Toni Anderson spent the better part of the last decade as a gas station attendant, scraping to get by.
Today at Tidewater Community College, she is on the path to becoming a cybersecurity professional with high earning potential and aspirations of working for the FBI.
“If not for TCC, I’d still be working at 7-Eleven,” Anderson said. “I’m just shocked that I’ve come this far. I never imagined that I’d be a college graduate, but now I’m almost there. It’s really a miracle.”
Anderson is working toward her Associate of Applied Science in Information Systems Technology and Career Studies Certificate in Cyber Security. She plans to graduate this spring.
“I was bouncing around from job to job, living paycheck to paycheck,” Anderson said. “I really wanted a steady job with benefits, and I knew I had to go back to school.”
The 2009 Hickory High graduate applied for admission to TCC several times but never followed through, inhibited by her ADHD. In the summer of 2016, she applied again, determined to begin the journey.
She works closely with the college’s Office of Educational Accessibility and staffer Elisabeth Jakubowski to manage her attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in the classroom.
“Ms. Libby has been a huge help and my emotional support. She’s like family and has been there for me through some major life events,” Anderson said.
“For the first few semesters, I took face-to-face classes and found my professors to be helpful and personable. They never made me feel like a bother even if I asked a lot of questions,” she said.
Anderson credits faculty member Stacy Freeman with guiding her through developmental math, noting that, “She was like a math angel to me. I couldn’t have done it without her.”
Anderson started on the IT path taking just one computer class. As her interest grew, she added more classes and decided to focus on transferring to Old Dominion University to study cybersecurity and cybercrime. She’s also looking into paid summer internships with the Workforce Recruitment Program and the FBI.
“It has been amazing to see the hands-on work pay off. I’m now using what I learned two semesters ago and connecting all of this knowledge together,” she added.
Anderson holds a 3.6 GPA and is a member of Phi Theta Kappa, the honor society for two-year schools. This fall she was awarded the Kathy Camper Commonwealth Legacy Scholarship from the Virginia Foundation for Community College Education. The scholarship covers the bulk of her tuition costs during her last year at TCC.
At the TCC Women’s Center, she participated in Women Inspiring Self-Empowerment (W.I.S.E.) leadership development program, where she paired with mentor Jahnene Thomas, a business intelligence systems engineer for the City of Virginia Beach.
“W.I.S.E. was a definite highlight of my time at TCC,” she said. “Working with my mentor and networking with other professionals was a priceless opportunity and very inspiring.”
Today, Anderson is paying it forward, helping students with disabilities succeed in school. She is a note taker and a volunteer peer mentor who works with first-semester students on the autism spectrum.
A first-generation college student, Anderson said her mom came to TCC to study computers but didn’t graduate.
“My mom is really proud of me, and I’m proud too,” she said. “I never thought I’d be working in an office setting doing this kind of work. I’m living proof that anyone can do this.”