Christian McClenney grew up belting out Aretha Franklin tunes and starring in Hurrah Players productions. With a sister who sings on cruise ships and a mother comfortable doing stand-up comedy, McClenney envisioned her own future in performing arts.
The stage was set for that after the Governor’s School graduate was accepted into a touted performing arts school in New York. That’s when Tidewater Community College entered the picture, and her life changed course.
McClenney, 20, will graduate from TCC on May 11 with an Associate of Science in Engineering. She will transfer to Virginia Tech to pursue a bachelor’s in biomedical engineering.
“You could say I worked my butt off for this,” she says proudly.
An engineering career wasn’t on McClenney’s radar after she aced the audition for the American Musical and Dramatic Academy, which accepts roughly 21% of applicants. An unexpected illness made her rethink her options. As an upperclassman at Salem High, she developed a painful inflammatory skin condition eventually diagnosed as Hidradenitis Suppurativa (HS). There is no cure. Frustrated by empty appointments with physicians, she nursed herself into remission.
With that, she gained a fresh perspective.
The performing arts school was costly. McClenney learned about the Women’s Center STEM Promise Scholarship and earned acceptance into that program, too. The scholarship meant her tuition and fees would be covered for her first two years of college.
“That mattered a lot,” she says. “Plus having HS made me really look at the bigger picture. I wanted to do something that I thought would help the most people the most.”
By becoming a biomedical engineer, maybe, she thought, she could play a role in helping others with HS.
TCC’s engineering program has been far from easy; in fact, McClenney calls weathering the classes “a humbling experience.” Sometimes she’s been the lone African American female in a science class.
She credits Jaedda Hall, STEM Promise coordinator, for being a mentor and is grateful for the support she received from TCC’s Women’s Center.
“I remember Ms. Jaedda telling me that just because it’s hard doesn’t mean I wasn’t meant to do it,” McClenney said. “She told me, ‘Breathe, and you’ll get through it.’ ”
“Christian is very hardworking and dedicated — taking up to 18 credits each semester to finish her degree in two years,” Hall said. “She was also ready and eager to recruit new students to TCC — frequently attending outreach events with me at local high schools.”
The next chapter at Virginia Tech awaits.
“Without STEM Promise, without the Women’s Center, I wouldn’t have my computer, my calculator; I wouldn’t have known about the scholarship that paid for my books,” McClenney said. “I met a bunch of female engineers here, too.
“So many tears, so many sleepless nights,” said McClenney, who will participate in TCC’s first-ever virtual commencement. “Now I’m ready to see my picture on the screen . . . “
And take on the world.
A list of the Women’s Center STEM Promise Program Scholars graduates:
Kiana Brown, Associate of Applied Science in Information Systems Technology (Network Administration). She will transfer to Old Dominion University.
Courtney Carr, Associate of Applied Science in Information Systems Technology (Cyber Security). She will transfer to Virginia Tech.
Sumner Darling, Associate of Applied Science in Information Systems Technology (Geographical Information Systems). He will transfer to either Old Dominion or George Mason University.
Emma DeLosReyes, Associate of Science in Engineering. She will transfer to Old Dominion.
Jena Essary, Associate of Science in Computer Science. She has transferred to Old Dominion.
Zachary Fuge, Associate of Science in Engineering. He will transfer to Virginia Tech.
Seth Greiling, Associate of Applied Science in Information Systems Technology (Network Administration). He will complete an additional degree at TCC in Business Administration.
Caroline Jacobs, Associate of Applied Science in Information Systems Technology (Web Development Specialist). She will transfer to Old Dominion.
Christian McClenney, Associate of Science in Engineering. She will transfer to Virginia Tech.
Isaac Vanderley, Associate of Applied Science in Mechanical Engineering Technology. He will transfer to Old Dominion.