He started as a student at Tidewater Community College’s Virginia Beach Campus in 2005.
“I tried college right out of high school, and it didn’t go well. I come from a blue-collar background, and my high school didn’t focus on putting people in college,” Sylvester said. “When I came to Hampton Roads and heard about TCC, I decided to give college another try.”
At the time, he was working as an F-14/18 aviation technician. He settled on engineering, connecting with Professor Paul Gordy, program head for the discipline.
“Mr. Gordy introduced me to many specialties within the field, and that’s what sparked my interest for biomedical engineering,” Sylvester said. “He is one of the best teachers I’ve ever had.”
Sylvester says his military training and coursework and his success at TCC gave him the confidence to apply to University of Virginia to complete his bachelor’s in biomedical engineering.
“Virginia was a good fit because I felt prepared for the level of work required there,” Sylvester said. “I designed solutions to problems and learned research methods that I’m still using today.”
Sylvester credits the TCC Veterans Affairs officers with helping him navigate the process of using his Navy Tuition Assistance benefit to pay for college. Sylvester continued to serve in the Navy Reserves and later the Army National Guard while completing his education. He received the Michael J. French Memorial Engineering Scholarship for $1,000 while at TCC.
Eastern Virginia Medical School was the next stop on his journey. Before entering medical school, Sylvester met and married his wife, Lisa, and welcomed daughter Mia, who is now 5.
“While at EVMS, I saw the connection between electronics and the workings of the nervous system. The material came naturally to me. I love combining clinical practice with research while using my hands,” he said.
“My first time in the operating room was tense. You have to learn how to interact in that environment,” Sylvester said. “Since then, I’ve done three clinical rotations in neurosurgery and had the opportunity to help with procedures. Over the next seven years I will learn to operate on the brain, spine and peripheral nervous system.”
While at EVMS, Sylvester also completed a master’s degree in clinical investigation at Washington University in St. Louis.
“Dr. Sylvester is an inspiration for all of our 44,000 students exemplifying TCC’s slogan of ‘From Here, Go Anywhere,’” said TCC President Edna Baehre-Kolovani. “He describes his journey from his military deployments through TCC, UVA and EVMS as ‘circuitous,’ and exhibits a humble attitude about his accomplishments. He is obviously passionate about his journey into the medical specialty field he is about to enter. We are so proud and happy for him and his family.”
Sylvester begins his residency at Washington University’s Department of Neurosurgery later this month. Before leaving Hampton Roads, he took time to take photos with his growing family, posing his newborn son, Eli, in his EVMS coat and Mia with his stethoscope.
“My wife, Lisa, and my mom, Teresa, have been instrumental in making this all work. Their support has made all the difference,” Sylvester said. “We own a home in Virginia Beach and hope to return to Hampton Roads some day after training.”