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​Our Stories

Eyrie winners excel in arts, literature

​When Tallahassee Community College student Tatyana Cabrera snapped one more photograph of her daughter before leaving the park one day, she didn’t know that picture would be an award-winner.

“She was tired of playing and posing for me,” Cabrera said. “I remember she said ‘Mama, no more photos.’”

The photograph, aptly titled “Tired,” appears in the 2016 edition of the Eyrie art and literary magazine. “Tired” earned Cabrera top honors in the genre of photography as voted on by faculty judges.

Cabrera and the other four genre winners were celebrated at the magazine’s 35th-edition unveiling party on April 12, 2016, in the TCC Fine and Performing Arts Center.

Leah Wirgau, the 2016 genre winner for fiction, was astounded to learn that her short story, “The Constant Friend,” was chosen as best in the field.

eyrie winners 2016.jpg“Being a part of the Eyrie staff has been such an amazing privilege,” Wirgau said, “but being able to be a part of the magazine itself adds so much.”

Wirgau’s story chronicling the inner monologue of a trampoline as it witnesses the passage of time received high praise from TCC English professor Lu Vickers, who deemed the story “a lovely portrait of the seasons of childhood.”

Additional genre winners include Kevin Szortyka (for nonfiction, “The Promise of Bread and Wine”), Madeline Domning (art, “The Inbetween”) and Colt Landen (poetry, “How to Erase Your Child’s Identity”).

Nicolette Costantino, associate professor of English and Eyrie faculty adviser, said the magazine is a testament to the dedication and passion students bring to its production.

“It’s a tradition I’m extremely proud and privileged to be a part of,” she said. “Every year, without fail, I am reminded by my students of why I became a teacher.”

The Eyrie is currently accepting submissions for the 2017 edition of the magazine. Interested students may enter original, unpublished work for consideration by visiting All submissions must be entered by January 6, 2017.

Cabrera said she was excited to be chosen as the genre winner for photography, but added she does not take pictures with the aim of winning awards in mind.

“I just try to enjoy the moment while I do what I like,” she said.

Crutchfield becomes first in family to earn college degree

​Tallahassee Community College’s Division of Academic Support helps students develop the academic skills and strategies they need to succeed in and out of the classroom. One student, Heather Crutchfield, has achieved a family first thanks to TCC’s academic support programs.

Heather Crutchfield vertical.jpgCrutchfield, who started at TCC in 2012 with developmental courses in English and math, graduated with her Associate in Arts degree Saturday, April 30.

“No one else in my family has a college degree, so it means a lot to me and my family,” Crutchfield said.

Crutchfield came to TCC to start over in school, taking core classes with the aim of working her way up to higher levels of education.

“It had been a while since I’d been in school,” she said.

Despite the time away, Crutchfield was familiar with TCC before enrolling. She knew the campus and had prior experience with professors and instructors.

That comfort level led Crutchfield to choose TCC as the next step in her path. Since then, she has become involved in the community and worked with professors on various field projects.

“I’ve really just enjoyed learning,” she said. “It’s so exciting and rewarding to know that I’ve spent all this time, and there’s an end in sight and I’m almost there.”

Crutchfield was so successful at TCC that she received the Dr. Bertha Flowers Murray Award for academic excellence at the recent Academic Support Programs recognition ceremony.

After completing her A.A., Crutchfield plans to continue in school with the goal of earning an Associate in Science degree in Environmental Science. She hopes to work in conservation in the future.

Crutchfield advised students to take college one semester at a time, remain diligent on their coursework and, above all, ask professors for help if needed.

“There are so many opportunities out here, and so many people willing to help if you just put the work in,” she said.

See Heather Crutchfield in a video about TCC's 2016 commencement ceremony.

Student commencement speaker Cheire Cook aims high in English

​Earning a college degree requires diligence and hard work. But that tremendous accomplishment is not always the endpoint for a dedicated student like Tallahassee Community College’s Cheire Cook.

cheire cook cropped.jpgCook, who was selected as the student speaker for TCC’s 50th commencement ceremony, graduated from Keiser University with an Associate in Science degree in design and multimedia after completing her GED in 2011. However, she soon felt a different calling—one for which she knew she would need a different degree.

“I discovered that I would prefer to pursue a career in English,” Cook said. “After visiting TCC and speaking with an academic adviser, I decided to get an [Associate in Arts] with the intention of transferring to Florida State University.”

Cook received further inspiration to pursue English as a career field thanks to the mentorship of TCC professor Brenda Reid. After taking Reid’s Argument and Persuasion class in her first semester at the College, Cook began to work with Reid as an intern thanks to TCC’s Connect2Complete program.

“A couple of years ago, I wouldn’t have imagined myself aiding professors and students,” Cook said. “It was the best decision I’ve ever made. Nothing is more thrilling than seeing improvements after witnessing all the hard work that students and teachers invest.”

In her time at TCC, Cook also had the opportunity to study abroad. She traveled to London, Paris, Florence and Rome in May 2015 under the guidance of TCC humanities professor Elise Ray.

A Quincy resident for 13 years, Cook plans to enter FSU’s English program in Fall 2016 or Spring 2017. She also hopes to pursue a master’s or doctoral degree in English, with the ultimate goal of becoming a professor or an editor at a publishing company.

Cook encouraged students to investigate TCC’s different programs and try something new, and to get to know their instructors in order to have the fullest possible college experience.

“My favorite memories of TCC are of the people I’ve met and befriended,” Cook said. “Without them, I’m not sure I would have enjoyed my experience as much as I have.”

TCC director Bierbaum meets woman he saved 38 years ago

Bill Bierbaum, Director of Certificate Programs at TCC"s Florida Public Safety InstituteIt was a nightmare situation for any parent. Vera Goodwin, a resident of Walton County, Fla., was driving in the car with her children when she looked into the back seat and saw that her two-year-old daughter, Carrie, was not breathing. Panicked, she pulled over in front of the old county jailhouse in Defuniak Springs and, grabbing the child, ran towards the police officers she saw standing outside. 

One of those men was Bill Bierbaum, a sheriff’s deputy for Walton County at the time, now a director at Tallahassee Community College’s Florida Public Safety Institute. The date was March 14, 1978. CPR had only just been added as part of the standard training for law enforcement personnel and Bierbaum, a recent academy graduate, was the only one on the scene that day who knew what to do.

“She basically said, ‘Please save my baby,’ and put her in my arms. Carrie was completely blue,” he said. “Everything just clicked into place.” 

A young Bill Bierbaum stands by his Walton County cruiser in 1977Bierbaum placed the child on the hood of a nearby truck and began administering CPR with the help of then City Marshal Gary Kennedy. After a few moments, a piece of candy was dislodged and Carrie began to breathe again. 

“It was a traumatic day for the person, but in our world it’s just a normal day,” said Bierbaum. “Gary and I did what any law enforcement officer would have done that day. I’m just glad we were there to help.” 

For the next 38 years, Vera and Carrie had no contact with the deputy that had saved her life, though he was never far from their thoughts. Carrie grew up with the story of her rescue. She began collecting heart charms for necklaces and had a jewelry box with March 14 engraved on the front as a reminder to never take life for granted.

A few years ago she began expressing how much she wanted to meet the man whom she called her “savior.” A cousin started tracking down Bierbaum, eventually discovering he had moved to Tallahassee and now worked at TCC. Walton County Sheriff Michael A. Adkinson Jr., a long-time friend of Bierbaum’s, helped get the two parties in touch. Shortly thereafter, the Sheriff’s Office made arrangements for them to meet on the anniversary of the incident. Bierbaum quickly accepted. 

Bill Bierbaum and Carrie meet for the first time in 38 years - Photo courtesy of Walton County Sheriff's Office“After nearly four decades in law enforcement, I’ve learned you almost never get to see the results of what you do,” said Bierbaum. “I never thought that I’d get to see her again.”

The story of their reunion immediately took on a life of its own. Several area news outlets published articles with video and photos. Photos were also shared on the Walton County Sheriff’s Facebook page, where they received over 560 likes, as well as 94 shares and 40 comments.

Carrie’s is just one of many stories Bierbaum could mention. Law enforcement professionals and first responders are trained to handle any emergency they encounter. 

“It sometimes becomes a blur with the various things a law enforcement officer is exposed to in this profession,” said Bierbaum. “This was really special.” 

After serving 27 years as a police officer and three years with the United States Air Force, Bierbaum retired in 2007 and became the director of certificate programs at FPSI. Since then, he has overseen the training of thousands of law enforcement professionals and first responders, instruction that includes CPR and other lifesaving techniques.

To learn more about the Florida Public Safety Institute, visit

Turkey native Koklu focuses on applied learning

​While soccer has long been the most popular sport around the world, professional basketball has surged to second place in viewership in the country of Turkey.

It is no surprise, then, that Tallahassee Community College professor Onder Koklu identifies basketball as his favorite sport to watch—he first emigrated from Turkey to the United States in 1999.

Koklu pic4.jpg“It is like soccer in that you have your individual stars, but ultimately the strongest overall teams do the best,” Koklu said.

That mentality of combining individual and collective strengths is indicative of Koklu’s teaching style both at TCC and abroad.

While he is currently teaching three statistics classes at TCC and working as the postsecondary assessment scoring and reporting coordinator with the Office of Assessment at the Florida Department of Education under the auspices of TCC, Koklu’s course load in his native Turkey has included mathematics, research methods and pedagogy—the very act of teaching students how to teach.

Regardless of class topic, Koklu stressed that students learning the material is only a stepping-stone to the more important ability to apply the knowledge acquired in his courses.

“There is a Turkish idiom that says ‘Our aim in education is not fighting with the vine grower; rather, the purpose is to eat fine grapes as fruit’,” Koklu said. “Therefore, as educators, our only purpose is to teach as much as we can rather than satisfying our egos by passing or failing students.”

Born in the small Turkish city of Sivas, Koklu and his family moved often due to his father’s work as an engineer. After earning his bachelor’s degree at Cukurova University in Adana, Turkey, Koklu moved to Tallahassee and pursued his advanced degrees at Florida State University, receiving his doctorate in mathematics education in 2007.

Koklu then returned to Turkey and began a five-year residency at a university in Adiyaman, a college town of similar size to Tallahassee. After his five-year stint in Adiyaman, Koklu applied for a visa to return to Tallahassee along with his family. He has renewed his visa each year since and plans to continue doing so as his children continue to grow.

Betty Jensen, international student services coordinator, said TCC is one of only two colleges in Florida and one of few in the nation to have obtained the J-visa designation to bring scholars to its campuses.

“TCC is proud to host Dr. Koklu, the College’s first full-time J-visa professor,” said Jensen.

Koklu said that as both a student and a professor in the United States, he has mostly had positive experiences in spite of a bit of culture shock in his first year as a student in Tallahassee.

“You see a lot of differences comparing to your culture,” he said. “I see the positive things in those differences, and I adapt.”

Baas credits TCC for personal, professional growth

​The Ghazvini Center for Healthcare Education provides students with a variety of unique opportunities to learn in the classroom and on the job. Balancing the two pursuits is crucial to success, but can be a challenge for some.

For full-time nursing student and soon-to-be Registered Nurse Amy Baas, there is another career frame to consider: motherhood.

IMG_2071.JPG“Applying to the nursing program at TCC was scary and a little intimidating,” said Baas. “I was a single parent, this was to be my second career and I wasn't sure that I would survive those two years.”

Baas, a single mother of three, found exceptional support in her fellow students as well as the faculty and staff of the Ghazvini Center. She credits that support with teaching her strength and faith in her ability to succeed.

While she acknowledged many of the instructors in TCC’s nursing program go above and beyond to increase their students’ chances of scholarly and personal growth, Baas particularly credits Cherie Hodge and Elizabeth Strickland for their impacts on her.

“Both academically and personally, these two extraordinary instructors motivated me to be the best that I could as a student, a nurse, and a parent,” said Baas. “To me, they are role models in my field.”

Baas will be licensed as a Registered Nurse by the end of this month thanks to her efforts at the Ghazvini Center and in her part-time externship on the Cardiac Progressive Care Unit at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital.

Baas encouraged students interested in the field of nursing to apply to the Ghazvini Center’s program.

“Push yourself to do what you thought wasn’t possible,” she said. “It wasn’t easy, but it was two years that changed my life in a number of ways. I am a better person, student, nurse and mother because of it.”

TCC alum, Harvard grad student LaRose speaks at alma mater

​A Tallahassee Community College and Leon High School alumnus who is now a graduate student at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University shared his story with TCC students, faculty and staff on Thursday, February 4.
Adam LaRose, who graduated from TCC in 2010 with an Associate in Arts degree in political science, spoke before an intimate crowd in the Pankowski Honors Lounge as part of the TCC Honors Program’s Distinguished Lecture Series.

LaRose covered a variety of topics ranging from his humble beginnings in Tallahassee to his collegiate experiences at TCC, FSU and Harvard. He stressed his emphasis on hard work and determination at each of those academic stops.

“If I wasn’t going to succeed on campus,” LaRose said of his time at TCC, “it wasn’t going to be for a lack of effort.”

LaRose explained the difference between ambitions and aspirations, saying an ambition is something desired while an aspiration is something one wishes to give. He also advised students to pay attention to how people react when they are discussing their future goals.

“When you start telling people around you, in your circles, at your jobs, in your classes, or even in your families that you want to fly in space, find a cure for cancer, be Secretary of State or President, or whatever it is, you will begin to see who is on your team,” he said.

In addition to suggestions for success, LaRose’s lecture featured numerous personal anecdotes, such as a recounting of the moment he called his mother to share his acceptance to the Kennedy School at Harvard.

“It was a moment that I will never ever forget,” LaRose said, his voice trembling with emotion. “This was the epitome of what my parents worked so hard for.”

During his two years at TCC, LaRose was elected vice president of the Honors Program and served as a United States Senate intern. He is pursuing a master’s degree in public policy at Harvard, with a specific focus in social policy.

Toward the end of his lecture, LaRose encouraged the students not only to recognize their privilege of receiving an education at TCC, but also to pass that opportunity on to others.

“You have the luxury to sit here in these seats,” he said, “and to expand your minds in a way that so many others yearn for. And in my opinion, because you have been afforded that luxury, you have some sort of obligation to make sure others do too, however you feel it should be accomplished.”

TCC alum Dana Terry is making a difference

Dana Terry.jpgTallahassee Community College’s Model United Nations program has helped inspire one of its alumni to make a difference in a community in Estelí, Nicaragua. 

Dana Terry is a coordinator for the Instituto de Promoción Humana, a national development and human rights nongovernmental organization. She credits her experience as a TCC MUN delegate for inspiring her passion for development work. 

“I owe my career aspirations to TCC MUN, as it was through the long hours of conference preparations that I first discovered my passion for post-conflict international development,” said Terry, who was raised in Tallahassee and graduated from TCC in 2010 with a 4.0 grade point average. She then transferred to Florida State University and later earned a master’s degree from the School of Diplomacy and International Relations at Seton Hall University.

One of Terry’s goals is to reduce the level of poverty in Estelí by providing a way for young entrepreneurs to market their business online and grow a clientele.

“Sixty percent of the entrepreneurs lack access to computers and Internet since their community is too impoverished to provide basic libraries or technology centers,” said Terry. “I am soliciting organizations to donate old laptops for a technology learning center we would like to establish for underprivileged students and entrepreneurs within the community.”

The technology learning center will also offer professional development workshops for those looking for work. She plans to create a community internship program for young entrepreneurs and young professionals who lack adequate work experience in their desired career field. Participants will learn how to create cover letters, resumes and profiles on LinkedIn and online job boards when searching for work. 

Several Tallahassee Southern Model United Nations board members plan to donate computers to support Terry’s efforts. TSMUN is a nonprofit organization made up of former members of the TCC Model United Nations team. The group hosts a Model United Nations conference for local middle- and high-school students each year and is dedicated to furthering understanding of international affairs among young students.

To donate a laptop or funds to help purchase laptops, contact Dana Terry at or Richard Murgo at To learn more about the Instituto de Promoción Humana, visit For information about TCC Model United Nations, contact Richard Murgo at

TCC grads find success in engineering fields

Justin Adams, Communications Specialist Thursday, November 5, 2015
​TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (November 5, 2015) – The Division of Technology and Professional Programs at Tallahassee Community College produces some of the brightest, most driven graduates of the College every year. Two recent graduates have taken the lessons they learned at TCC into the engineering arena and met with great results.

Laura Bollman, who graduated from TCC in 2008, and Landon Cavanaugh, a 2013 graduate, both received educations allowing them to attain high-caliber jobs.

Bollman works as a geographic information science technician in the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of Recreation and Parks and Office of Park Planning. Cavanaugh is a computer-aided design and drafting detailer for FIGG Bridge Engineers.

“It’s much more than a job; it’s a career,” Cavanaugh said. “I’m extremely proud to be a part of the FIGG team.”

Both students continued their education after achieving their Associate in Arts degrees. Bollman went on to obtain a Bachelor of Science degree in geography at Florida State University, while Cavanaugh returned to TCC and received an Associate in Science degree in engineering technologies.

Bollman said her teachers at TCC clearly cared about being there for their students, even for evening classes at the end of a full work day.

“All of them work full-time outside of TCC and still come to teach,” she said. “Knowing that they were out there working hard all day like I was, and then made it to class even if they were ready to call it a day, really propelled me to be sure that I was there too.”

Both Bollman and Cavanaugh cited several people who helped make their TCC experience special, with one name in common: engineering technology professor Bret Hammond.

“Both Laura and Landon were exceptionally driven in their approach to the course work offered,” said Hammond. “In addition, both knew exactly what they wished to do in their career pursuits.”

Hammond added that engineering technology students are not typically entering freshmen. Instead, they tend to be persons who are older, more mature, and have had some life experience that shapes their career decision to return to school and pursue additional educational and technical training.

The graduates said Hammond helped both of them connect with the organizations that eventually hired them.

Bollman advised students interested in the field of geographic information science to do things their own way and not to let others discourage them.

“Take advantage of any and every opportunity even if it is out of your comfort zone,” she said. “Personal growth and development can be difficult, but it is well worth the effort.”

Cavanaugh echoed the importance of a diligent approach.

“It is completely worth the time and work you put in to be able to work in a field that you enjoy,” he said.

Hammond wished both Laura and Landon great success as they pursue their careers.

“I encourage all students to seek out opportunities and life experiences that make them valuable assets to their families and communities,” he said. “My firm belief is that we do not educate students, but we create engaged citizens—people we wish to work beside, volunteer with, and participate with in our community and family activities.”

TCC alum aspires to be human rights advocate


 As soon as she set foot in Tallahassee, Angelica Jimenez knew it was where she needed to be. Her local chamber of commerce offered the opportunity to visit Florida’s capital to see how legislation works, and she willingly tagged along.


“Tallahassee had everything that I ever wanted,” Jimenez said. “It had my dream school, the place where I would one day hopefully work, and it’s a very tranquil place.”

Her passion for politics stemmed from her high school classes on the subject. She became fascinated by American government and policies, and she was pulled in further when she had the opportunity to participate in classroom debates.
Her strong interest in politics helped land Jimenez an internship with the Florida House of Representatives during her time as a student at Tallahassee Community College. She was able to answer constituents’ calls, set up the representatives’ files for the legislative session and committee meetings, and help draft a few bills. She gained a firsthand look at the issues that communities face every day, and her time at the internship helped cement her decision to go into politics.
“Politics is not as bad as everyone puts it. It’s just a misunderstanding and a stigma that society has given it,” she said.
“There’s many people that need help but do not have any, especially children. They need to be protected because they are our future.”
After she received her associate degree from TCC in 2013, Jimenez transferred to Florida State University, where she is currently finishing her degree in political science with a minor in international affairs. She plans to graduate next summer and either pursue her master’s degree in international affairs or enter the Peace Corps. One particular visit to her home country, the Dominican Republic, sparked her desire to work with human rights issues.


“I saw a little boy on the street begging for money with barely any clothes on and with no shoes. The look in his eyes and the way he was begging just broke my heart,” she said. “Right in that moment, I knew that the world is unfair.”

Jimenez plans to become a congresswoman and work in the United Nations defending human rights.

“There’s many people that need help but do not have any, especially children,” she said. “They need to be protected because they are our future.”

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