When Robert Carron needed motivation to complete Tidewater Community College’s nursing program, he found it in the blue eyes of his daughter, Ava Kathryn, now 2½.

“Having her changed my mindset about a lot of things,” said Carron, who will celebrate his third Father’s Day as a parent on June 16. “Ava made me more responsible, more aware of what I wanted to do. I didn’t want to miss any time with her when she got older, so I wanted to get my nursing degree as soon as possible. That’s where TCC came in.”

Carron, 27, graduated with his Associate of Applied Science in Nursing on May 13. He was the lone male in a nursing cohort of 24 students.

Growing up in Jackson, Missouri, he gravitated toward a vocational program in automotive, but the salary deterred him from making that a career choice. When both of his parents lost their jobs on his 16th birthday, Carron realized traditional college was too expensive. A year and a half later, he joined the Navy.

“Utilityman or corpsman?” he was asked.

Carron didn’t know what a utility man was, so he chose the latter, a decision reaffirmed after his first military assignment in labor and delivery.

Robert Carron“It was unbelievable,” said Carron, who was mentored by a nurse there who encouraged him to consider nursing as a career. “I really wanted to work in labor and delivery because I wasn’t comfortable with kids. I knew if I wasn’t comfortable, I wouldn’t be complacent. I didn’t want to ever be in a situation where a child or mother needed help and I couldn’t react. I wanted those skills moving forward.”

After five years in the Navy, which included stints in Guantanamo Bay and Bahrain, he left the service for a position at Urology of Virginia’s cancer center. His wife, Shelly, a Navy physician, was stationed here, so the two made Norfolk home.

When they were expecting, he decided it was time to tackle a nursing degree, and TCC’s nationally accredited program made his choice easy.

Using his GI Bill benefits meant finishing school minus any debt.

“My benefits even paid for my books,” he said. “The part about finishing the degree with no debt was the last nail we needed in the bridge we began to cross along with my family’s journey through the TCC nursing program.”

Carron experienced a gamut of opportunities given the clinical partners TCC has with every major health system across Hampton Roads. He worked in settings that ranged from medical surgery to psychiatry to rehabilitation to the intensive care unit (ICU).

“It’s not your typical associate degree at TCC, either,” he said. “You’re not studying material in a book and then taking a test on it.”

Instead he gained perspective and the critical thinking skills necessary to succeed in the field. He especially enjoyed ICU as he was able to work more closely with his patients given the smaller case load.

Carron will start his job in the intensive care unit at DePaul Hospital on June 17.

“I had the offer a few weeks before I graduated, which is amazing,” he said.

Carron’s education isn’t complete. He’s finishing up his bachelor’s in nursing at Old Dominion and planning to go even further with a master’s after that.

“I could not have had this opportunity without the support of my wife, my beautiful daughter and the support I received from TCC’s nursing department,” he said. “I love what I do. This is so much better than turning a wrench for a living.”