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.