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Persistence Pays Off
Mariyah Bland, RN, credits Rappahannock Community College (RCC) for her success in nursing. “I learned so many great things while at RCC. Not just about nursing itself but about life overall and how to be well-rounded person,” said Bland.
Mariyah shares that the biggest obstacle she had to overcome as a student at RCC was her own lack of confidence and feeling intimidated about applying to the nursing program. Instead of talking herself out of applying she finally decided it was worth it and if she wasn’t accepted, she could “get back up and try again.”
"Every instructor I crossed paths with wanted me to not just remember the material but to really understand it and how it would make me a better nurse," she said. This holistic commitment to education highlights RCC’s dedication to nurturing not only competent professionals but well-rounded individuals. “The nursing program is very challenging, but I met with staff and fellow classmates to make sure I understood the information. I still use everything I learned in the program.”
Beyond academic and professional achievements, Mariyah acknowledges the formation of lifelong friendships that have evolved into a supportive family. “Graduating from RCC has brought me so many opportunities that I never saw coming,” said Mariyah. “I’ve been blessed to work in the two fields of nursing that I’ve always wanted to experience, one as a school nurse and now as a pediatric primary care nurse.”
From RCC to NN Shipbuilding
Fresh out of high school, Scott Pruitt, was unsure which career path to pursue but he knew he needed some form of professional training or higher education. A resident of Lancaster County, Pruitt enrolled in nearby Rappahannock Community College to try his hand at different subjects. “RCC is a fantastic and cost-effective way to expose yourself to higher education and see what appeals to you,” said Pruitt.
Pruitt enjoyed taking classes and learning new things. Two years after high school he earned an Associate of Arts and Sciences degree in Psychology. Following up on his first degree, he spent another two years earning an Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degree in Electrical Engineering. He was also a member of RCC’s Phi Theta Kappa (PTK) Honor Society. “The instructors at RCC are knowledgeable and passionate which enhances enthusiasm for the subject matter,” adds Pruitt. He found the coursework to be challenging with instructors willing to take time to help students work through problems, and share their wisdom.
His interest in electronics and engineering led Pruitt to pursue the Newport News Shipbuilding (NNS) Design Co-Op program through a partnership with RCC while taking the classes for the AAS degree in Electrical Engineering Technology. That portion of his college education was paid for by the NNS Co-Op program. This opportunity and experience provided him an entry-level designer position at the Shipyard once he completed the degree. He worked as a piping system designer in the CVN21 aircraft carrier program (CVN79 Gerald R. Ford) for about five years he decided to apply to The Apprentice School as a pipe fitter. “I can say that the Apprentice School experience was transformative for me,” said Pruitt. “During my five years as a pipe fitter, I was able to work on the construction or overhaul of four submarines and seven aircraft carriers. The experience I gained and the connections I made along the way have been invaluable in my 15-year career at NNS.”
Pruitt’s advice to current and future students is to take time to get to know your instructors as people, especially those who have industry experience in a field in which you’re interested in pursuing. “If a college education is meant to propel you into a career, you should view your community college experience as the aiming portion of the launch,” he said.
NNS offers a wide range of career opportunities and as Pruitt attests, “You can do anything in the Shipyard.” Recently Pruitt was involved in the NNS Mobile Experience trailer showing high school students how ship building has evolved in using digital renderings and instructions and technology.
“The science and engineering faculty which I was fortunate to learn from all seemed to share a wonderfully dry sense of humor. Believe it or not, that probably helped as much as the coursework did in preparing me for a career in design and engineering,” said Pruitt. “Gain an understanding of the coursework but also of the actual work, and then you can confidently launch in the direction of your choice.”
RCC Baseball Players Return to Classroom 48 Years Later
When retired Rappahannock Community College (RCC) professor Joseph Swonk announced he was teaching a lifelong learning course at RCC, several former students signed up. Treadwell Davison, John Kent, Phil McKenney, Mike Newsome, Steve Swope, and Mike VanLandingham, teammates on RCC’s baseball team in the early 1970s were in the classroom again—almost 50 years after their first college class.
Bringing these guys back to the classroom, and to learn about Robert Frost, is a testament to the impact Swonk had on his students. “We’re here to support Joe and to hear what he has to say,” commented the students. “He’s a good guy. Witty, funny, intelligent and was always a good teacher.” Swonk was the baseball pitcher in addition to teaching English. “Joe and Wade (Johnson) were our coaches but they weren’t much older than we were and we formed a bond,” said Swope. The group still gets together at least quarterly for breakfast to catch up and reminisce. They tell stories about winning the State Baseball Championships for RCC, beating Northern Virginia Community College at Community College Play Day, and leaving Swonk speechless during Public Speaking classes.
“Writing Poetry and the Creative Process Using Robert Frost’s Life and Works,” Swonk’s recent class for RCC’s Rappahannock Institute for Lifelong Learning (RILL), was held over three consecutive Mondays in October for a total of six hours. The teammates enjoyed the class and participated in thoughtful discussions. “Just finished a 6-hour course on Robert Frost with my old professor Joe Swonk,” commented Swope on Facebook. “That’s how much I love Joe Swonk to take this course!”
When he received a poor grade on a paper at the University of Virginia (UVA), Davison contacted Swonk for suggestions on how to do better moving forward. “Joe didn’t hesitate to help me and my grades improved,” Davison remarked.
Kent and Swope transferred to Virginia Tech (VT) and roomed together. Kent, a graduate of Northumberland High School, studied accounting, became a partner in a Richmond accounting firm, and is now a retired Certified Public Accountant (CPA). Swope, from Colonial Beach, studied Physical Education and returned to Colonial Beach where he taught and coached. Although retired from Colonial Beach Public Schools he is still a coach and mentor and actively supports youth sports.
Davison and McKenney graduated from Washington and Lee High School (now Westmoreland High School) in Montross. He studied economics and foreign affairs at UVA and retired from the freight railroading industry. McKenney worked for the Virginia ABC Board then returned to college at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) where he studied art and design. He is a professional artist and performer in Montross.
“As faculty (and coaches), we cared about our students, and they knew we were dedicated to their well-being,” said Swonk. “Wade Johnson told his players, ‘You are a baseball scholar, not just a player’. He checked in with their professors, the counseling center, and financial aid, to make sure his ‘boys’ were doing what they needed to do. If they weren’t he would take them aside and explain that they would be benched if they weren’t.”
“RCC is more like a family than a school, though our students do learn here and graduate because they are given every opportunity to succeed,” added Swonk. “We worked as a team, gathered around each student, and informed one another of each student’s needs and problems. They all graduated and became doctors, nurses, teachers, coaches, mentors, businessmen—decent, caring, reliable men.”