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The College of William & Mary

Alan Williams ’92 and his path to the NFL

Alan Williams ’92 wanted to be a teacher. He planned his entire life out step by step based on that one known fact. After graduation from the College, he started teaching at Norview High School in Norfolk, Va. Then he started helping out with the school’s football team. He planned that eventually he’d become head coach and someday he’d make his way into school administration.

But then the NFL got in his way. 

Williams recently was a part of something that approximately 100 million Americans watched a few weeks back. Williams is the secondary coach with the Indianapolis Colts and his franchise won its first Super Bowl title in decades. 

“It was a great feeling,” said Williams. “I hate to say that it was anti-climactic, but it was. Just to get there, and we had fallen so short the three years before. To beat New England at home to get to the Super Bowl, that was really a big deal. To win the Super Bowl for (head coach Tony Dungy) and as well as just the personal satisfaction to get over that hump after falling short for so many years.”

“And really proving the critics wrong,” he added.

Williams and Dungy had been criticized all season long because of the team’s perceived under-performing defense. Williams’ defensive secondary — which is usually comprised of four to six players who cover the wide receivers and tight ends and defend passes from the quarterback — was a part of the overall problem. But as soon as the playoffs started his squad was a big part of the Colts’ ascension to the championship match-up against the Chicago Bears.

“(Our secondary) was just coming around to getting healthy,” said Williams. “I think the players did a better job of taking ownership of what was going on. They were not happy for sure with how we were playing and I think that they took it upon their shoulders to be more responsible for what was happening on the field. And we as coaches I think did a better job of mixing up what we called.”

Williams thinks that it may all have been great timing for his team — and great teaching. He believes that there is much more to the game of football than most understand, and that it requires a great teacher to get players in position and help them understand its complexities. Perhaps that is why this former teacher has been so fortunate in his young NFL career thus far.

“(Football) is so different in terms of what you do and how you do it,” said Williams. “You’ve got to understand what other people teach you and convey that to your players. If you’re a good teacher, you can coach football.”

And Williams credits many of good habits and abilities to days spent learning at the College. Not just on the field, but in the classroom as well.

“When you’re a William and Mary student, you have to do a lot of things at a high level in competition with a lot of people,” said Williams. “It makes you multi-task. It makes you prioritize your time. It sets you up for whatever you do — to do it at a high level. 

“Coach Laycock demanded that we go to class and that we represented the football team in a good way,” said Williams. “You’re there to play football but you’re also here to be a student athlete. You also had to perform in the classroom at a high level. Not everyone is subjected to that. So when you come out of William and Mary you have a leg up when you enter the workforce. 

“When I taught, I felt better prepared than the people I was teaching with,” said Williams. “And it was the same with football. As a coach, the day isn’t done until you finish with your work. You’re not governed by a time clock. That’s how W&M was. You keep doing it until you get it right until you’re done. Not just finished with it, but the product is a good product. That is a lot like what the real world is and a lot like what coaching is.”

Williams feels that his time on campus was special, and makes a point to stop by for a visit at least once a year. He remembers fondly the nights when he was up late at night at Millington 101 and up on the third floor of Swem Library.

“I also liked walking down DoG Street and getting a smoothie from the ice cream shops,” laughed Williams. For now, Williams and his wife Lisa do their walking with their three boys. 

Now that he’s been a part of a Super Bowl-winning team, the future is bright for Williams — though his first focus is helping to guide his Colts back to the playoffs and possibly win it all again. Though Williams has been rumored to be the next defensive coordinator or the Vikings, he’s making sure that all doors of opportunity are left open.

“I want to have my squad perform at a high level on a consistent basis,” said Williams. “I think that what people are looking for is consistency. They want to know can you do that next year and the year after. That’s the testament of a good coach. If you can put a good product on the field and have them perform on a consistent basis. Right now it’s just to be the best secondary coach that I can possibly be. If that turns into possibilities like a coordinator or a head coach – that would be great. I’ll welcome those when they come. As of now, it’s to do what I do and to do it well.”

This was originally written for The College of William & Mary.

Rappahannock Community College

Meet a member of the RCC Class of 2017 — April Wobken

Some people start their post-high school career with a path set in stone. Each step of the route is carefully measured and planned out. But for others, there is a bit of growing that is involved in their path, and the steps are taken more carefully.

April Wobken, is part of the second category of college student. After she graduated from Gloucester High School in 2013, she thought she would start down the same path as many of her peers. She applied to a four-year school but was not accepted. This first alteration of the “normal” path through college started April on the path to RCC, and eventually to the University of Mary Washington.

“Originally I wanted to go to Christopher Newport University right out of high school, but they did not take me because of my math,” says April. “I was discouraged from that experience.”

After the letter from CNU, April decided to try working for a while. Her thought was that perhaps she did not need more schooling and that she’d rather make money instead. She spent time working at GameStop and Cook Out, served as a lifeguard and taught yoga as well.

“While I was working, I thought ‘Oh my gosh, I don’t care about money! I want something better than this’,” says April.

It was her parents who recommended that April try out RCC. This turned out to be a smart decision for her since she always felt like weakness in math was what kept her from entering CNU. She started and then stopped again, and restarted at RCC in Spring 2016, and was able to work through all of her math classes, thanks to helping from RCC math professor Therese Johnson.

“Prof. Johnson was so very nice to me,” says April. “My other developmental math teachers did pretty well too, but Prof. Johnson took the extra mile. She was so encouraging and would get excited for her students. I love that sort of teacher.

“Thanks to her, I got through developmental math,” says April. “And even after that, with Algebra and statistics, I would go to her, and she still helped me, even though I wasn’t her student. I appreciated her because math is my worst subject.”

With the help of Therese Johnson, and another Prof. Johnson — Lori Johnson — an English professor at the RCC New Kent Site, April was quickly racing toward her goal of earning an Associate of Arts and Sciences Transfer Degree.

During all of this, April became a part of the Student Ambassador team, who work events for the College, attend events and represent RCC in public and assist new students as they start orientation.

“When I first got the student ambassador job, I had a lot of jobs, so I was like ‘I don’t care if I get this.’ I got called in, and I thought that it was not a big deal if I get this. And then I got it,” says April. “And it took a while to settle in and I though, ‘I am so glad that I got this job.’ This job and yoga were the only jobs that I haven’t gotten tired of.”

Though her time as a Student Ambassador was a working position, she found that this post made her feel closer to RCC in general.

“I liked having a leadership role,” says April. “Sometimes even when I was off the clock and in class, a student would come into the wrong classroom, and others would say that I was a student ambassador and that I can help. Being looked at as someone who can help people and point them in the right direction, I like.”

In May of 2017, April earned her degree from RCC and will transfer to Mary Washington this Fall. She intends to double-major in English and psychology, which she hopes will allow her to create stories and books that will be both exciting and therapeutic.

“I have found that in tough times if you can find a really exciting story, that can bring excitement to your life,” says April. “But I like psychology too; I feel like I understand it. It would make my writing better too.”

Before she leaves Gloucester for Mary Washington, April is planning one last pit stop on her path. She’s organizing an AIDS charity event, which combines her love for yoga and her favorite musician, the late Freddie Mercury of Queen.

Her “Yoga for Freddie” event will take place at the Gloucester Yoga Studio on August 6 from 2 to 3:30 p.m. and will benefit the Mercury Phoenix Trust, which fundraises for AIDS awareness and research worldwide. All are invited to attend.

Reflecting upon how things have changed for her since 2011, April has a soft spot in her heart for RCC and has become sort of a champion for the community college experience in general.

“I think RCC is a great option,” says April. You can’t mess it up. With a four-year school, there is so much more expectation and pressure. But with a community college, you can still live your life and figure things out. It’s best to keep things that way so you can figure things out.

“Here you can do that, and there are a lot of faculty who are very helpful,” says April. “When people talk to me, and they tell me that they are graduating from high school, I say that I know that four-year colleges look good, but I think you should look into a community college.

“It’s not as flashy from the outside, but once you get in — it’s really cool.”

This was originally written for Rappahannock Community College.

Rappahannock Community College

King George High School grad to achieve RCC degree

A 2014 graduate of King George High School, Savannah Carabin began pursuing higher education via Rappahannock Community College’s dual enrollment classes, and will complete an associate degree in Spring 2016 — without ever having to leave her home county.

“My experience at RCC [the off-campus site at King George High School] has been extremely satisfying,” Carabin says, “because I gained valuable skills that helped me get a job.” Her dual enrollment classes made her familiar with a number of computer design programs, and she uses this knowledge in her work as a graphic designer for a local shop, “Rocky Top Embroidery & More.”

In addition, she says, “I own my own photography and freelance graphic design business. I hope to transfer to Virginia Commonwealth University and receive my bachelor’s degree in graphic design, advertising, or both.”

“I feel that I am adequately prepared for the transition,” she continues, “as RCC’s curriculum is very similar to VCU’s.” In addition, VCU is close enough to allow her to come home often, so as to continue her volunteer work with a number of civic organizations in King George and neighboring counties.

Several of these, such as the King George Chamber of Commerce, the King George High School chapter of DECA, the King George Fall Festival Queens’ Pageant, and the Fredericksburg Agricultural Fair Queens’ Pageant, provided her with scholarships to attend RCC.

“I like to volunteer my time to various organizations and community events, like the 4438 Professional Firefighters Golf Tournament,” she says. “Whoever needs my help knows where to reach me.” She is also closely connected with the “My Vote Matters” Facebook campaign, a community outreach endeavor of the King George DECA chapter which strives to educate citizens on the importance of voting in local and state elections.

A recent internship with the King George County Department of Economic Development, as well as the associate degree in business administration that she will receive this spring, will add essential experience and knowledge to help Carabin make her own way in the world. Her eventual goal is to found an advertising firm, or a new branch of Rocky Top Embroidery — in either case, “to help small businesses brand themselves to compete in the ever-changing economy.”

Carabin’s RCC classes, she says, were “greater than I ever expected. Everyone has been so accommodating. Ms. Turner [King George site supervisor Karen Turner] always has everyone’s best interests in mind. Most of the site staff know my name, and take the time to know a little bit about everyone.”

She rates RCC’s faculty at “12 out of 10,” and states, “All of my teachers have taught me valuable life lessons” — Dr. Pearl Rayms-Keller, Robert Parker, Michael Jagielski, and Terry Abell are some that she found particularly inspiring.

Carabin credits her father, a salesman in the automotive industry, as “my biggest advocate for my education and well-being. After watching him struggle during the recession, he taught me the importance of resiliency, remaining humble, and learning to not be dependent on others” — as well as how to drive a stick-shift, change the oil in her car, and change a tire. These lessons were reinforced by her mother, who by earning a business degree online while working to contribute to the family income “taught me the benefits of being independent, self-reliant, and not allowing anyone else to define you.”

“I am an avid photographer, wake surfer, coffee addict, and pageant enthusiast,” declares Carabin. “I just competed at the ‘Miss Virginia’ Association of Fairs Pageant, which is a ‘Miss Virginia’ preliminary, and I was given the opportunity to speak about what I’ve done with my platform, ‘My Vote Matters’. After my year of service as ‘Miss Stafford County Fair’ is over, I plan to work with the Stafford County Agricultural and Homemaking Fair committee to help them get ready for next year’s pageant, and to prepare the contestants as to the importance of community service, leadership, manners, hospitality, and public speaking.”

This was originally written for Rappahannock Community College.

Rappahannock Community College

Ruby Brabo: RCC Alumna and Champion for King George County

If you live in King George County, you may have met her at a town hall meeting or perhaps read her name in the news. She’s become a well-known personality in her community through her service as the Dahlgren District Supervisor on the King George County Board of Supervisors. Her personality shines as much as her namesake. Her name is Ruby Brabo, and she is happy to share with all that her experience at Rappahannock Community College has helped pave the way for her meteoric rise to prominence.

Brabo is a champion of her county — a place she’s called home since 2006. She is quick to say that King George County is a really special and diverse place.

“We have the Dahlgren Naval Base and the history here with James Madison’s birthplace [Bell Grove Plantation],” says Brabo. “We also rank 17th out of 95 counties in Virginia for vegetable production. We have an industrial park, and a lot of retail development, and also a lot of farmland as well. We have quite a mix here.”

Brabo began her service on the King George board in 2012, just two years after she earned her Associate of Art and Sciences degree from RCC.

“I decided that I wanted to obtain a degree before my oldest daughter graduated high school,” laughs Brabo. She had some college credit from just after high school, but was having a hard time getting those credits to be accepted by four-year schools. She shifted gears and noticed that RCC was very close by and offered her a chance to earn an associates degree and eventually transfer to a four-year institution later.

“I took the majority of classes at King George High School,” says Brabo. “I did have to go down to the Warsaw Campus for a couple of the classes, like Dr. Newtzie’s speech class. I never thought that I would have run for political office, because standing up and speaking in front of people was the furthest thing that I ever wanted to do. [Dr. Newtzie’s] class really helped me.”

While attending classes, Brabo served as her homeowner association’s president. After working with the county government to successfully finish an infrastructure project in her neighborhood, she found that she enjoyed that type of work and her friends and collogues encouraged her to run for office.

“I really did not think I would win,” remembers Brabo. “I thought, I will just put my name in the hat and if I win, I win! I did have an opponent, and I received 80% of the vote. ”

While on the board, she realized that a few issues are very close to her heart — education and managing economic growth. These two related principles guide many of her decisions and her love of working for the residents of King George through the governmental process is still as strong now as it was back in 2012.

“I enjoy serving the citizens,” says Brabo. “I have learned a lot, not only about our county, but about our state. Every day is a new day. There is always something different.”

Something different includes serving as a representative at the local, state and federal level for a variety of posts, including appointments by Governor Terry McAuliffe.

“The Chesapeake Executive Council is made up of the governors of the states that comprise the Chesapeake Bay watershed agreement, which include Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, and now New York and West Virginia,” says Brabo. “I now serve by the governor’s appointment on the local government advisory committee. I certainly never anticipated being appointed by the governor to serve on anything!”

While she enjoys her role within the local government, she hopes to expand her role by representing King George as a whole, not just the Dahlgren area. This up-coming election in November, Brabo is seeking the at-large seat.

Brabo will not say how long she wants to continue working as an elected official, and says she is not sure what might happen in the future. Right now, she is focused on King George.

“But that doesn’t mean 10 years from now you won’t see me running for a different office,” says Brabo. “It just depends on what happens and where life takes me.”

One place she hopes life will take her is to the finish line of her bachelor’s degree, which she is currently working on through American Public University. Her hope is that she can complete her B.A. before her younger daughter graduates high school.

When reflecting on her current push to graduate, Brabo feels that RCC was what got her back into the mindset for school and classwork. After going many years between high school and sustained college-level work, she needed a little push here and there in order to stay on course.

“The teachers were wonderful and very accommodating,” says Brabo. “They also recognize that you have a little bit of fear inside of us … going back and sitting inside a classroom with kids that are the same age as our own children. But it was good to be in a class with those younger kids. I got to hear their views on life today, and I am very glad that I made that decision.”

It’s been quite a journey for Ruby Brabo, one with unexpected twists and turns. She’s made the most of her opportunities but is humble and is quick to give credit to friends, family and others who have helped her along the way.

“I don’t think of myself as anyone other than Ruby the King George resident, mother, wife,” says Brabo. “I am just an average citizen like everybody else.”

This was originally written for Rappahannock Community College.

Rappahannock Community College

A learning journey brings an RCC transfer student back home

“I don’t think I’ll ever quit being a student,” says Jessica Crabill, a 2009 graduate of Rappahannock Community College who has made her way around the world and found that the Northern Neck was where she belonged.

Crabill is a visual journalist and photographer whose yearn to learn brought her to the College after graduating from Christchurch School. Before entering RCC, she took a year off to travel to exotic places like El Salvador, Zambia and South Africa where she volunteered for medical clinics and orphanages through Christian mission trips. She returned to the United States with a greater appreciation for what many of us take for granted. After she got back, Crabill decided to attend RCC.

“RCC seemed like it was the most financially sound decision,” said Crabill. “I put myself through school and it made the most sense to me. I was able to work and save for university.”

Crabill was impressed with the support offered to her by the staff at RCC, particularly the counselors in Student Support Services.

“They really encouraged me to not limit my goals,” she says. When she graduated in 2009 with an associate degree in arts and sciences, she was able to transfer to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill after taking the advice of the counseling department.

“I went to UNC-Chapel Hill in the fall of 2009 and graduated in 2011,” says Crabill. “I was in the school of journalism and mass communication and I received my bachelor’s in photojournalism.”

Despite the gigantic shift in campus population, Crabill reports that her experience at UNC and RCC were not too far off when comparing the rigors of some of the classes.

“My professor for English at RCC was phenomenal,” says Crabill. “I love English and I love writing and literature. I also took literature courses at UNC and Mr. Rockson was on par, on the same plane of excellence that was there.”

From there she accepted an internship at the Winston-Salem Journal in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where she continued to hone her photographic and video skills. But after a while of living in North Carolina, something made her turn north and head back to Virginia.

“I thought about living in North Carolina, but I ended coming back to the Northern Neck,” she says. “I love living here in a small town!” Crabill says of her current home in White Stone.

And perhaps due to her love of learning, Crabill works as a legal assistant at Lee Stephens Law in Irvington. Working for a law firm was not her intention originally, but she has grown to enjoy the specific law that they are involved in — conservation law.

“My job incorporates real estate, land use, and property rights, which I’ve had an interest in,” says Crabill. “As long as I have a job where I am appreciated and I feel like I am growing and my knowledge is expanding, I am happy.”

While her days are filled with legal work, Crabill is able to continue working as a photographer and videographer on a freelance basis. Crabill produced an educational and recruitment video for her high school alma mater, Christchurch School. She also has been able to indulge in architectural photography as well.

“I’ve done a lot of architectural [work] with firms in Alexandria,” says Crabill. “Some of my photos have been published in Home and Design Magazine and locally in House and Home Magazine.”

While she’s worked on a few projects here and there, Crabill thinks that there is a lot more that can be done from an artist’s standpoint in this region.

“I haven’t quite found my niche yet,” says Crabill. “I’m making pictures and producing films in a small town on a much smaller scale than what I would do for The Washington Post while living in the city, but the images are important and the stories are important.”

Now that she is back in the Northern Neck, she runs into young people who are close to graduating from high school, and she admits that she has given the same recommendation to them, many, many times.

“I know some high school age students, and I have always encouraged them to consider RCC as one of their best options,” she says. “I like that you get a lot of hands-on, one-on-one time with your professors and the staff in admissions and financial aid.

“I’m the first one in my family to graduate from college and it was very, very helpful to have those services,” says Crabill. “It was a great foundation that launched me into an amazing school … I can’t say enough great things about RCC.”

This was originally written for The College of William & Mary.

Rappahannock Community College

From RCC to the Corner Office: Andrea Staskiel, Class of 2011

Andrea Staskiel was a “non-traditional” student by definition and her experiences have been rather non-traditional as well. Before beginning her college education at RCC in January 2010, Andrea spent the first part of her professional career working in the insurance industry. She worked her way up and was made partner and vice-president of a large independent insurance agency in Virginia. With a commitment to providing the highest levels of customer experience and a passion for serving others, Andrea was nationally recognized as a leader in the industry.

However, Andrea began to feel like she was missing something and wasn’t being challenged enough in her career. She began to regret having not gone further in her formal education. She thinks it may have been around the time her children started asking where she went to college.

“So one day I walked in and sat down [in RCC counselor Sandy Darnell’s office] and started asking questions. I was skeptical as to whether this would be a good choice for me for many reasons but Sandy was very reassuring,” says Staskiel. “I visited another community college before I made my decision but the small, personal feel of the RCC campus was exactly what I needed to get a good start.”

Staskiel thrived in the confines of the RCC structure, taking as many as 21 credit-hours a semester, which is no small feat. As she took on this incredible schedule, she juggled the responsibility of school while she and her husband were raising two small children.

“I didn’t have much time for anything else!” she laughs about those times. Though she was busy, new doors opened for her. She was part of a student trip to Richmond to meet some of Virginia’s state representatives, and this experience influenced her opinion on the community college network in the Commonwealth.

“I feel very strongly that the community college system deserves more funding and I am anxious to share my beliefs and reasoning with people who can help influence those decisions,” she adds.

While her class schedule might have been tremendous, she uses words like “engaging” and “interesting” to describe her courses, comparing some of her RCC professors to those who teach at the College of William & Mary, where she would eventually transfer under the Guaranteed Admission Agreement.

“Sandra Caballero in Spanish was phenomenal,” says Staskiel. “[She was] always willing to take extra time to work with you and help as needed. I also enjoyed the distance learning classes and going at my own pace.”

Andrea graduated RCC Summa Cum Laude with the Arts and Sciences Transfer Degree in the summer of 2011. In the fall of 2011, Staskiel was accepted into the Mason School of Business at the College of William & Mary and began her coursework. She took on a similarly rigorous schedule at W&M as well, working through her course load and 62 credit hours in just over a year.

Andrea majored in marketing and minored in psychology and has a concentration in management and leadership. She graduated from William & Mary Magna Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Business Administration in December of 2012. “I was extremely proud of myself!” says Staskiel.

“It’s interesting” she says “I was nervous when I started school at RCC but was not nervous at all when I started at William & Mary – and that school should be intimidating.” She noted that she felt very well prepared for W&M and her confidence in her ability to do well was strengthened by her time spent at RCC.

Andrea noted that there were no surprises but she did indicate that there was an interesting stereotype associated with “transfer students”.

“It is important that transfer students be prepared to defy the stereotype that you are less than worthy” she says. You can only do that with your actions and the reputation you make for yourself. Andrea was able to maintain the same standard of excellence from RCC to W&M and now again in the working world by having a plan and sticking to the strategy.

In her current role, she is the director of marketing and sales for Warwick Forest, a retirement community under the Riverside Health System umbrella. In addition to directing the tactical marketing efforts, she is also involved with the day-to-day operation and management of the community. She says that her goal at Warwick Forest is to “help more people enjoy a retirement lifestyle that is rich in all facets of life that make them feel happy and fulfilled while eliminating as many headaches and stressors as possible.”

Andrea would recommend RCC to anyone, especially those who think that college might not be an option. “I give a lot of credit to the staff and faculty at RCC for helping me achieve my goals.”

“The people who come to [RCC] — must learn how the system works and they need to have a plan,” she says.

“To be successful in achieving your goals you must be strategic and fully understand what it takes to achieve what you want on the path that you are on,” she says. “Evaluate if there are other paths that are more suited for you to achieve the goal.”

This was originally written for The College of William & Mary.

Rappahannock Community College

Latisha “Tish” Lee ’08 shares the secret of her banking success

It is said that with a lot of hard work and a little luck, anyone can achieve their dreams. That’s exactly what Latisha Lee ’08 has done — and is still doing each and every day.

“I’ve been here since July 8, 2008,” says Lee, who prefers to be called Tish, of her work at the Bank of Lancaster in Kilmarnock. With Tish’s educational background, determination and hard work, the Bank has given her various responsibilities and positions over the past seven years including an officer promotion within the last year.

“Let’s see, I started as a Bookkeeping Assistant, then in the Customer Care Center; I was the Business Day Processor … then Deposit Operations Analyst and now the Deposit Operations Officer,” she says. “Basically, now I research new products and services.”

She remembers when growing up that most of the other little girls wanted to be singers or hairstylists. Tish wanted to be a banker. Banking was a way for her to be involved with problems that needed solving. Specifically, she could be involved with solving mathematical problems that needed solving.

Math for Tish has never been something that intimidated her, but rather, a puzzle or a trick with an answer.

“With math or anything you take what you know and take what you don’t know … but you always take what you know to figure out your answer,” she says. “If you take what you know, you’ll always find the answer.”

A Northern Neck native, Tish grew up in Richmond County and attended Rappahannock High School where she graduated in 2005. Upon graduation, she enrolled at the Rappahannock Community College Warsaw Campus, thanks to the advice of an aunt who attended RCC as well.

“I was able to attend class while maintaining my work schedule,” says Tish of her time at RCC. “I was working full time at the Hardee’s in Warsaw.”

As she found a work/school balance, Tish was able to make connections with the faculty who would help guide her in the financial direction.

“I took accounting with James Alston at RCC,” says Tish. “He pushed me and he gave me difficult things too. He made me think more. It wasn’t easy.”

Though she did not spend much time on campus due to her job and other responsibilities, she credits her time at RCC for preparing her for the professional world, which happened to be just around the corner from where she grew up. And two months after graduation in May 2008 with her Associate of Arts & Sciences Degree in Business Administration, she had a job — the only job she applied for.

“When I walked in here the first time and I met the Assistant Vice President and the Vice President and they welcomed me with open arms,” remembers Tish. “Coming out as a college student … made me a little bit nervous. They pushed me and gave me great instruction and I had no trouble.”

Tish is happy at the Bank of Lancaster. As she walks through the company headquarters in Kilmarnock and flashes her big smile around, anyone could tell that this is where she belongs. Everyone at the branch locations knows who she is as well, and they light up when she walks in for a visit.

She’s decided to continue her education in Hampton University’s accounting program. Tish reports that she had “no trouble” transferring her credits to HU and will start this fall in their online program.

When asked if she regretted not taking the “traditional” route that many high school graduates follow, that is, enrolling in a four-year program somewhere, the mathematical mind of Tish takes over.

“Most people want you to just automatically go to a four-year university,” she says. “But for me, RCC was fantastic. You go two years … it’s cheaper. Rather than spending $60,000, you can probably cut it in half if not more.

“When you go to the universities, sometimes the professors don’t have the spare time to give you because there are so many people there that they have to teach. It’s not that they don’t want to give you the time; they just don’t have the time. You get more touch and feel at the community college.”

Her long-term goal is to eventually become a vice president in her operations department at Bank of Lancaster. But while she is working her way up the corporate ladder, she has become an example and exemplar to young people in her community on how to succeed and achieve a goal.

“I just met a young lady in Warsaw and she was telling me that the job that she had was not where she wanted to be,” says Tish. “I told her just always pursue her dreams and to never give up.

“It may take time, but I’d rather take time than to give up what I’ve worked for. I can speak from experience that I knew banking was what I wanted to do. Never lose interest in your future goals and always have faith.”

This was originally written for The College of William & Mary.

Rappahannock Community College

RCC graduate takes part in national research project

“It was an awesome experience,” says recent Rappahannock Community College graduate Iesha Lee, who has just returned from a 10-week psychology research project at Virginia Tech. “It was my first exposure to true research, and now I want to pursue it more. It was the perfect experience for me before I move on to Old Dominion University [as a psychology major].”

Lee graduated from RCC in May 2014 with an Associate of Arts and Sciences transfer degree before attending “ ‘Hands-On, Minds-On’: Understanding and Preventing Societal Violence.” This study, sponsored by the National Science Foundation’s Research Experience for Undergraduates Program, selected just ten students from the Virginia Community College System and four-year colleges and universities across the nation to participate directly in one of four projects.

The purpose of the program was to engage students in the research process, and to help them develop a “research identity.” It brought together faculty and staff from a number of different disciplines, departments, and offices at Virginia Tech in order to foster a strong understanding of interdisciplinary research, and to make students part of a collaborative research community.

The ten chosen students each received a $5,000 stipend, free housing and meals, travel support, and access to Virginia Tech’s library, computers, and recreational facilities. In addition to these ten, 50 Virginia Tech students participated; each of the total of 60 students was required to prepare a poster display with a two-to-three-minute overview talk, as well as a 12-minute presentation fully explaining their project.

After careful consideration Lee chose the specific project “Bullying Prevention through Actively Caring,” with faculty advisor Dr. E. Scott Geller; in this context, “actively caring” is defined as any voluntary action intended to benefit others. (Other options were “The Socialization of Children’s Emotions,” “Reinforcing Anti-Violence Attitudes through Exposure to Violent Media Content,” and “Social Technology and Conflict.”) The key research question addressed in the project was “Can a behavior-based intervention, focused on rewarding desirable behavior, decrease bullying behavior beyond the school classroom?” It was supported by hands-on observation and documentation of both physical and verbal forms of bullying among young children; “Actively Caring” interventions allowed students to see the effects of applied research.

Lee found the program thought-provoking in many ways. She was much impressed by the passion that Virginia Tech professors—particularly her mentor, Dr. Geller — brought to their work. “The teachers looked at us as equals,” she said. “I had guidance from the program heads, but they trusted me to do my job, gather the research, present my work, and defend my findings and conclusions.” In addition, she was encouraged to observe the research being carried out on the other three projects. “Seeing all of these different programs, each of them separate but all working toward the central theme of preventing violence — it was inspiring.”

“The greatest thing about being there was creating connections with other students,” declares Lee. To be closely associated with people who strove for so many different goals and aspirations assured her that “it was okay to have many goals and to expect the best out of life.” For the labs, community college students were paired with students from four-year universities. “My lab partner was from the University of Virginia. She taught me how to take learning to a higher level, and helped prepare me for my transition to ODU.” Lee summarizes the experience by saying, “It allowed me to come out of my shell and create great and hopefully long-lasting relationships; presented me with educational and growth opportunities; and made me appreciate the writing process.”

Lee feels that community college was the perfect way to begin her academic career. “Without coming to RCC,” she says, “I would not have been prepared for the Virginia Tech experience. All of the knowledge I gained at RCC made me confident that I could relate to the four-year students at Virginia Tech.”

Before graduating from high school, Lee was accepted by several four-year colleges, some of which offered her scholarships. She thought of taking advantage of one of these offers, until she realized that not only would she be giving up her family’s daily guidance — very important, she felt, when making decisions that would affect her life — but that she could get the same education at RCC for the first two years, at a fraction of the cost. “It was better to go to RCC and take advantage of the scholarship money,” she says, “rather than use up my family’s savings on the first two years at a four-year school.”

“Staying home made me more mature,” she adds; it also allowed her to avoid the distractions that come from living on campus. “I have grown so much … I’m now ready to go out into the world.” At ODU she will finish her bachelor’s degree, and she then intends to earn a master’s degree and a doctorate. Her studies in psychology — “learning how people’s minds work”—were intended to help her become a good homicide detective (which has been her plan since the eighth grade), but she is now considering how to combine criminal investigation and psychology into a single career.

When asked if there was anyone whose help and encouragement she particularly appreciated, Lee named first of all Dr. Lisa Hill, her RCC psychology instructor, “for introducing me to the world of psychology and creating a new career and life path for me. She has been an inspiration and a great mentor to me. All of her classes are so interesting. She made you want to learn. She knew how to make students look for answers” — rather than expecting answers to be handed to them. Lee also thanks RCC Student Support Services counselor Tanya Oliver for her guidance; and most of all, she says, “my mom and my best friends, who encouraged me to pursue my dreams and goals.”

In general, she has been amazed at people’s willingness to help. One instance was a stranger who gained a favorable impression from her attendance at a scholarship reception, and asked her to get in touch with him later. When they met, he volunteered to help with her college expenses, and after discussing her educational goals, gave Lee $500 to pay for textbooks.

Between studying and working — now six days a week at Anna’s Restaurant in Gloucester County, and formerly at Bethpage Campground — Lee does not have a great deal of free time. “But I try to make every minute count,” she says, adding that she does not mind working so many hours because the staff at Anna’s are “like family to me, and are very supportive of my goals.”

This was originally written for The College of William & Mary.

The College of William & Mary

Ashley Edward Miller ’94: Writing and Living His Dream

Theres’s an old cliché that college graduates often hear: “May you avocation become your vocation.” For many young people, life gets in the way. But for screenwriter Ashley Edward Miller ’94, his dreams truly have become reality.

Two of his films — Thor and X-Men: First Class — debuted within a month of each other this summer and are box-office blockbusters. Chicago Sun-Times movie critic Richard Roeper called Thor “the most entertaining superhero debut since the original Spider-Man.”

Miller’s experience is an example of how an education at the College of William and Mary can change a person, allowing them to point their career and life in any direction. For Miller, his direction is quite literally with the stars.

A page from the Ashley Edward Miller’s story
A page from the Ashley Edward Miller’s story

“I graduated in 1994 with a degree in English and government,” says Miller “I had kind of a winding road into screenwriting.” Miller’s first job out of school was a middle-school English teacher for a year. Then for the next seven years, he worked for a defense contractor. All the while he spent his free time fine-tuning his writing skills. He met his wilting partner, Zack Stentz, back in 1997, and thanks to a twist of fate, met a producer of the television series Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda, who bought five scripts from the duo in 2000.

Later Miller and Stentz worked on the revival of The Twilight Zone. In this time, they had been working on a few spec scripts that eventually got them the job with the new television show Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.

“We were the first writers who were hired for that show and we were there for its entire run,” says Miller “It was one of the best professional and creative experiences that I’ve ever had.”

Though Sarah Connor was well-liked by many and critically acclaimed, the show was canceled after two seasons. The parent network of the show, sensing that they could lose a talented writing team, immediately transitioned Miller and Stoltz to the show Fringe. It was just before the end of Sarah Connor and at the start of their run with Fringe that a new opportunity struck them like a bolt of lightning.

Thor happened while we were in the middle of writing a two-part episode in Sarah Connor. We had just realized that it would need to be a two-parter and we were heavily re-writing an episode of the show which basically didn’t work,” says Miller.

“We were in the middle of post [production] for another episode. There were a ton of things that were happening on the show that would have made it nearly impossible to function.

“I was particularly excited, because Thor was always one of my very favorite characters and was one of the first comic characters that I truly collected. I could speak chapter and verse about Thor.”

As fate would have it, Miller was working closely on the Thor project with the film’s director, Kenneth Branagh. It was this man who helped refocus Miller’s life while he was a student at the College.

“I was a government major initially because when I showed up to the College, I thought that I’d want to do something with that,” says Miller “But I was always a writer; I was always a reader. I resisted becoming an English major. I had it in my head that I did not want to be told what to read, or what to think about what I read.

“But one night, I sat down with some of my friends, and I watched Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V. I was blown away. After that, I started taking English classes. I took basically every Renaissance literature class that Professor Peter Wiggins taught. And what I realized taking those classes was that Shakespeare wrote for the cheap seats. He wrote action and he wrote passionately. You realize that Shakespeare’s first objective, his primary goal was to entertain his audience — and he was funny, exciting and insightful. Shakespeare opens up your mind.”

Miller and his partner worked through five drafts of the Thor script, all of them revisions based on that first version. He feels that the studio looked to his team because they had a reputation for working collaboratively with others, and they were able to get quality work done in a hurry.

“Marvel needed writers who had worked in the genre before, understood comics — and maybe, just maybe, understood something about Thor;” says Miller.

“I can tell you that the intersection of all of those sets on the Venn diagram, who meet those conditions, is very small. So we just happened to be in the right place in the exact right time.”

After they completed Thor, Miller and Stentz went back to work on Fringe, as well as working on a few new projects for Disney. Then in April 2010, the team got a call from Fox, who called them in to give their opinion on another comic-book franchise that was headed back to the big screen.

“Out of the blue, we got a call saying that they want us to look at something” says Miller. “We read the draft that they had of X-Men: First Class. They said that it needed to be re-worked, and asked us what we could do. We didn’t realize that we had 10 days to make X-Men work.”

Much like when they tackled the Thor project, Miller and Stentz pushed into the world of mutant heroes, working 20-hour days until they had completed the script. “We turned in [the script] and got the green light, probably the fastest turnaround from not having a script to green light in studio history,” says Miller.

“We did a second draft over a period of another 10 days. We did a little work here and there as required over the summer: And then magic happened and they finished shooting the movie, and it was out 28 days after Thor.”

Miller laughs at how two projects started and worked on so far apart hit the screen so close together. But due to the difference in the studio schedules, post-production and a writers’ strike all thrown in, the two films that Miller and Stentz wrote two years apart debuted almost back-to-back this summer: Thor opened on May 6, followed by X-Men: First Class, which opened on June 3.

Even through all of his successes, Miller often stops to take a look at what he’s accomplished thus far. He and his wife, Jennifer Munro ’96, along with their son Caden, who is just under 2-years-old, make a point to enjoy all that they have been through together on their way to Hollywood.

Miller will point to an exact moment where the thought actually crystallized in his mind. “I was in the middle of Agent Cody Banks’ pre-production in 2002,” says Miller.

“The studio and the director and the producers and everyone were talking about a change to the script, a major story point. And I was not too happy. I got in my car and I was driving and thinking about these things.

“Then I had this moment of self-awareness — I said, ‘You know what, dude? There are tens of thousands of people in this town alone who would kill to have the bad day that you’re having. And you are having this bad day because you are doing what you’ve always wanted to do since you were a child. So do yourself a favor and shut up. Do your job, enjoy it and have fun.’”

For some, the amazing résumé that Miller has compiled thus far would be enough subject matter for a memoir. But Miller confides that there is far more ahead.

“In the last year, we’ve written a project for Paramount and something else for Disney,” says Miller. “We did X-Men for Fox. And we started work on a project for DreamWorks, which has turned out to be an amazingly awesome experience. This movie is going to surprise people.”

Miller also says that at some point in the future, he’d love to work on a Batman, James Bond or Star Trek film. And that he and Stentz are currently transforming a script idea into a novel for young adults, which will be a real departure from the world of Thor and the X-Men.

“There are other things, but I kind of hesitate to talk about them, because in a way, if I talk about them that makes them less real, until they are going forward,” says Miller. “We are working on all sorts of ideas. We are just getting started.”

This was originally written for The College of William & Mary.

The College of William & Mary

Nekisa Cooper ’99: Taking her knowledge from the basketball court to Hollywood

“It happened by accident,” says Nekisa Cooper ’99 about her career as an independent film producer in Hollywood. “If you asked me five years ago what I would be doing today, I would have had absolutely no clue that this would be it.”

For Cooper, who played four years of basketball at the College and continued in the field of athletics as an assistant coach, the way she fell into the film industry was ultimately partly because of her yearning to tell those stories that are not often told in popular media. But it was ultimately her keen organization skills that made her career in independent film possible.

“I feel like everything that I’ve done has led me to producing,” she says.

While she was studying at the College as a government major, Cooper said that her experiences were filled with “growth.” She feels that the time at William and Mary forced her to be more well-rounded, as she dealt with both her studies and basketball.

“I had to persevere,” says Cooper. “Coming out of high school and being highly recruited and stepping onto the William and Mary campus — I don’t think I was prepared for what I encountered. That lesson was reinforced through academics, and through being on the basketball team, and through my own internal struggles.”

After graduation, Cooper stayed within the realm of athletics and served as an assistant coach at Christopher Newport University and the University of Richmond. But her abilities caught the interest of people around her at Richmond, and her career path suddenly started taking a new shape.

“In addition to my on-the-court duties, I also put together our community outreach events as well as managing our travel,” says Cooper. “Some of the people in the Richmond athletics department noticed my skills at organizing and finding resources and thought that it would be great to talk to me about business school.”

At the time, Cooper thought that she might want to be an athletic director, but ultimately she did decide to go to business school. 

“I didn’t really know what business school meant, other than I was going to go there and learn a skill set that I could bring back to the athletics world,” says Cooper. “Eventually I thought I could work my way up to becoming an athletic director somewhere.”

She wanted to combine her passion for athletics and an emerging talent for making sound business decisions. Cooper decided to attend Clark Atlanta University to get an M.B.A. During her studies at CAU, she focused on brand management and marketing, which led to a job at Colgate-Palmolive in New York. For the next five years, Cooper worked in one form of brand management. It was during this time that she met a good friend, Dee Rees, who left Colgate to attend graduate film school at New York University (NYU). 

“It was sort of a strange thing to do at the time,” says Cooper jokingly. “All of us were making good money, living in New York… and she left all of that to become a poor artist.”

Cooper stayed in touch with Rees and lent her organizing and logistics assistance on her second-year film project. 

“Putting together a film is like running a business,” says Cooper. “I realized that what I was doing with that film was very similar to what I was doing in brand management. Instead of toothpaste and bodywash, the product was something that I felt much more passionate about.”

It was at that point that producing became a real option. She started sitting in on a few classes at NYU to get more acquainted with all of the steps involved when a film is created. When she left Colgate to work for L’Oreal, she took a three-month break to produce a short film. From L’Oreal she was lured over to work at General Electric and she took another break to work on a short film. In the summer of 2007, Cooper left GE to pursue her dream of working in film full-time as a producer.

“An independent film producer a lot of the time has a broader role than a producer of studio projects,” says Cooper. “I am involved in getting the financing and crystallizing the [plot] ideas and concepts. I collaborate with the director to make sure all of the elements are in place. 

“I am also responsible for seeing the whole process through from the beginning to distribution,” says Cooper, which is beyond what a studio producer is responsible for. “It’s very much like running a little business, and bringing a product to life. They are not much different than the process that a new toothbrush would go through — from concept to distribution.”

Cooper’s business skills and savvy have helped her realize a dream to create films about people who are either misrepresented or underrepresented in cinema. The most notable being her short film PARIAH, which made the rounds on the independent film festival circuit. PARIAH, which is a short film that details the changing life and challenges of a African-American teen who is adjusting to life as a lesbian, is now part of the prestigious Netflix “Find Your Voice” film competition, which could net the winner $500,000 in prizes. If all goes as planned, PARIAH will be reborn, starting in the next few months as a full feature-length film.  

Other projects include Eventual Salvation, a feature-length documentary that chronicles the journey of an American-born woman to Liberia to rebuild her life after the devastating Liberian civil war. Eventual Salvation will air on the Sundance Channel in fall 2009. She is producing La Muneca Fea (The Ugly Dolly), a feature documentary that won the Creative Promise Award at the 2009 Tribeca Institute All Access Program. At the same time, she is currently in postproduction on a short narrative film, Colonial Gods, about the displacement of the African community in Tiger Bay, Wales. The film was shot both in the United States and on location in the United Kingdom.

Working on many projects at the same time might seem like it makes the process more difficult or complicated, but working on multiple projects is essential. Cooper says that her production company, Northstar Pictures, takes on only as many projects as she feels that she can handle, but she also keeps an eye out for new ideas 

“You want to always have projects in different stages of development,” says Cooper. “It’s very much like brand management. You always want to have something in the pipeline that is about to go and something that is a little more long-term and even something just as a concept. That is the same philosophy that I take with filmmaking.” 

And though her successes have come early, she cautions those who would follow in her footsteps into the world of filmmaking. It is a difficult business that requires multiple skills beyond just the ability to tell a story by way of motion picture. Her advice is simple.

“Make as many films as possible,” says Cooper. “Find things that mean something in life and document them. Making films is the best film school money can buy.”

This was originally written for The College of William & Mary.

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