Cynthia Pedigo never wants to hear these words: “I’m just a paralegal.”

Head of Tidewater Community College’s Paralegal Studies program and a former attorney herself, she knows firsthand how valuable paralegals are in the profession.

 “I know the awesome responsibility they had and worked with a few who were indispensable,” she said. “They really are the backbone of a law firm. I can’t stress how important they are.”

Pedigo graduated from James Madison University with a bachelor’s in political science and earned her law degree from The College of William and Mary. She worked in numerous Hampton Roads law firms but ranks her time as a law clerk in the Virginia Beach Circuit Court judge’s office as her favorite position.

“I did research with the judges and got to experience a behind-the-bench perspective,” she said.

Pedigo started at TCC 23 years ago as an adjunct professor and took over as program head in 2004. She largely teaches online classes, but encourages all of her students to meet with her on campus. In sharing details about her own hobbies, which include gardening, crafting and blogging about both, she invites them to open up to her about themselves. In addition to her office in Virginia Beach, she also holds office hours weekly in Portsmouth.

“I really enjoy working with the students,” she said. “I like meeting them. I like helping them meet their career goals. I like getting them started and seeing them succeed. I just got an email from one of my former students who decided to go to law school that said, “I survived my first day of law school!’ It’s great to see them come back or to see them at graduation with that degree.”

While Pedigo embraced attending law school, she is honest with her students who ask if they should attempt law school after becoming a paralegal. She urges them to sit in court to gain a feel for the profession and reminds them it’s a conversation to have with their entire family. “It really is a commitment,” she said.

Most find satisfaction as paralegals, and Pedigo will help students find what part of the profession most interests them. In addition to the associate of applied science program, students have the option of certificates specializing in litigation or general practice. She is passionate about the program’s staff, all attorneys and one attorney who was formerly a paralegal.

“They learn from all of us who have been on the front line,” she said.

In her free time, Pedigo also enjoys paddle boarding and cake decorating. She has two daughters, Victoria, a graduate of Averitt University, and Olivia, a theater major at Longwood University. Pedigo resides in the Western Branch section of Chesapeake.