that, I am an avid RC Helicopter / Airplane enthusiast. I build and fly large RC Aircraft and Scale Helicopters.  I am a member of the Richmond Area Radio Controlled Club in Charles City, VA which is one of the areas I can legally fly them due to their sizes and the FAA regulations/restrictions. It is very relaxing for me. As if this isn't enough, working in my garage, landscaping, working on vehicles  or building things take up the rest of my free time.  

What do like most about Richmond? Favorite places to visit? Favorite restaurants?
I would say the diversity is one of Richmond's greatest assets along with being one of the best Food cities in VA. I enjoy visiting local small neighborhood restaurants, Carytown at times and discovering new attractions in the city.  I enjoy visiting historic and revitalized areas and any of the sporting venues or sporting events that come to Richmond.

If you won $100 Million in the Mega Millions lottery what would you do with the money?
Well unfortunately, I don't gamble so this would be highly unlikely, but if someone wanted to gift me with $100 million dollars, I would tithe to my local church and give monetary donations to everyday people that I would come in contact with. I love surprising people with kindness when they least expect it.  Paying off layaway accounts at various establishments, paying the tolls for a day for random people, taking a family in need on a vacation or shopping spree, paying someone's tuition in  full.  I could go on and on as I often think about how I could help people pretty regularly. In the meantime, I privately pray for almost everyone I come in contact with that God would give them the desires of their heart, bless and prosper them!

Friday, October 4, 2019

Who is Marcus Taylor?

Is Marcus Taylor a barber? A dog breeder? A house rehabber? A car salesman? Or, a personal trainer? The answer is yes, and no. Yes, Marcus has done all these things, but they aren’t all he is. He still works as a barber and he still rehabs homes, but he has bigger plans for his future. Asking himself, “Who is Marcus Taylor” was the question that eventually landed Marcus at Reynolds. 

Right now, what Marcus is, is a Reynolds student.

Aside from career labels, what Marcus is, is a fighter, a survivor, a tenacious “never give up” Veteran who started life in less than ideal circumstances. “Where I came from in the East End there wasn’t anything to lose, and there seemed to be no way out,” Marcus said, “my saving grace was joining the Army. It was my way out. I got to see the world and go to pla
ces I never dreamed of.”
When Marcus got out of the service in 2013 he didn’t know which way to go. “I went a lot of ways,” he says, “I’m good at almost anything, and can grasp how to do almost anything. So I tried on lots of careers. They were like suits that just didn’t fit right.”

“Then,” says Marcus, “I got interested in construction. I could see that Richmond was booming. I met a developer who said: “you know, people always need housing,” but I didn’t know what to do with my interest until I came to Reynolds. An advisor gave me a career survey, and I knew I had found a good fit. I started taking classes in Building Construction Management, and for the first time since I got out of the Army, I had hope, I had a future again, I finally found a light at the end of the tunnel – and I found it at Reynolds.”

Marcus credits his girlfriend with urging him to speak up about his experience at Reynolds. It’s a good thing she did, because Marcus has a lot to say. Especially about the Reynolds classroom. “I have thrived in the Reynolds atmosphere of small classes. I am truly grateful to have been given the space to explore my talents and interests. I tell others, if you want to go to college, and you want to work, there are opportunities right here at your fingertips. If you can afford those expensive gym shoes, you can afford to go to college.”

“I used to wish I had grown up some place else, some place better,” Marcus says, “but then I think about the tools I have in my bag as a result, and I wouldn’t trade those tools for anything else.” Marcus has also been to war, which added a whole other set of tools to his arsenal. As a result, he comes to the classroom with a perspective many students don’t have. “At first I felt like a dinosaur next to some of the 18-year old students. Now, I chuckle when they huff and puff about getting a tough homework assignment. Paying bills, and fighting for your life, now THOSE are tough assignments.”

Marcus plans to graduate in the spring or early summer. He knows he has a lot of work to do to get there, but that work doesn’t faze him. “You have to tap in to your “have to” to reach your tough goals,” Marcus explains, “you can’t whine and complain that the work is too hard. You’ve just got to dig in and do it, you’ve got to do the hard stuff.”

And after graduation? “I’d like to go to ODU or VA Tech and get my degree in Building Construction Management or Project Management. Now that I have found my passion and a career that fits, even if my GI Bill runs out, I’ll find a way to go.”

Who is Marcus Taylor? He’s a guy who greets you openly with a wide, genuine smile. He’s a hard-working, no nonsense realist who doesn’t believe in excuses – his own or anyone else’s. He’s smart, he’s curious, and he’s focused on his goals.

Who is Marcus Taylor? He’s a Reynolds student.