The autumn equinox was just hours away when this year’s crop of Fellows, nearly two dozen high-performing students from Northern Virginia, Laurel Ridge, and Germanna Community Colleges, pulled into the Omni Hotel in downtown Richmond for a multi-day conference on leadership. Here, they would learn about and cultivate the skills necessary for success, both in the classroom and beyond. After all, they had been chosen by the Virginia Foundation for Community College Education (VFCCE) to participate in the organization’s premier scholarship programs. That meant the VFCCE would have their backs, financially and otherwise.
Brenda Diaz Miranda – a single mom from Manassas who was selected for the Potomac Health Fellowship, has already worked as a CNA and an LPN. Now, she has the title of RN in her sights and she’s ready to advocate publicly for the scholarship program by engaging directly with those who might follow in her footsteps.
“I want to visit local high schools in the Manassas area to speak about this program. It’s an opportunity I have now to make an impact on somebody else’s life.”
Stephanie Byrd, a second-year student at Tidewater Community College, wants to be an occupational therapist. But her way forward has been slowed, due in large part to a lack of financial resources and COVID. Only the passage of time could help with the latter. But Byrd’s economic outlook brightened considerably when she was named a Valley Proteins Fellow. She now had something that had proven elusive throughout her on again, off again higher ed journey – stability in the form of financial support.
“I had been working part-time as a server. Now, I can grab a coffee from Starbucks and not feel guilty about it.”
Earlier in his career, 27-year-old Kody Forsythe was a self-proclaimed “IT guy.” But he became disillusioned with his chosen profession after being repeatedly passed over for promotion. The time for a change was at hand.
Forsythe soon moved from his hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma to be with his partner in Stafford, VA. That’s when Germanna Community College popped up on his radar. Selected as a Potomac Health Foundation Fellow, Forsythe is now pursuing a career in interior design. His goal? To someday becoming a household name.
“It (the scholarship) has allowed me to be independent. It’s really hard when you’re working without a formal education. I just wanted to be in a position financially where I’m not working paycheck to paycheck.”
At 25, Osiris Lizama is the oldest of four children and the first in her family to go to college. Originally from El Salvador, Lizama is a fulltime student at Laurel Ridge. She also works fulltime.
Lizama says couldn’t believe it when she was contacted by the Foundation and learned she had been selected for the Valley Proteins Fellowship.
“I started calling my husband, my mom, my dad, and my younger brothers (3), and they were like ‘Wow, sis. You’re doing great!’”
The Fellows program has given Lizama some much-needed breathing room, both financially and socially, and she offered this advice for her contemporaries considering their career possibilities: “I would encourage them to keep their grades up and to get involved in extracurricular activities and volunteer in the community. Oh, and just FYI, I actually do get eight hours of sleep each night, so I’m good.”
To learn more about the Fellowships offered through the Virginia Foundation for Community College Education, click here.