Alejandra Diaz-Rangel planned to be a Spanish teacher but after attending community college discovered something she enjoyed even more: helping others succeed.

As the FastForward career coach at Tidewater Community College, she’s doing just that.

“My job is to be with you from the moment you show interest until you gain employment or move up in the employment ranks,” she said.

FastForward is a short-term workforce credential program to train Virginians for in-demand jobs in fields that include medical billing and coding, clinical medical assisting, welding and multiple CompTIA certifications. FastForward grants offset tuition costs so eligible students can earn an industry credential at one-third of the cost of tuition.

“It’s affordable and it’s fast,” Diaz-Rangel said. “We’re talking about months not years.”

In some cases, FastForward can be nearly free.

“We’ve had students pay under $100 for an entire course,” she said. “That includes tuition, books, certification exams and study materials. You have to meet certain criteria.”

Diaz-Rangel knows how daunting any application process can be to some prospective students, so she makes it easy. She works one on one with interested students to find the proper fit given their goals and current skill set.  She’ll do this over the phone or in person.

Once a student is in a program, Diaz-Rangel remains in touch. She holds students accountable for attending open houses, orientations and classes.

Diaz-Rangel realized the importance of student support while attending Eastern Shore Community College, where she received her associate in general studies in just one year. Navigating everything from Blackboard to financial aid to a syllabus can be barriers; she makes sure they’re not for TCC students.

“If you have a support system, you can do anything,” she said. “I want to be that support system for someone else.”

Diaz-Rangel worked as a student success assistant at her alma mater before her transfer to Old Dominion University. At ODU she earned her bachelor’s in Spanish education and was hired as interim assistant director for international initiatives. Diaz-Rangel, who also holds a master’s in college counseling from ODU, started at TCC working with a pilot program that offers nutrition assistance to low-income individuals. In March she moved to her current role with FastForward.

Diaz-Rangel works largely with students who are either unemployed or underemployed. Many haven’t had jobs in years; others are seeking a promotion. One of the questions she routinely answers, “If I do this, what are my chances of getting a job?”

“There are plenty of resources out there,” she said. “We will help you with that.” She’s formed a partnership with the Career Services Center on the Virginia Beach Campus to provide job search assistance and soft skills training.

Her own mother has recently started taking classes in the program, which makes FastForward all the more personal to Diaz-Rangel.

“I treat students the way I would like someone to treat my family,” she says. “I understand with everyone I work with that they are people. Everyone is part of someone’s family.”

Interested in applying for a FastForward grant? Email Diaz-Rangel at adiazrangel@tcc.edu or 757-822