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Student Spotlight: Vandy Russ

vandy russ.jpgTCC student Vandy Russ was only 14 when she began working with technology. After she broke her first computer, she opened up the computer case and was instantly fascinated with its intricate components.

“I fell in love with the circuitry and never looked back,” she said.

Russ, who grew up on the island of Dominica in the Caribbean, began to fix other people’s computers in exchange for fruit.

“I began to help the people around me with installations and the removal of viruses from their computers. I did this for almost three years until I moved to the U.S.”

Russ views a computer much like a doctor views the human body, analyzing each part with a critical eye and determining the best way to keep all systems functioning well.

“You can change parts of the computer to make it better,” she said. “My interest in computers and technology has grown to the point where I am curious and I am thirsty to learn more every day.”

After becoming pregnant with her son, Russ moved to Tallahassee and continued to fix computers. She studied computer hardware and software in her spare time and eventually became an independent contractor who performed data migrations and installations for large companies such as Wal-Mart and the Department of Forestry.

Her years of experience helped her find her current job at Datamaxx as a technical support specialist. Now, Russ is working on her associate degree in web technologies at TCC.

“Since I made the decision to learn more programming languages and sharpen my skills, TCC is helping me see that I could do better and I could achieve a lot with a degree and the experience that I have,” she said. “I am enjoying my classes as they are giving me insight to a lot of information that I am missing even from my experience that I have thus far.”

Although 57 percent of jobs in professional occupations are held by women, that figure is only 25 percent in computing occupations. Russ is proud to be in that 25 percent and hopes to create her own startup company one day. 

Edwin Presswood-Castro overcomes odds to graduate

Edwin Presswood-Castro learned about adversity at a young age. “Me and my siblings got taken away from my parents when I was two and we were in a deplorable, disgusting state. After that, my parents’ rights got terminated, and I got put into the foster system,” said Presswood-Castro.  

The siblings have lived in more then 10 foster homes, and Presswood-Castro says he has endured physical abuse, verbal abuse and neglect. “It hasn’t been the best life experience, but I overcame it, and I’m in college today.”  

He wants to get a college education not only for himself, but also for his siblings and other foster children. “I also want to be a role model to children that are still in the system and to prove to them and to everyone who has stereotyped me or has the false stigmatization of foster children that they are not going to succeed or that they are going to be just like their parents. I want to prove to them that we are just children put in unfortunate situations and can overcome anything.“  

As soon as Presswood-Castro began his career at TCC, he met with Equan Burrows, the Fostering Achievement Fellowship coordinator. “He has been such an amazing help to me. He’s actually the reason that I’m here. I’m going to graduate this semester. He has helped me in every way possible. To better myself as a person, as a human being, in school and in so many other ways,” said Presswood-Castro.  

This semester, Presswood-Castro earned straight A’s for the first time in his academic career. He attributes his success to the faculty and staff at TCC. “TCC is an amazing school. I love it so much. I love the small class sizes. I love how the professors and everyone here actually care about you. They know you by name, and it has helped me grow so much as a person.“  

Presswood-Castro hopes his story can inspire others. “My advice would be never to give up. Always have that hope that it can get better and that it will get better. If there is something you really want to do, put your mind to it and do it. If you don’t know how to do it, ask questions. Find out how to do it and how to achieve your goals.”  

Presswood-Castro begins at FSU this summer and plans to major in family and child sciences. He hopes to eventually earn a Master of Social Work degree so he can mentor foster children and others in challenging situations.

To hear more of Edwin Presswood-Castro's story, check out this special edition of the TCC Report:


TCC grad Haizea Lee Gonzalez is on her way to FSU nursing program

Haizea Gonzalez.pngAs a high school student in Spain, Haizea Lee Gonzalez was looking towards her future.

“When I was back in Spain, I didn’t know how to speak any English. And I thought English was really important in order to have a job later on. So I decided that I wanted to do exchange here abroad in the United States and experience the culture and speak English,” said Gonzalez.  

Gonzalez moved to Vero Beach, Florida, for her senior year of high school. Although she was only supposed to stay for a year, she fell in love with Florida and decided to stay for college.  

“I decided to come to TCC because I was in high school down in South Florida and I was looking for community colleges in Florida that I thought were good. I was doing research and learned TCC had a really good program, and I decided to come here,” said Gonzalez.  

Gonzalez found that adjusting to life in the United States was difficult at first. “Everything is new compared to what you have at home. You don’t have any friends, family or anything here. And it is really hard because you don’t understand half of what people are talking about. But with time, you get used to it.”  

Like many of TCC’s international students, Gonzalez joined the International Student Organization. “It really helped me. It is a really great club. The ISO is not just for international students. It is for any student who goes to TCC. You get to know people from all around the world and from different cultures. And it really helps you get involved at the school,” said Gonzalez.  

Gonzalez’s goal since day one has been to graduate with her Associate in Arts degree and transfer to nursing school. Her top choice has always been the FSU College of Nursing, which is extremely competitive, especially for transfer students. But with a 4.0 GPA, Gonzalez achieved that dream. 

“I was jumping everywhere in my apartment. I couldn’t believe it. I applied to seven different schools because everyone said I wasn’t going to get into FSU for nursing, but thanks to TCC, I got in,” said Gonzalez.  

Not every graduate chooses to participate in the commencement ceremony, but Gonzalez will be there. “I think it is very important to walk at graduation because you work so hard for two to three years getting your A.A. degree. You can later on get your diploma in the mail, but it is not the same.”  

Gonzalez plans to one day earn her doctorate and become a nurse practitioner

TCC alum and veteran is commencement speaker

LukeMurphyPromoHeadshot.jpgA decorated Iraq War veteran and TCC alumnus will deliver the keynote address at TCC’s commencement ceremony Saturday, May 2.

Luke Murphy, who received a Purple Heart medal for his service in the 187th Infantry Regiment during Operation Iraqi Freedom, will address students and guests at the ceremony beginning at 7:30 p.m. in the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center.  

In 2005, Murphy was critically wounded during his second deployment to Iraq. An explosively formed penetrator device detonation cut off Murphy’s right leg and severely damaged his left. Murphy was airlifted to a hospital in Baghdad for blood transfusions, before being transported to Germany and later the United States for surgeries and treatments lasting for a year.  

According to his website, Murphy has appeared on CNN, NPR and the BBC. He enjoys adaptive sports including hunting, fishing and snow skiing, and has started philanthropic organizations for wounded service members to experience the outdoors with equipment designed for their disabilities. He also travels as a motivational speaker.  

Luke_RockClimb small.jpg
In late 2007, Murphy raced in marathons in the U.S. and overseas with the use of a hand-crank bike. The Achilles Freedom Team, a collective of wounded soldiers, excelled with his participation. Murphy finished in second place in two marathons.  

Murphy, nicknamed “Lucky Luke,” is an alumnus of both TCC and Florida State University. He is a successful real estate professional in Tallahassee and serves on the National Campaign Team for the Wounded Warrior Project.  

To read more about Luke Murphy, visit

Meet TCC’s Student Commencement Speaker, Gerald Djajaputra

djajaputraheadshotcopy.jpgGraduating TCC student Gerald Djajaputra will serve as the student speaker at this year’s commencement ceremony, but he is no stranger to the stage. He’s made his mark at TCC as an award-winning member of the forensics team.

A few years after his birth in Jakarta, Indonesia, Djajaputra’s family immigrated to the United States and laid down roots in Palm Beach, Florida. He participated in the IB program and forensics team at Suncoast Community High School before coming to TCC, where he would ultimately find his place as a captain on the TCC Forensics team.

“I am a political science major and I have always been drawn to the idea of competitive debates,” said Djajaputra. “Forensics allowed me to have that outlet.”

He’s since gathered several accolades, including the gold award in informative speaking this past month at the Phi Rho Pi junior college national tournament in Cleveland. The team won a national award for the 14th straight year.

“The hardest part about competing in tournaments is that we don’t just go up against community college students; we play with the best universities,” he said. “We always have to be on our game.”

Check out Gerald’s top 3 tips for incoming college students:

Show up to class. “By coming to class, you are building rapport with your professor and showing that you care about your education.”

Build a relationship with your professor. “They are all here to help you; you just have to ask. Take advantage of office hours and be open with them if you have any conflicts or difficulties.”

Get involved. “TCC has so many extracurricular activities. It does not have to be forensics; it can be SGA, honors, Global Gateway, theatre, and so many other campus engagement programs. Being involved will help your time here at TCC be more enjoyable.”

The team faced stiff competition, 10-hour days, crammed van rides and long flights, but it only served to make them stronger.

“We work tirelessly giving up weekends to perfect our craft. I have never been part of a team that was more hungry to win.”

Djajaputra credits several faculty and staff members for his success at TCC, including John Schultz, Eva Nielsen-Parks, Alexa Kyros, Justin Adams and Braze Brickwedel. These connections led him to several opportunities, including his position as the Master of Ceremonies at the 2015 TEDxTCC event.

After graduation, Djajaputra will attend Eastern Michigan University on a full-ride scholarship and compete on their forensics team, which is ranked in the top 10 championship teams in the nation. He plans to pursue a career in politics.

“I came to TCC thinking it was just another step to that bachelor’s degree,” said Djajaputra. “TCC has turned into a foundational building block in my life.”

Information about TCC’s 2015 commencement ceremony can be found here.  

Inaugural NPEP alumni share their stories as second program kicks off

As the Institute for Nonprofit Innovation and Excellence begins the second run of the Nonprofit Executive Program facilitated by the Jim Moran Institute and Tallahassee Community College Workforce Development, students from the inaugural NPEP class have found the lessons offered through the program invaluable in increasing their organizations’ capacities.

Inaugural NPEP.jpgChallenger Learning Center director Michelle Personette said the NPEP curriculum provided her and her fellow students with the resources and access to expertise needed to take their nonprofits to the next level of strategic organization.

“I strongly believe in continuing education for myself and my staff,” Personette said. “When the opportunity of the NPEP was presented and I found out it was facilitated by the innovative professionals at the Jim Moran Institute and vetted through Tallahassee Community College, attending was a no-brainer.”

Personette and Matt Guse, CEO of the Early Learning Coalition of the Big Bend Region, agreed that the NPEP’s focus on Lean Business Models was a program highlight.

“Using Lean Business Models has assisted me with ensuring that all aspects of projects are addressed completely, and provides a natural flow of thinking and action when completing a task,” Guse said.

Personette added that the good management practices and strategic use of resources taught in the NPEP help to gain and maintain the confidence of donors, clients, the government and the general public.

“Nonprofits are and should be run as a business,” she said.

Both Personette’s and Guse’s organizations are among the 70-plus member organizations INIE has amassed since it launched in late June of last year.

The NPEP’s second three-part series began on February 17. The program focuses on organizational growth and financial success from a business perspective.

Guse advised prospective NPEP attendees to prepare to be challenged and ask questions during the series.

“Have an open mind,” he said. “Don’t attend so you can get a certificate—attend with the goal of learning something.”

For information, contact Lisa Powell at (850) 201-9436 or

Navy vet credits service dog with saving his life, now needs help saving hers

BryanandBella2 (381x640).jpgPost-traumatic stress disorder is on the rise for thousands of our military veterans. Hospitals, colleges and other organizations do their best to help these men and women, but about one in three sufferers of PTSD will continue to have some symptoms throughout their lives. However, there is one breed of caregivers who provide companionship and support for those afflicted with this life-changing illness. Meet TCC honors alum and Navy veteran Bryan Wimberly and his service dog, Bella.

Wimberly served in the military for more than 20 years. After returning from Iraq in 2007, he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and dissociative fugue with amnesia.

“Combat is hell,” said Wimberly. “When you’re living in an environment where you’re constantly, every second of your day, knowing that it could be your last, it really puts a lot of stress on your mind.”

For Wimberly, the stress began to manifest into anger, confusion and memory loss. He once woke up in his car in Georgia and had no recollection of ever driving there.

“It’s scary,” he said. “Sometimes my mind just shuts off and I have no control.”

The stress continued to affect Wimberly’s personal and academic life as a student at Tallahassee Community College. Through the assistance of a TCC adviser, he sought help for his PTSD. This led him to a young golden retriever named Bella. She was donated in 2012 with the sole purpose of becoming a service dog for a veteran in need.  Instantly, Bryan knew Bella was special in many ways.  

“Most service animals serve one person and they’re trained for a number of tasks. They’re not trained to be affiliative or empathetic,” said Stephanie Perkins, Tallahassee Memorial Hospital Animal Therapy Program Manager. “Bella is special in that she has those traits too; she helps Bryan reach out to other people so that he can get outside of himself and create friendships and companionship with other people.”

“Not only has she touched me, she’s touched hundreds of people’s lives.”

“I could be in the classroom,” Wimberly said, “and just the fact of her laying there in the classroom with us here on school campus for a test, people were at ease.”

In addition to her work in TMH’s Animal Therapy Program, Bella also spends time in TCC’s Disability Support Services and has worked with Big Bend Homeless Coalition. “Not only has she touched me, she’s touched hundreds of people’s lives,” said Wimberly.

Wimberly credits many people, including his advisers and professors at TCC, for providing the environment in which he was able to graduate with honors from the College. But he credits Bella for getting him through each day, matching him step for step.

Now Wimberly is working on his psychology degree at St. Leo University on TCC’s campus. He plans to get his master’s degree and become a licensed case worker for homeless veterans. While his future is looking bright, he currently faces a large obstacle on his journey. Bella has torn both ACL’s in her rear legs and will require major surgery. 

“Bella has pulled me from the darkest, darkest corners of PTSD,” said Wimberly. “I’ve got to help Bella get that surgery so she can feel better. I owe that to her. “

To learn more about Bryan and Bella, visit their Facebook page at​. To help fund Bella’s surgery, visit To hear more from Bryan, view his feature below from TCC22​.

Former TCC student finds success in the tech industry

davidgully.pngDavid Gully, 35, of Tallahassee, Fla., will graduate from Valdosta State University on Dec. 13, 2014, with a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in computer information systems. He is the son of Paul and Delores Gully and a 1997 graduate of Amos P. Godby High School. He previously attended Tallahassee Community College, where he earned an associate degree, and spent four years in the United States Navy, where he worked as an air traffic controller.

As a student at VSU, he worked as a computer science tutor, was vice president of the campus’s Association for Computing Machinery chapter, placed second in the inaugural Azalea Health Hackathon, presented original research at the annual Undergraduate Research Symposium, and received the Nexxtep Outstanding Student in Computer Information Systems Scholarship.

He has already secured employment as a software engineer with Nexxtep and hopes to further his education in the not-too-distant future, earning either a Master of Business Administration (M.B.A.) or a master’s degree in information systems. His dream is to someday start his own software company.

He said that he believes the skills he has acquired at VSU, along with the skills he will continue to acquire and sharpen in the workforce, will enable him to achieve that dream.

To hear David’s complete story, view his feature below from Valdosta State University.


This story was originally published on the Valdosta State University website.


TCC alumnus and veteran has successful science career

bidensmall.jpgCollege was never on the radar for Reamonn Soto. After struggling with math and science for years, he never expected to earn a physics degree, research cosmic ray particles or own his own business. 

"I knew that I was destined for greater," said Soto, "but I still couldn't see myself in college. I didn't have the best test scores and I didn't have the best grades."

The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks fueled Soto's desire to enlist in the Marine Corps Reserve after graduating from Leon High School. Though he was reluctant to continue his education, he also enrolled in Lively Technical Center to fulfill a promise to his mother. His Marine training gave him some background for his structural drafting courses.

After receiving more financial aid than he expected, Soto decided to take two classes at TCC. He aced both of them and agreed to a full course load, eventually earning his associate degree.

"The faculty and staff here were incredible," said Soto. "They went the extra mile."

"The faculty and staff here were incredible," said Soto. "They went the extra mile. I struggled on the reading portion of the FCAT here in Florida, but my professor took out that summer and taught me the fundamentals of writing and inspired me to become a good writer. I ended up winning statewide writing contests while being in the Honors Program here at TCC."

Support from TCC’s faculty and staff also played a critical role in helping him secure an internship. 

"They were able to orchestrate an all-expense-paid internship for me at Brookhaven National Laboratory in Long Island with a stipend," said Soto. "I was doing research and working with the astrophysicists detecting cosmic ray particles from distant supernovas and other galaxies."

Soto went on to receive his bachelor's degree in physics at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University. He is currently pursuing a master's degree in aeronautical science at Embry-Riddle University and owns a business, Semper Stellaris Solutions, in Tallahassee.

"The study of physics is not the easiest degree to seek out," said Soto. "I'm glad I had a praying family who encouraged me to go forward and to become educated regardless of whatever I struggled with prior in school."

To hear Reamonn's complete story, view his feature below from TCC22.


Voices from the TCC Leadership Institute

Justin Adams, Communications Specialist Tuesday, October 28, 2014
Caption: Students of the first graduating class of the Leadership Academy of North Florida pose with mentor Gabrielle Gabrielli. From left to right: Barbara Ann Cox, Camille Martin, Zana Raybon, Amber Tynan, Nicole Moltimore, Patricia McCray, Gabrielli.​

Tallahassee Community College touches the lives of many community members who we might not think of as “students”—people of all ages and backgrounds. One of our community-oriented programs is the Leadership Academy of North Florida, which is offered through the TCC Leadership Institute. The Leadership Academy is a joint program of TCC and Gabrielle Gabrielli Consulting and provides leadership development experiences for professionals in the government, small business, industry, education and nonprofit spheres.     

The inaugural class of the Leadership Academy will graduate in 2015. However, we don’t have to wait that long to benefit from their newly enhanced skills. Below, five members of the current class talk about how their lives as leaders have changed as a result of their experiences in the Leadership Academy.   

Zana Raybon is executive director of the Florida Board of Professional Engineers and president of the Florida Engineers Management Corporation.   

Everything we do in class pertains to how we conduct ourselves as leaders and how we can learn to grow.   

We get real-world, hands-on experience from an instructor who has so much to offer. We have had guest speakers and participated in exercises that allow us to think outside the box. We have had an opportunity to mentor others and to be mentored.   

It has created an awareness in me of how our personal lives carry over into our professional lives. We must be mindful of having our personal lives in order if we wish to succeed professionally.   

Patricia B. McCray is a local government operations manager and the CEO of Butterfly Life Journeys. 

I was able to discover my strengths and challenges as a leader and to have support and guidance to enhance my skills. We were also encouraged to volunteer in our community. Once I volunteered the first time, it changed my life. Many opportunities have come my way to offer my time to assist various non-profit agencies in Tallahassee. 

In my role as a supervisor, it has increased my effectiveness, which allows me to motivate others to reach their peak performance. It has also increased my comfort level in networking with community leaders. Due to my discussions with my general manager on my achievements in the Leadership Academy, for the first time he asked that I present an agenda item to the city commissioners. 

The Leadership Academy has enhanced my quality of life and I now have more focus and knowledge to actualize my dreams. I have embraced my life passion while learning new concepts to achieve personal success through balance in work and at home. 

Amber R. Tynan is director of development and communications for Elder Care Services.   

As a Leadership Academy participant I have actively engaged in a multitude of activities related to become a better leader and community advocate. Everything from understanding differences in personalities to delegation to addressing and handling conflict in the workplace is among the rich curriculum. Each activity has developed my skill set as a leader even further so that I may continue to be an inspiration and motivator for my colleagues and staff, as well as our greater community. 

The knowledge I am gaining from this experience is exponential, because I am able to apply it to my daily work and personal life – which reaches multiple people. It helps me build stronger relationships with people and set the guideline for what I expect—setting the expectation for excellence and working as a team to accomplish it. 

Barbara Ann Cox is a certified meeting professional and freelance writer.   

The Leadership Academy has given me confidence. The Leadership Academy has given me encouragement. As the “senior” member in the class, I realize that age is just a number and my possibilities are limitless.   

Each of us is a mentor as well as a mentee to another classmate. My mentor is half my age and I have learned so much from her. My mentee is an emerging entrepreneur, and I love helping her with this process.   

I have become more aware of how I listen, how I react, how I respond. I am identifying what is most important about me and what perceptions need to be tossed.   

Nicole Moltimore is a physical therapist.   

[The Leadership Academy] helps me to look at work-related situations from a different perspective. I am better able to analyze results and anticipate outcomes in various situations.   

Becoming a better leader is becoming a better person…mother, friend, colleague.

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