What’s stopping you? Veteran reads to daughter despite stutter and goes viral

Lance Lambert didn’t intend to go viral.

Last fall, the Tarrant County College Northeast Campus student and former U.S. Army paratrooper posted a video of himself to Facebook, thinking it would be seen by a handful of friends and family. The clip showed him reading to his 6-year-old daughter, a bedtime ritual. That might not be too remarkable except for one fact: reading aloud terrifies Lambert. That’s because he has battled a significant stutter since he spoke his first words.
“I’ve served two tours in Iraq and jumped out of airplanes, but speaking and reading aloud is the hardest thing I’ve done,” Lambert said.
Lambert, who lived his life trying to avoid words beginning with certain letters, served in the Army from 2006 to 2012. A few years after ending his military career, he decided to pursue a college degree. But there was a roadblock: Lambert’s TCC advisor told him he would eventually need to take a public speaking course.
“I just said, ‘Give it to me now,’ because I knew if I quit it would be because of that class,” Lambert recalled. “I wanted to get it done with as soon as possible so I could move past it and on to better things.”
He shared his challenges with his classmates and instructor, Paulinda Krug.
“As a class, we did public speaking anxiety, mental and physical control exercises, such as breathing, thinking of what he wanted to say before he said it and speaking slowly,” said Krug. “Lance was well liked and respected, so each time he spoke, there was positive feedback and encouragement for him from other class members.”
It occurred to Lambert that most people have no idea what it is really like to live with a stutter, so he posted a video of a speech he gave in Krug’s class. Someone commented that his speech was not that bad. He made another video, one that was more reflective of his daily struggles — the 11-minute clip of him reading “Aladdin” to daughter Avery.
Bedtime stories became even more important to the father and daughter after Avery’s first-grade teacher told Lambert she was falling behind in reading. So despite his stutter, the single dad committed to reading with Avery every night. The video captured Avery, cuddled under her blanket, sweetly and patiently helping her father sound out the words. She kisses the back of his head at one point and falls into deep sleep by the end of the story.
“It’s bonding time for us,” Lambert said. “And it helps her reading too.”
He thought a few people on Facebook would see the video. Instead, his friends and family began to share it. Thinking it might help others who stutter, Lambert posted the video to YouTube. In a matter of days, Lambert and Avery went viral. Touched by Lambert’s dedication to his daughter, big media outlets came calling: The Today Show, People Magazine, Inside Edition, Good Housekeeping, and the United Kingdom’s Daily Mail were among those that seized upon the story.
“My favorite was the Ellen Show; they called and did an interview,” he said of that head-spinning week. “It was great, but my speech is bad over the phone, so I’m sure they had some trouble understanding me.”
Lambert didn’t need to worry.
“Tears watching this,” wrote one commenter about Lambert’s story. Another said, “That little girl is incredibly blessed to have a dad who is willing to move beyond his comfort zone to do what is best for her.”
The stutter plunged Lambert into depression when he was growing up, but today he has a different outlook.
“I have no other choice. I have to live with it or I couldn’t live,” he said. “I’m just glad my daughter speaks fine.”
And to Lambert’s surprise, his own speech improved through Krug’s class.
“My public speaking class has made me way more confident in my speaking,” he said. “I still stutter but speak with more confidence now, which helps a lot.”
While still astonished about the attention the video received, he hopes it helped others see possibility beyond disability.
“Lance’s vulnerability and transparency in sharing his story to motivate and to help others make him a very special student,” said Krug. “In sharing his experiences, Lance reminds people to be themselves and embrace their value and worth.”
Shewanda Riley, Lambert’s English professor, agrees. “Rather than hide behind what some would call imperfections, Lance used them as a way to connect with other students who might also feel displaced because of their difference.”
The highest praise, though, comes from Avery.
“I love him and he’s good at reading,” she said of her father. “He gives me everything I need and takes me to school and gives me lots of kisses—and chicken nuggets.”
This story is the latest in a series celebrating members of the TCC community who don’t let challenges stop them. Follow these links to read previous features: Salma Alvarez, Celia Mwakutuya, Jessica Caudle, Ken Moak, Melora Werlwas, Kevin Douglas, Marine Creek Collegiate High School students, students in atypical careers, Tre’Zjon Cothran , Karmin Ramos, Anthony Smith and Ashley Calvillo.




TCC Early College High School Earns National Recognition as Outstanding Urban School

Three graduates of the Marine Creek ECHS program.

FORT WORTH, Texas (May 30, 2017) – The National Center for Urban School Transformation (NCUST) has honored Marine Creek Collegiate High School (MCCHS) as a Gold-Level winner in the 2017 National Excellence in Urban Education Awards. The organization recognizes urban schools that achieve outstanding results across a number of academic indicators, such as test scores, attendance and graduation rates.


Located on Tarrant County College’s Northwest Campus, MCCHS is one of five early college high school programs offered by TCC. Students are able to earn transferable college credit up to an associate degree by the time they complete high school.


“The return on investment is huge when you consider the success rate of students graduating with a high school diploma and either an associate degree or a significant number of college credits that transfer to four-year institutions,” said Elva LeBlanc, Ph.D., president of Northwest Campus. “Clearly, it takes a tremendous amount of commitment, passion and dedication on the part of the students, faculty and staff. It is extremely rewarding to see their hard work recognized on this elite level.”


MCCHS was one of four schools in the nation and the only high school to receive the Gold-Level award among the 68 finalist campuses. NCUST representatives visited finalist schools across the country this spring, meeting with staff members and observing classes.


“During our visit to Marine Creek Collegiate High School, I was incredibly impressed by the consistently high level of rigor in each class observed,” said Granger Ward, an executive coach for the National Center for Urban School Transformation. “The level of student engagement and advocacy for their own educational success was apparent among these hard-working young men and women.”


Campus representatives accepted the award and a $5,000 prize at NCUST’s national symposium in Nashville this month.


MCCHS opened in fall 2010. This year’s graduating class amassed 4,766 college credit hours, for an average of more than 71 hours each. Eighty-eight percent graduated with both their high school diploma and an associate degree.

What’s stopping you? When the hits kept coming, graduate and mom of four stayed focused on her goal

The pathway to TCC’s 2017 commencement ceremony was not easy for Ashley Calvillo. The mother of four children under the age of seven, Calvillo juggled family life along with school—and family life was anything but simple.
In fall 2015, Calvillo says she discovered toxic mold in her rental home. Her husband worked out of town, so Calvillo was solely responsible for their emergency move. Just when they were getting settled in with family, she found herself facing another crisis.
“My two-year-old son became very ill,” she recalled. “He was diagnosed with pneumonia and now has asthma as a result. He had several ER trips, an ambulance ride and a night in the hospital.”
While her son Dominic recovered, medical bills lingered, and at precisely the wrong time.
“As hospital bills started rolling in, the amount of work at my husband’s job decreased dramatically. He received only one paycheck in a three-month period,” Calvillo said.
Her husband found a new job closer to home, but took a significant pay cut in the process. The family is still recovering financially, staying with relatives to save money.
“It’s very difficult,” she admitted. “I have to remind myself that I’m not defined by my circumstances. I am taking care of my children, meeting all of their needs and investing in my education to better our future.”
Calvillo took a big step toward that better future this month when she received her Associate of Arts in Teaching for grades 6-12. It’s Calvillo’s second degree; she completed an Associate of Arts at TCC in 2013. And that one wasn’t easy to earn either.
“At one point I was nursing my firstborn, working full time and going to school full time,” said Calvillo. “It was a lot, but TCC was there for me. When I felt the call to teaching, I decided that TCC would be the best place to start because it was a wonderful experience the first time around.”
Surprised that this busy mom was able to complete her studies? Don’t be. Calvillo has been overcoming challenges since she was a little girl. At nine years old, she was in a rollover accident.
“Our vehicle lost a tire and flipped multiple times,” she remembered. “My mother was not wearing a seatbelt as far as I know.”
Calvillo lost her mother that day.
“Since I witnessed the accident, I suffer PTSD when driving. It is very hard for me to drive past car accidents as well,” Calvillo said.
But she manages to channel her grief and anxiety into something more positive: “It has encouraged me to always drive defensively, advocate for seatbelt usage and pass on the importance of vehicle safety to my children.”
Calvillo is honoring her mother in another way; teaching was her mother’s career goal. And those around Calvillo say she’s made for the profession.
“Ashley is passionate about her decision to become a teacher and motivated to succeed. She is very focused and driven, even in the face of adversity,” said Shereah Taylor, Ed.D., associate professor and coordinator of the teacher education program.
Taylor asked Calvillo to get involved with the South Campus chapter of Kappa Delta Pi, the international honor society for education. Calvillo immediately began taking part in the organization, attending meetings, literacy night at a local elementary school and professional development opportunities. This spring she helped organize the induction ceremony for new members. Involvement in Kappa Delta Pi had double benefits for Calvillo—she grew professionally and had something to think about besides the challenges at home. On campus and in the field, those challenges could be set aside.
“Whether she’s engaged in class dialogues or tutoring one-on-one with K-12 students, Ashley is entirely sincere and attached,” said Jeff Herr, Ed.D., adjunct professor of philosophy and education. “She has a knack for tuning in wholly and respectfully with all whom she encounters. This characteristic enables Ashley to understand the struggles of others so as to better aid in working toward solutions.”
Herr did not let Calvillo give up when circumstances started to feel like too much to handle.
“His class was more than a class,” Calvillo said. “It was an escape from the defeat I was feeling. If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t have applied to walk at graduation. He made me realize I needed to walk because I worked so hard and deserve this.”
And walk she did on May 16 at the Fort Worth Convention Center, accepting her diploma with happy tears.
“I’m so relieved that it is done,” she said. “I’m going to look back on all those late nights, all the times my kids said, ‘Are you done with homework yet?’ and ‘I don’t want you to go to class’—I’m going to look back at all the obstacles and be so thankful that I finished.”
And while she finished her Associate of Arts in Teaching, Calvillo isn’t finished with her education. This fall, she will transfer to Texas Wesleyan University—on full scholarship—to work toward her bachelor’s degree in early childhood education. Her professors have no doubt that she will continue to succeed. It’s just part of who she is.
“Ashley sees the best in others. This mindset has helped to keep Ashley positive through the struggles and hardships that life has thrown her way,” Herr explained. “Her faith in a higher power and in the goodness of humanity drives her forward. Ashley knows what joy is and that she is a big part of making that joy come to fruition.”
This story is the latest in a series celebrating members of the TCC community who don’t let challenges stop them. Follow these links to read previous features: Salma Alvarez, Celia Mwakutuya, Jessica Caudle, Ken Moak, Melora Werlwas, Kevin Douglas, Marine Creek Collegiate High School students, students in atypical careers, Tre’Zjon Cothran , Karmin Ramosand Anthony Smith.

What’s stopping you? TCC student completes first novel—and continues his education

Name: Anthony L. Smith
Major: Communications
Degree: Associate of Arts, Fall 2016
Transferred to: The University of North Texas

Anthony L. Smith first enrolled at TCC Northwest Campus in 2008, after graduating high school. He had plans to become a writer, but Smith wasn’t ready to commit to college. He dropped out and enlisted in the military. Several years later, Smith returned to school. Now he has both a degree and a book bearing his name—and he’s just getting started.
TCC: Why do you think college wasn’t right for you the first time around?
ALS: I was immature, lazy. I had no direction in life and was more focused on the next big video game release or the next big party than getting decent grades. It’s funny…I couldn’t get up for an 8 a.m. class and then spent the next six years of my life getting up way earlier.
TCC: You served in Arkansas and Okinawa, Japan, with the Air Force. Thank you for your service. What did you take away from your time in the military?
ALS: I learned to be unwilling to accept anything but the absolute best from myself. I learned what it means to strive for something bigger than myself and to be part of a team. It’s the people you surround yourself with who have the biggest influence on your life. I wouldn’t have gotten where I am without those people.
TCC: What was different when you returned to college?
ALS: My entire mindset. I had discipline, I had the drive. I knew what I wanted to do with my life and what I needed to do to make it happen.
TCC: While you were a TCC student, your dream came true: You published your first novel. Did you always want to be a writer?
ALS: I actually have wanted to be a writer since I was a kid, when I first started writing on an old laptop my parents didn’t use anymore. Then in high school people started telling me I was actually pretty good.
TCC: Tell us about your book.
ALS: Blood Haven is a story about what the world would be like if 1 percent of the population suddenly got magical abilities. As you can expect, chaos erupted and Sydney, Australia, became a sort of magical safe haven, eventually renamed, “Blood Haven”. The story takes place 13 years after this magical “outbreak” and focuses on Killian, a young mercenary tasked with looking after a young boy, potentially the most powerful mage in the world. Government agents and a violent cult are after him, resulting in a fair bit of action and adventure. There also are themes of friendship, romance and political turmoil.
TCC: How did you get the idea?
ALS: A friend told me about a dream in which he was running from a monster and managed to transform his car into a giant sword. I thought that would be a really cool ability to have. But then I thought: What would it be like if a bunch of people suddenly had abilities like that? How would the world react?
TCC: Getting a book published isn’t an easy process.
ALS: I tried to publish traditionally, but after almost a year I couldn’t even find an agent to look at it. The publishing community is overwhelmed with young, budding authors. I read an article that said the best thing to do is just get your name out there. Publish independently, build a network of fans, and then try the traditional route. A friend of mine had an aunt who worked as a freelance editor so I hired her to go over my manuscript. She ended up falling in love with it and recommended me to a colleague who ran a very small, independent publishing firm. She got me in contact with him and I ended up getting published not long after.
TCC: What did it feel like to see the book in print?
ALS: It was easily the proudest, most influential moment in my life. When I got the package with the test-copy I was overcome with joy. I was shaking as I flipped through the pages. To see something I had thought up, written with my time and energy, put into professionally published form…it was enough to make me want to cry.
TCC: Do you have another book in the works?
ALS: I have two I am working on, and I bounce back and forth between them based on what mood I’m in that day. I’m working on the sequel to “Blood Haven,” which I’m hoping to have completed by summer for a release later this year.
The other project I’m working on is still in its very early stages. It’s an alternate history story. That’s really all I want to delve into at this point, though I can say that the large part of my time on this story has been research so I can get it as realistic and believable as possible.
TCC: What advice do you have for students who also are working toward a big accomplishment and may be frustrated with where they are now?
ALS: Do NOT under any circumstances give up. Very few are lucky enough to have their accomplishments just fall into their lap. It takes hard work, drive, to get it done. There will be setbacks, there will be heartbreak, but you have to know deep down that it is worth the pain in the end. And speaking from experience, it absolutely is.
TCC: While you’re studying at UNT, you are working at the Erma C. Johnson Hadley Northwest Center of Excellence in Aviation, Transportation & Logistics. What brought you back to TCC?
ALS: TCC is a college and understands better than any other work environment what it means to try to work and go to school at the same time. When I saw there was a position available to work at a campus that deals primarily with aviation, I figured it had to be a sign. I applied and got hired a few months later.
TCC: What do you do for the College?
ALS: I work as an administrative assistant to the campus’s lead coordinator. I help promote and market classes, reach out to potential students and build the Campus’s professional network. It’s great experience because I want to work in the literary field, either as an agent or an editor, and that requires the same kind of professional outreach I’ve been learning and practicing here.
TCC: What are your other aspirations?
ALS: If I could be the next J.K. Rowling and do nothing but write full time and make millions, I would be living the dream. However, I would be completely satisfied working as an agent or editor and writing on the side. I also want to help young, aspiring authors in a way that I never experienced. When I get my master’s, I wouldn’t mind teaching part time as well. We’ll see where life takes me.
Anthony Smith is majoring in communication studies, with a minor in creative writing, at the University of North Texas. He plans to complete his bachelor’s degree in fall 2018 or spring 2019.
This story is the latest in a series celebrating members of the TCC community who don’t let challenges stop them. Follow these links to read previous features: Salma Alvarez, Celia Mwakutuya, Jessica Caudle, Ken Moak, Melora Werlwas, Kevin Douglas, Marine Creek Collegiate High School students, students in atypical careers, Tre’Zjon Cothran and Karmin Ramos.

What’s stopping you? TCC alum makes sacrifices for education, earns national recognition

Karmin Ramos remembers the exact moment she decided to enter the construction sciences industry.


“I was watching HGTV and DIY with my parents and realized that I had a passion for construction,” said Ramos, who earned her Associate of Applied Science in Construction Management Technology along with two construction certificates in spring 2016. “I had flashbacks of me when I was a little girl making things around the house and knew I liked the process of constructing a project.”


The next day, Ramos was sitting in a TCC counselor’s office, sharing her career plans. She’d been at Tarrant County College for three years trying to figure out what to study. The counselor told her about the Construction Management Technology program, and Ramos enrolled the next semester. She earned an “A” in her first class and knew without a doubt that she had found her path.


But it’s not just Ramos herself who realizes she has a gift for the high-demand construction sciences. The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) recently recognized her with the Outstanding Student Award. She is one of 28 students in the country to earn the recognition at this year’s convention in Orlando, Fla. Students are selected based on their academic achievements, involvement with their school’s NAHB chapter and their interest in pursuing a residential building career. Orlando Bagcal, Ph.D., associate professor and coordinator of the Construction Management Technology program at TCC South Campus, nominated Ramos for the honor.


“Truly, Karmin is a remarkable example of a persevering student who wants to achieve her education goal
s and be successful in her chosen career,” observed Bagcal.


Ramos excelled in her studies while balancing a variety of activities: serving as an intern at top-ranked construction management company Linbeck, secretary of the Association of Construction Management Students (ACMS), student senator for the TCC South Campus student government organization and a community volunteer. But success meant some difficult decisions for Ramos. After two semesters in the Construction Management Technology Program, she had to make a decision between quitting her job to focus on school or continue working, which would prolong her graduation date.


Ramos wrestled with the choice. She had been full time with her company for nearly four years.


“Part of what made it difficult to leave my job was being used to the income, but it was mostly fear of the unknown,” remembered Ramos. “I had gotten so used to being independent and being able to pay for my classes and bills and helping my parents out that it didn’t feel right quitting.”


She turned to her parents for advice.


“They thought focusing on school was a great idea, because in their home countries of Mexico and Honduras, did not have the privilege of furthering their education,” Ramos said. “They told me they wanted to see me graduate more than anything and that they would support my decision.”


Ramos finally decided the she had been putting off school for too long and left her job.


“At TCC, I found something I really enjoyed and did not want anything to get in the way. I was worried how I was going to pay for my classes, but had faith God was going to help me.”


Her financial concerns were alleviated when Westwood Contractors offered her a scholarship. She was able to focus on her studies and career plans—and those around her took note. Bagcal said Ramos took ACMS to a new level, organizing and coordinating participation in Habitat for Humanity, the Cowtown Brush-Up and Adopt-a-Highway, among other activities. When it came time for Bagcal to make a nomination for the NAHB Outstanding Student Award, Ramos rose to the top of the list.


“She is an outstanding student—not only academically but also as a leader,” Bagcal said.


Despite her talents, the award and even the nomination were a surprise to Ramos.


“I did not find out I won until they called out my name during the ceremony,” she said. “Once I heard it I was so excited, I rushed to the stage.”


It was a big moment with lasting implications.


“Winning the award brought me a lot of hope,” Ramos reflected. “Sometimes you start to feel weary when you are going after your future. You start to forget everything you have accomplished and overcome. This award reminded me how important it is to set goals and to continue to pursue them no matter the obstacles you face or how exhausted you feel, because your hard work will pay off.”


That hard work paid off not only for Ramos but also for the ACMS organization, which placed second in the nation for the 2016 Outstanding NAHB Student Chapter.


Ramos is continuing her studies at TCC. She plans to get a job over the summer with a construction firm as a project engineer, scheduler or estimator before transferring to the University of Texas at Arlington to work toward a Bachelor of Science in civil engineering. Her career path is bright. The Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex is the largest metropolitan region in the southern United States, with more than 7 million residents. Projections call for continued population growth in the Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington area, meaning continued demand in the construction industry.


Bagcal believes other students—whatever their area of study—can learn from Ramos.


“She was able to excel in both her studies and co-curricular activities,” he said. “Being in college is about not only academics—but at the same time being able to enjoy college life by getting actively involved and enhancing social and networking skills. Karmin mastered that balance.”


This story is the latest in a series celebrating members of the TCC community who don’t let challenges stop them. Follow these links to read previous features: Salma Alvarez, Celia Mwakutuya, Jessica Caudle, Ken Moak, Melora Werlwas, Kevin Douglas, Marine Creek Collegiate High School students,  students in atypical careers and Tre’Zjon Cothran.

TCC Graduate Earns National Recognition in Growing Construction Sciences Field 

FORT WORTH, Texas (March 22, 2017) – The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) recognized Tarrant County College graduate Karmin Ramos with the prestigious Outstanding Student Award during this year’s convention in Orlando, Florida.


The award recognizes students with strong academic achievement, significant involvement with their school’s NAHB chapter, and an interest in pursuing a residential building career. Orlando Bagcal, Ph.D., associate professor and coordinator of the College’s Construction Management Technology program on the TCC South Campus, nominated Ramos for the honor. She was one of 28 students in the country to earn the recognition.


“Karmin is an outstanding student, not only academically but as a leader,” Bagcal said. “She is a remarkable example of a persevering student who wants to achieve her educational goals and be successful in her chosen career.”


Ramos excelled in her studies while balancing a variety of activities, including serving as an intern at top-ranked construction management company Linbeck, as secretary of the Association of Construction Management Students, as a student senator for the TCC South Campus student government organization, and as a community volunteer. She earned her Associate of Applied Science in Construction Management Technology along with two construction certificates in spring 2016. She is continuing her studies at TCC in anticipation of transferring to the University of Texas at Arlington to work toward a Bachelor of Science in civil engineering.


Projections indicate continued population growth in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, which is the largest metropolitan region in the southern United States, with more than 7 million residents. According to the Texas Workforce Commission, employment of construction managers in Tarrant County is expected to grow nearly 20 percent between 2012 and 2022.


TCC offers a variety of programs preparing students to design, build and manage projects throughout North Texas and beyond. Students practice their skills through volunteer projects, such as renovations for nonprofit groups, Habitat for Humanity and repairs for homeowners in need.


The Construction Management Technology program is part of the Center of Excellence for Energy Technology located on the TCC South Campus. The facility includes a 1,800-square-foot construction laboratory for materials testing, soil testing and surveying as well as a full-size residential house mockup. For more information on the Construction Management Technology program, visit the College’s website.


What’s stopping you? TCC alum transitions from tough upbringing to full scholarship

Things are looking golden for Tre’Zjon Cothran. The Tarrant County College alumnus transferred to Texas Wesleyan University on full scholarship, and he is set to soon be the first college graduate in his family. Cothran has an ambitious career path ahead of him that includes becoming a police officer, an attorney and a judge. But that bright future wasn’t just handed to him. Growing up in south Fort Worth, Cothran was surrounded by gang activity. Some of his friends and relatives lost their lives to violence; others went away to prison. Cothran walked a fine line to get where he is today.

“I overcame my environment by not participating in criminal activities, but I also never turned my back on those around me,” explained Cothran. “I wanted to help them and always tried to speak knowledge and treat everyone equally.”

The path to college was far from a given for Cothran. He was considering joining the armed forces when he received an email stating he was accepted to TCC. He decided he would give higher education a try. While he enjoyed his classes at Trinity River Campus, something was missing.

“It did not feel much like college for the simple fact that I went to school and went straight home, just like high school,” Cothran recalled.

Enter the first of three mentors who would change his life: Steven LeMons, coordinator of Trinity River’s Writing & Learning Center. Cothran visited the center to get assistance with a paper during his first semester. The two struck up a conversation, and LeMons told Cothran about Men of Color, a student support program open to all but specifically designed to assist black and Hispanic males—who, nationwide, tend to enroll in higher education and complete their studies at lower rates than other demographic groups.

“I think Men of Color is a good fit for any young male who is trying to navigate his way through college,” said LeMons, who helped found the group at Trinity River. “It gives you an opportunity to bond with individuals who may be experiencing the same thing. Guys in general have trouble expressing weakness or asking for help. When you are involved with a group that answers your questions before you even ask them, that’s a good thing.”

Men of Color connects students to faculty and staff mentors and provides resources to boost academic achievement and leadership skills. The success rate is significant, with 77 percent of fall semester participants returning to TCC in the spring. In comparison, black and Hispanic men who aren’t involved in Men of Color have a retention rate of 43 percent.

“The program creates a level playing field,” said Freddie Sandifer, Men of Color coordinator. “Black and Hispanic men have the capabilities to succeed, but we may have to do more on the front end to ensure they take advantage of the tools and resources that are out there. Men of Color is about making these students understand that college is indeed for them.”

After filling out an application for Men of Color at LeMons’ recommendation, Cothran met Sandifer—who then connected Cothran to Sheldon Smart, communications and speech instructor, who would become Cothran’s official mentor through the program. Each man played a key role in molding Cothran into who he is today.

Trezjon with mentors.

Tre’Zjon, center, with Men of Color mentors Sheldon Smart, left, and Steven LeMons, right.

“Mr. LeMons was someone I could come to and discuss personal matters with and ask for guidance,” Cothran explained. “We discussed life-changing events and he gave me advice about how not to be distracted during the difficult times throughout my life.

“Mr. Sandifer taught me the business side of growing into a man. He taught me to carry myself as a professional and how to properly dress and network. Mr. Smart allowed me to see my capabilities and that I could achieve my goals. He taught me to never be afraid of chasing my dreams.”

The three mentors became a network of support, guiding Cothran through three semesters at TCC. He attended Men of Color workshops and events and even became a student worker for the organization. With a new sense of confidence and vision for his future, he applied and was accepted to Texas Wesleyan.

“Tre’Zjon has overcome quite a lot,” said Smart. “He has come a long way from growing up in a rough neighborhood and being financially poor. What I also admire about him is that he always has a job. This guy is willing to work hard for what he wants. He really does work long hours to make sure his mom and siblings are okay, all while attending school.”

After finishing his bachelor’s degree this December, Cothran plans to go into criminal justice—beginning as a police officer.

“After losing several friends and family members to gun violence, it made me want to be hands-on about removing criminals from the streets,” Cothran remarked. “I want to feel as if I am making the community safer for children. I also feel that there are not enough police officers in the field who can relate to someone of that background.”

Cothran wants to do more than take criminals off the streets; he wants to ensure justice is served. He would like to one day go to law school and eventually become a judge. His mentors have no doubt he will reach those goals.

“Other students can learn from him about hard work and determination despite experiencing a difficult and challenging home life,” noted Smart. “He also isn’t afraid to ask questions and seek advice and counsel.”

Cothran plans to use his experiences with Men of Color and the mentorship of LeMons, Sandifer and Smart to make a difference in the lives of others.

“Now that Tre’Zjon has been mentored, he feels a responsibility to give back,” said Sandifer. “He’s constantly encouraging those he grew up with to get an education and get engaged on campus.”

Cothran is already having an impact in the community, returning to TCC recently to serve as a speaker for a Men of Color event and serving as an officer for a similar group at Texas Wesleyan.

“Students can learn quite a bit from our workshops and seminars, but when you’re learning from a fellow student, you’re getting something from someone in the same time zone of life,” noted LeMons. “Tre’Zjon can share his first-hand experiences, how he succeeded and cultivated key relationships.”

For Cothran, it all comes down to those relationships—and he encourages other students to take time to get to know faculty and staff.

“With the contributions of these gentlemen, I realize I have a voice that not many others have,” said Cothran. “It made me feel that I could possibly be a role model for the next generation. Seeing individuals from similar backgrounds in successful positions gave me hope and confidence.”

This story is the latest in a series celebrating members of the TCC community who don’t let challenges stop them. Follow these links to read previous features:Salma Alvarez, Celia Mwakutuya, Jessica Caudle, Ken Moak, Melora Werlwas, Kevin Douglas, Marine Creek Collegiate High School students and students in atypical careers.

What’s stopping you? TCC students achieve success in atypical careers

Occupation Total Employed, 2015 Number of Women (%)
Heating, air conditioning and refrigeration mechanics and installers 408,000 6,936 (1.7%)
Police and sheriff’s patrol officers 688,000 93,568 (13.6%)
Firefighters 293,000 17,287 (5.9%)


Tarrant County College students break barriers in many ways. For some, it’s surmounting personal challenges; for others, it’s about overcoming society’s expectations. For this month’s “What’s stopping you?” feature, TCC talks to three women finding success in career fields dominated by men.
Mel Chaparro Santillan
Student, South Campus
Heating, Air Conditioning & Refrigeration Technology (HART)

TCC: What drew you to HART?
It’s something that I have always been around. My dad has worked in heating, ventilation and air conditioning as long as I can remember. My brother works with him and even my mom has worked in the field before. She’s one of two women I’ve known in the industry.
TCC:Did anyone discourage you from your career goal?
MCS: I’ve always had very positive reactions to my career choice. My family and friends have all been very supportive. My husband thinks it’s really cool. TCC encourages women in the program, and many of the professionals I’ve met encourage getting more women working in this field.
TCC: Do you see the industry evolving in that direction?
The industry is growing very quickly and the workforce is aging. It’s hard work, and you can only do it for so long before it wears you out. If more women don’t go into the field, it will be difficult to keep up with the growth.
TCC: Are there challenges you’ve experienced as a woman in this area of study?

MCS: In my classes, the guys seem a bit apprehensive or uncomfortable at first, but they get used to it. The more I open up and act normal, the more they relax. Sometimes it’s a bit physically demanding, but everything has its trick—and it helps that my dad is on the small side too, so he’s shown me how to work around that. Success comes down to knowledge and applying that knowledge, regardless of gender.
TCC: What general challenges did you overcome to get to where you are today?
MCS: I’m one of the first people in my family to finish high school, let alone go to college. That has its own set of challenges. My commute is tough; I live in Johnson County so it’s a bit of a drive. The out-of-county tuition rate and the cost for tools are not the easiest on the budget, but I think it’s worth the education and the opportunity TCC offers. I’ve also been working full time while going to school. I take my classes in the evening and don’t see my family at all during the week.
TCC: What advice do you have for students in a similar position?
MCS: You have to tell yourself that it is something that you want to do despite the hurdles and the way people will look at you. Sometimes you have to go the extra mile and maybe prove yourself more—but if you’re willing to put in the effort, gender becomes a trivial thing.
Mel Chaparro Santillan will graduate this spring with her Associate of Applied Science and two technical certificates. She plans to eventually get her contractor’s license and start her own residential installation business.
Officer Dara Young
Graduate, TCC Police Academy
Colleyville Police Department
TCC: Why did law enforcement interest you?

DY: I’ve always had a desire to help people, in any capacity. While I was working for Child Protective Services, I was drawn to the law enforcement aspect, as compared to the civil aspect.
TCC: Were you the only woman in your TCC Police Academy cadet class?
DY: I was one of 10 females in my academy class! It was the most females they had ever had in one class and it was so empowering.
TCC: Have you faced professional challenges related to your gender?
DY: Aside from carrying fellow cadets during physical training, the only challenges I faced as a female cadet were in my own head. I wanted to prove myself to everyone because it is natural for people to doubt females as officers before they would doubt males as officers. I don’t hold that against anyone; I just work harder in hopes of squashing that thought process. Feeling challenged merely because I am a female in law enforcement is not a daily thought I have. I feel challenged more as a rookie.
TCC: Did anyone discourage you from pursuing a career in law enforcement?
DY: I don’t recall anyone outwardly discouraging me, but I have received incessant disbelief. I’ve heard, “But you’re so girly!” I’ve had a woman call dispatch to confirm I was really an officer on a day I was working in street clothes with my badge and gun visibly displayed on my hip. On that same day, I had a man say, “Like a cop cop? Like a real cop? Like, you drive a cop car??” On a traffic stop, a female passenger said, “Are you driving that cop car all by yourself?? You look 16!” Whatever their intent, none of it was encouraging and none of it was flattering.

Young participating in SealFit 20xChallenge

Colleyville Police Officer Dara Young taking part in the SealFit 20x Challenge, a 12-hour endurance course hosted on Northwest Campus last fall.

TCC: What would you say to people going through that kind of challenge?
DY: Never give up! Plenty of people will doubt you, especially if it’s something against the norm, but that does not make it impossible! Women in law enforcement are such a crucial piece to the puzzle of progressing our society. Girls and young women should believe they are strong, powerful and capable of anything.
Dara Young attended the TCC Police Academy in fall 2013 as a member of Class 160. She earned a bachelor’s degree in social work from the University of Texas at Arlington and is one of five female officers on Colleyville’s 43-officer force.
Janet (Jo) Onim
Graduate, TCC Fire Academy
Firefighter Paramedic, Dallas Fort Worth International Airport

TCC: Why did you become a firefighter?:
JO: I’ve always been a bit of a tomboy. I believe that played a huge role. Secondly, physical activity has always been very alluring for me. I enjoy the results, the discipline, goal setting and challenges. Firefighting put those things together. I tried Corporate America for a few years and felt like a hamster in a wheel, punching in and punching out.
TCC: You were the TCC Fire Service Training Center’s first female class captain. What was that like?
JO: The fact that within about a week of interacting with my classmates, they saw leadership potential in me was a huge honor—but more importantly, it was a great responsibility and opportunity to grow.
TCC: Are there challenges you have faced as a woman? Or does that not factor into your mindset?
JO: The fact that I am female occupies, I would say, the middle part of my mind. Never the forefront—except on the very rare occasion that someone brings it up. It does take, for me, extra effort, time and dedication to hone and condition my physical strength. The other side of the coin is the general perception. It is fun to see the surprise on the faces of people, and especially children, who meet a female firefighter.
TCC: How many female colleagues do you have?:
JO: Our employee population includes 17 female firefighters out of 189 certified firefighters, all ranks. That is nine percent of the total staffing. Since I’ve been hired, more females have joined the force than were on when I was hired, so there is definite growth. Departments are trying to encourage more females to apply.
TCC: What challenges in general do you face on the job, and how do you overcome them?
JO: The job is very dynamic; I have to be agile and adaptable. It also can take a toll on us with some of the hard calls we respond to. I have to ensure I am balanced and healthy mentally, spiritually and physically, so I can come back and do it another day. My family has been my greatest support. I am humbled and honored by them all.
TCC: What advice would you have for students who want to pursue an atypical career?
JO: This is a great country—one that affords us the ability to overcome. Be the person you were created to be. Break barriers. Crack ceilings. If indeed one feels the calling—for most of these careers involve callings—then pursue it with everything you have.

Janet Onim was part of the TCC Fire Academy’s Class 65 in spring 2012. She serves with Dallas Fort Worth International Airport’s Department of Public Safety Emergency Medical Services, Station 5. Onim holds a bachelor’s degree in education from Kenyatta University in Nairobi, Kenya, and a master’s degree in information science from the University of Texas at Arlington.
With more than 60 career technical education programs, TCC enables you to learn more to earn more. Career and technical education. Not Just Genuine… Texas Genuine.

This story is the latest in a series celebrating members of the TCC community who don’t let challenges stop them. Follow these links to read previous features: Salma Alvarez, Celia Mwakutuya, Jessica Caudle, Ken Moak, Melora Werlwas, Kevin Douglas and Marine Creek Collegiate High School students.

What’s stopping you? High school students lead college honor society

(Pictured L-R) Zachary Stemple, Taylor Cattes, Kellis Ruiz

(Pictured L-R) Zachary Stemple, Taylor Cattes, Kellis Ruiz

By all accounts, Taylor Cattes, Kellis Ruiz and Zachary Stemple are doing an exemplary job leading the Northwest Campus chapter of Phi Theta Kappa, the international honor society for two-year colleges. As officers, they pulled off a perfect induction ceremony for new members in late November and are organizing service projects to benefit the College and the community—all while working toward their associate degrees, earning outstanding grades and planning their futures. And they’re reaching these accomplishments while they’re still in high school.
The Alpha Delta Delta chapter at Northwest is one of the few Phi Theta Kappa groups in the country whose officers include high school students. Cattes, Ruiz and Stemple attend Marine Creek Collegiate High School (MCCHS) on Northwest Campus—an intensive program offered in partnership with the Fort Worth Independent School District that allows students to simultaneously earn high school credit and tuition-free, transferable college credit. Students can earn up to an associate degree by the time they obtain their high school diploma.
“I have always held myself up to a high academic standard—a ‘school comes first’ philosophy,” said Cattes, a senior serving as Phi Theta Kappa president this year. “That’s exactly what I signed up for at MCCHS. I applied to the school because I was determined to succeed and better myself.”
“The opportunity to accelerate my education was very appealing,” added Ruiz, a senior and vice president of public relations. “The college-level classes are more challenging, promising and fruitful than just the high school curriculum.”
For Stemple, a junior and vice president of fellowship, the independence and responsibility that come with MCCHS enrollment was a big draw—as was the opportunity to save both money and time in his higher education experience. With a year of high school still to go, he will have 52 college hours at the end of the fall semester. Like Cattes and Ruiz, he is on track to earn an associate degree by the end of his senior year.
The trio’s desire to succeed also led them to Phi Theta Kappa. Membership is extended to elite students who have completed at least 12 hours toward an associate degree with a minimum GPA of 3.5; the organization recognizes academic achievement while building leadership skills. Phi Theta Kappa has recognized TCC’s chapters for their service-learning projects and outstanding members and advisors. Earlier this year, Alpha Delta Delta at Northwest earned Five-Star Chapter status—the highest designation a chapter can receive.
“Involvement in Phi Theta Kappa allows these students to develop professionally as they engage in scholarship, leadership, community service, collaboration and other areas that they will eventually have to mature in as students in higher education,” noted Ayanna Jackson-Fowler, Ph.D., professor of English and Phi Theta Kappa advisor. “The opportunities that Phi Theta Kappa gives these high school students are quite valuable as they transfer to a college or university in that they, in essence, will have a head start on developing professionally and be role models to their peers.”
Phi Theta Kappa membership is so valuable that the Fort Worth ISD Education Foundation funds membership fees for all MCCHS students accepted into the honor society.
“Fort Worth ISD students continue to excel and the Foundation is committed to helping those high achievers continue to the next level, especially when they have limited financial resources that may prevent them from advancing their academic goals,” said Mike West, Ed.D., board chair of the Fort Worth ISD Education Foundation.
At the end of spring 2016, all of Northwest’s Phi Theta Kappa officers were graduating. Briar Gorrell, who served as president of the chapter last year, encouraged the MCCHS students to take on more visible roles in the organization.
“They were excited and had a positive impact on every meeting,” remembered Gorrell, who is now studying nursing at TCU. “They wanted to be involved and were committed. You get back what you put into Phi Theta Kappa, and they put a lot into it.”
Cattes, Ruiz and Stemple went through the same application and interview process as other officer candidates. Gorrell says it was clear that the high school students were ready to take on the challenge.
“I was amazed by their capabilities,” said Gorrell. “When you have a student willing to do the work to get an associate degree while in high school, that says a lot.”
If the collegiate high school approach blurs the lines between high school and college, the MCCHS students’ leadership in Phi Theta Kappa almost erases them.
“The older students work very well with them and do not treat them any different based on them being younger and in high school,” remarked Jackson-Fowler. “As the older students work with these younger students as a team, there really is no distinction between the two groups.”
All the MCCHS Phi Theta Kappa officers say their participation is much more than a line on their résumés—they are honored to serve and are developing qualities that will benefit them in higher education and beyond. For Cattes, her role as Phi Theta Kappa president helped her overcome some nagging self-doubt.
“By being part of Phi Theta Kappa, I have become more confident and comfortable with myself, because I am surrounded by people who are like family to me,” she said.
Ruiz and Stemple have both grown as scholars since joining the organization. Stemple has acquired better time management skills that allow him to balance his studies and activities. Ruiz is learning to overcome chronic procrastination.
“I can only imagine the load that they have to carry as high school students taking college courses and being committed to Phi Theta Kappa,” noted Jackson-Fowler. “The diligence with which they have to achieve their many tasks has to be quite high. They are helping to form the standard for high school students that come after them into the Phi Theta Kappa community at TCC Northwest.”
All three plan to transfer to a four-year university after graduation from MCCHS. Cattes is interested in forensic anthropology and crime scene investigation; Ruiz wants to study anthropology and political science and earn his doctorate. Stemple plans to go into engineering.
Cattes, Ruiz and Stemple hope their roles as Phi Theta Kappa officers can inspire their fellow students to reach even higher.
“I think it reminds them that while we are still high school students, we really are college students too,” explained Stemple. “I would tell other MCCHS students not to hide on campus. Be proud of what you’ve accomplished. We can excel.”
Ruiz agrees. “Age doesn’t matter as much as your goals and determination.”
This story is the latest in a series celebrating members of the TCC community who don’t let challenges stop them. Follow these links to read previous features: Salma Alvarez, Celia Mwakutuya, Jessica Caudle, Ken Moak, Melora Werlwas and Kevin Douglas.

What’s stopping you? TCC alum finds spotlight in challenging career field

Photo credit: Hans Rosemond Photography

Photo: Hans Rosemond Photography

Tarrant County College alumnus Kevin Douglas has an unconventional résumé. In the skills section, you’ll find (among other abilities) 10 dialects, beatboxing, balloon sculptures and juggling. For Pert Durapau, chair of the Department of Speech and Drama and director of theatre at Southeast Campus, that last entry symbolizes Douglas’ above-and-beyond commitment to the craft of acting.

“Kevin was playing the lead in La Bête, and I wanted the character to juggle,” recalled Durapau of directing Douglas during his time as a student in the 1990s. “He’d never done it before. I said, ‘Do you think you can learn?’ Two weeks later, Kevin was juggling while reciting lines and playing a very sophisticated role.”
He taught himself to juggle without the benefit of instructional videos that are just a click away on the internet today.
“Kevin is exceptionally talented,” Durapau noted. “So are many students. But Kevin also has an incredible passion for working hard in rehearsal—then coming back the next day really having mastered the things that were asked of him and ready to grow more.”
Inspired by Eddie Murphy, Douglas knew he would be an actor in eighth grade. His high school drama teacher suggested Douglas attend TCC so he could study under Durapau, then director of Northwest Campus’ theatre. While Douglas wanted to be on stage or in front of the camera, Durapau had a broader education in store.
“Pert ran the theatre department in a way that allowed you to learn the ins and outs of the entire industry and not just your discipline,” said Douglas. “It was hands on, and all hands had to help build the production.”
Douglas spent two years at TCC, developing a strong GPA, taking part in numerous productions and absorbing Durapau’s teaching. He credits Durapau with helping him take the next step by encouraging him to try out for the country’s top theatre schools.
Douglas and a few other students drove to Houston for a nationwide, multi-school audition. He returned home with an invitation for admission from DePaul University. Knowing nothing about Chicago except the Bulls and Oprah Winfrey, Douglas moved to the city to earn his Bachelor of Fine Arts.
“Those years were challenging and formative,” he said. “Working and balancing a full load of classes—if I hadn’t gone to TCC I would not have made it through. TCC gave me the discipline to handle a university.”
He graduated from DePaul in 2000. Then it was time to try to turn his passion for performance into a profession.
“Acting is not an easy career,” he said frankly. “Most of acting is about auditioning and, unfortunately, not getting the job.”
Douglas remained determined. He worked three or four jobs at a time to support himself, always trying to ensure that one position was related to his degree. Fortunately, his broad foundation from TCC’s theatre program gave him options in the industry. And he never quit believing that he would be successful as an actor.
“What I learned early on is that I can’t control the people I’m auditioning for,” he explained. “I can control only how I prepare and present myself. Once I realized that, it made auditioning more fun and less stressful.”
He began gaining professional experience, doing voiceovers, commercials and children’s theatre as well as serving as a teaching artist—in which he partnered with a public school teacher to enhance the learning process.
In 2008, Douglas landed at Chicago’s Tony Award-winning Lookingglass Theatre Company as an artistic associate. It was a turning point. One of the top theatre companies in the country, Lookingglass is renowned for its use of physical theatre, improvisation, collaboration and adaptations—all areas Douglas enjoyed and wanted to explore further in his career.
After multiple readings, he was cast in one show and then another and another. He began to tour with the company, performing in “Lookingglass Alice,” a modern adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s work, 484 times. The role required him to quickly learn physical feats and daring stunts and helped cement his status with the company. After five years, Lookingglass asked him to join its prestigious mainstay ensemble.

Kevin Douglas, far left, in “The Great Fire.” Photo: Sean Williams, courtesy of Lookingglass Theatre

“The move was definitely well-deserved,” praised Michigan Avenue Magazine in 2013. “Douglas put on show-stopping performances in plays such as ‘Mr. Rickey Calls a Meeting’ and ‘The Great Fire’ last season, and many others in seasons past.”
Douglas also is thriving as a writer and sketch comedian. He has performed in events such as the HBO U.S. Comedy Arts Festival, the NBC/Universal Sketch Comedy Showdown and The Just For Laughs Festival in Chicago; he also produces weekly sketches on YouTube with his wife, Tamberla Perry, a fellow actor. His writing and acting have been nominated for multiple Black Theatre Alliance Awards, and in October he won for the first time—taking home Best Writing of a Play for Thaddeus and Slocum: A Vaudeville Adventure, for which Douglas wrote both dialogue and song lyrics. Lookingglass produced Thaddeus and Slocum and held the world premiere earlier this year. (“Highly recommended,” wrote Carol Moore in Around the Town Chicago. The play “is a certified hit in my book!”)
Krissy Vanderwarker, who co-directed Thaddeus and Slocum, said Douglas speaks highly of TCC and how it shaped him.
“He approaches his work with gratitude, thankful to have the opportunity to do what he does, but he also works tremendously hard,” Vanderwarker remarked. “He is always writing and dreaming the next project into reality. I admire his hustle and his grace.”
Those qualities were on full display when Douglas returned to TCC in 2014. Durapau was staging a production of “Around the World in 80 Days.” Since Kevin played the role of Passepartout in Laura Eason’s traveling production, he visited and helped coach the students.
“He brought with him a joy and was a natural teacher,” Durapau said. “Kevin has absolutely every gift you hope a person who goes into this profession would have. He manifests an incredible spirit that makes people want to work with him again and again.”
It is that spirit, as much as his talent, that allowed him to flourish in a notoriously unpredictable field.
“Choose your path and work hard for it. Nothing is easy. If it’s easy, I would question it—or at least ride it out cautiously,” he smiled. “It’s going to be challenging, but don’t let the challenges deter you. The challenges and letdowns build character.”
This story is the latest in a series celebrating members of the TCC community who don’t let challenges stop them. Follow these links to read previous features: Salma Alvarez, Celia Mwakutuya, Jessica Caudle, Ken Moak and Melora Werlwas.