For Chris Stuart there is education, then there is targeted, tailored education. The latter was a perfect fit when a career opportunity prompted him to upgrade his skills.
In his first “real job,” fresh out of college, Stuart faced a daunting assignment as a project manager for Top Guard Security, overseeing the firm’s security program at Jefferson Lab in Newport News.
“I had a seven-and-a-half-inch contract file dropped on my desk, along with full responsibility for the project. (I was) wholly unprepared, (had) no experience whatsoever,” he recalled.
“When I cracked that cover, to this day, I would swear it was written in Mandarin on the left and ancient Greek on the right,” he said jokingly. “It was so complex. I immediately started trying to figure out how to get this specialized education.”
That’s where Virginia Peninsula Community College entered the picture for Stuart. He enrolled in 1994 and discovered the impact of targeted education while studying acquisitions and procurement. Stuart earned a career studies certificate a year later, and this complement to his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Old Dominion University has served him well.
“I was placed in a role where I humbly understood I did not have the skill set. That’s where the career studies certificate was vital. That’s why I’m such a proponent of them,” he stressed, noting he earned a second one in digital marketing from the University of Georgia in 2022.
“They don’t necessarily fit everyone, but they fit certain people in certain industries at certain times in their careers. They’re so powerful and effective in what they’re meant to accomplish.”
Stuart was not only equipped with the necessary skills, but experiences at VPCC instilled self-assurance that reverberates throughout his career.
“The career studies certificate hangs proudly on my wall next to my diplomas. I utilize the information I learned in that coursework every day of my professional career,” he said. “(The 18-credit program) gave me confidence in an area that I would not have otherwise had.” `
For Stuart, VPCC represents a gateway to opportunity. He appreciates his unforgettable classroom experiences. His success was assured thanks to an attentive instructor who went the extra mile to create a personalized learning environment. The educator’s guidance continues to shape Stuart’s approach to procurement and contracting.
“Interestingly, there were 16 people in most of the classes – 15 of which were in construction contracting,” he recounted, noting he worked in the service industry.
The instructor took special care to create one blackboard specifically for those in construction covering information they needed to know and one tailored to meet Stuart’s educational needs.
“It was so meaningful, so pertinent. To this day, I am able to communicate with procurement professionals at their level,” he said.
The practical knowledge and confidence he gained carried Stuart to his current executive position. Since 1996, he has served as vice president of Top Guard Security and is the primary contact for prospective clients. He is proud of the company’s standing as “the largest woman-owned employer in Virginia” and its receipt of the Governors’ Award from the Virginia Values Veterans (V3) Program in 2017, 2019, and 2022. The award acknowledges that the security company “hired more military veterans in those years than any other company in the Commonwealth,” he noted.
The New Jersey native’s career progression was natural. A security position kicked off his professional life.
“I started working as a six-foot-two, 128-pound security officer while going full-time to Old Dominion University,” he said, pointing out he held the security position nearly seven years throughout his undergraduate and graduate studies.
Stuart calls Virginia Beach home, having moved to Virginia in 1986 as a high school senior and graduated from Newport News’ Warwick High School in 1987. He has since established himself among leaders in the area. With a two-page resume of civic affiliations and memberships, he finds fulfillment in community service.
“What I appreciate the most now are the opportunities to give back and to serve,” said the former Hampton City Council member (2010-2014), who is proud to have completed LEAD Peninsula, LEAD Hampton Roads, and LEAD Virginia and the CIVIC Leadership Institute during his tenure as a councilman.
The LEAD programs facilitate collaboration among private, public, and nonprofit sectors and CIVIC seeks to connect executive leaders through service to enhance life in Hampton Roads. His participation while navigating the responsibilities of public office speaks to Stuart’s dedication.
“If a group or a board felt I could assist them in some way, I’ve always said, ‘yes.’ I routinely serve on boards, chair boards, and consult with boards. I believe that fabric of the community creates this quilt of support that really defines a healthy and dynamic region,” added Stuart.
The past VPCC College Board member, who also served on the College's Educational Foundation Board, strikes a balance between civic obligations and family, which he places above all. He recognizes his wife, Nicole Maust Stuart, whom he met in 1986, as his and their five children’s foundation. As for pastimes, the be-all to end all is attending his children’s sporting events and extracurricular activities.
Through his advocacy and achievements, Stuart, who is president of the VPCC Alumni Council, will continue taking advantage of opportunities to give back while also championing higher education, particularly community colleges.
“There is no greater educational value than either an associate degree or career studies certificate from a community college,” he said.