Women in Modern History

Thomas Nelson now becoming Virginia Peninsula Community College is recognizing the extraordinary accomplishments of the women in our own community. We're profiling several women this month who are making a real impact in healthcare, STEM, media, and executive leadership. Join us as we recognize the trials and celebrate the triumphs of women in modern history. Each week, we will release new inspiring stories.









Black Women Hold Three Key Leadership Posts at College

Thomas Nelson psychology professor Shanda Jenkins, in discussing Black women in leadership positions in higher education, referenced an article by the Chronicle of Higher Education that asked who was missing.

"We're missing," she said of Black women.

A recent study of U.S. colleges by WomensPowerGap.org revealed just 5% of the 130 responding colleges have a Black woman president.

"It's crazy," she said, noting that study also showed women of all races make up 55% of those who have earned a Ph.D., but women of color hold only 19% of those degrees.

Keisha Samuels, the program head and an assistant professor in Human Services at the College, is doing her dissertation on the struggles African American women face moving into leadership positions at Virginia's community colleges.

"Less than 1% of all individuals who have their doctoral degrees or advanced degrees in community colleges are women," she said. "Even less women are African American."

She also noted that in the past five years, the VCCS has hired more than 1,000 faculty members; less than 10 percent were people of color.

Mary Bunting: City of Hampton's First Woman City Manager

Mary Bunting is doing what she loves in a place she loves.

For the city she calls home it's significant. She became Hampton city manager in 2009 and is the first woman to hold the position since the city established the job in the1950s.

"I love doing the work. It's even more special when you can help to make the community that raised you even stronger and better for the next generation," she said, noting it's rare for those in her position to serve in their hometown.

While some may consider her a trailblazer, Bunting sees it differently.

"I realized it was empowering for a lot of people and I'm glad I can do that," she acknowledged. "For me it was just about fulfilling my career goals and being able to give back to my city. I could have been a city manager somewhere else, but it would not have been as fulfilling."

Her upbringing was such that being a woman was not viewed as a limitation.

"I was raised by a single mother who raised me to not ever perceive that there were obstacles. She was a trailblazer herself in many ways," noted Bunting, whose mother has a decades-long career in city government holding leadership posts in Hampton, Norfolk and Roanoke, among others. Though deeply connected to home, Bunting left Virgina for a span to attend Baltimore's Johns Hopkins University thanks to scholarships from local civic organizations. She furthered her studies at Syracuse University in New York, where she earned a master's degree. A training program for graduate students in Phoenix, Ariz. prepped Bunting for city government. A Hampton High School graduate, she returned home in the late 1980s when a position opened with the city.

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Monette Dutch delights in helping and being a resource. It's how she approaches leadership in many ways. The director of TRiO Student Services at Thomas Nelson, Dutch values her team and takes great care to ensure that students are the top priority.

"I thoroughly enjoy working with this TRiO staff ... Though I am a firm believer that the leader is the first among equals, my role is to help staff develop to their full potential. That aspect about leadership, I find very striking," said Dutch.

Challenging everyone on her team to seek excellence in all aspects of TRiO work, she embraces situational leadership as her dominant style.

"My approach depends on the staff … the circumstances … the issues involved. I'm very comfortable asking staff members, 'What do you think about x y z?' to get their perspectives," she said. "I'm also very with comfortable saying, 'I made this decision independently of what you might feel or think because I feel it's what's best.' In both instances, I try to take into consideration eclectic variables before I make decisions that will impact students and staff alike."

Balance and sensitivity are also important.

"I also know that you don't treat all staff members alike. But, you treat them fairly. You give them what they need. You give them what they need so they can give students what they need," she stressed. Read More


Cassandra Lewis was excited when Thomas Nelson President Dr. Towuanna Porter Brannon asked her to be on a panel discussing women in leadership.

For one, it's an important discussion, Lewis said. Secondly, the two are high school friends.

"It's a real special treat for me," Lewis said. "It provided me the opportunity to share my story with someone who I remember when we were teenagers. And many, many years later having this opportunity to reflect on where we've been, and how our journey has led us to this part … it will be a really special moment for me."

The two attended Clara Barton High School in Brooklyn.

"We had such a great time together," Lewis said. "This is really cool."

She has a bachelor's degree in the Interdisciplinary Social Sciences/International Studies from the State University of New York at Buffalo; a master's degree in Higher Education from Boston College; and a Ph.D. in Education Policy from the University of Maryland, College Park.

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Nonprofit Management Institute

Business Administration - Associate Degree

Fundamentals of Organizational Leadership - Certificate



Patricia Avila

Patricia Avila, a television producer and host in Hampton Roads, believes how you handle rejection determines your chance of success. She knows this firsthand.

Despite being rejected a lot, she knew she would eventually get her chance.

"It was tough," she said. "But I never gave up."

She kept looking for that one "yes" after hearing "no" on too many occasions.

"Sometimes you maybe get discouraged because the process is not easy," said Avila, who was born in South America but has lived in Hampton Roads for more than 20 years. "You might go six months between auditions and nothing's going on, but then one chance can change the whole journey. Basically, that is what happened to me."

Avila is the producer and host of the TV show "Living 757," the morning show host on La Selecta 103.3 FM, and the producer and host of the "We Are Living Healthy" TV show and podcast.

She will share her story March 23 from noon-1:30 p.m. as part of Thomas Nelson's virtual presentation called "Women in Leadership." Joining Avila on the panel will be Cassandra Lewis, chancellor at the National Defense University College of Information and Cyberspace; and Georgie Márquez, a licensed architect and co-owner of Andre Marquez Architects in Norfolk. The discussion is being held as the College recognizes Women's History Month, and will be moderated by Thomas Nelson President Dr. Towuanna Porter Brannon. Read More

Lisa Ray

Former Thomas Nelson English professor Lisa Ray has one word of advice for aspiring authors: write.

"People treat it like you have to wait for some inspirational moment," she said. "That's not actually true. What you have to do is just write, and write like it's a job."
Ray, who retired last year after 25 years at the College, is writing her fourth Urban fantasy novel, making her a great fit for Thomas Nelson's coverage of women in literature as part of Women's History Month in March. She was four or five chapters into her latest work when the pandemic hit, and it slowed her down, although she said it takes three or four years for her to go from idea to published work.

She's hoping this one will be available sometime in 2024.

"I promised my husband I would slow down a little bit because he is a slow, careful, methodical reader, but he's the best editor I've ever had," she said, noting he hasn't touched the third book in her series. Time is not a pressing concern for her, though. And since it's been so long since her last one was published, she wants to reread all of them.

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Visual Arts - Associate Degree

Graphic and Media Design - Associate Degree

Liberal Arts - Associate Degree

Digital Video - Certificate



Jennifer Martin has had some impactful moments in her lifetime. However, none stands out more than a chance meeting in the early 2000s. The experience of sitting down with her all-time idol, who is an icon in science circles, was affirming.
Martin is a scientist with a penchant for research.
"I've always known what I was going to do. I've always known I wanted to do something in natural sciences ... in biology … with the ocean," said the Thomas Nelson biology professor.
She entered the field when there were few women in STEM. Opportunities to commune with others like herself were rare even as she began her career. When Martin saw Marjorie Courtenay Latimer during a conference, it was almost magical. Latimer in 1938 raised awareness of the existence of the coelacanth, a fish believed to have gone extinct with the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. Renowned ichthyologist J.B.L. Smith named the fish (Latimeria) for her.
Martin specializes in fish, so she likened meeting Latimer to a diehard basketball fan meeting Michael Jordan.
"She was massively inspiring to me. I was at a research conference in South Africa, and she was there. At this point, she was 90-something years old. She was sitting at a table. I was like, 'Oh my God! That's her,'" exclaimed Martin.


Science - Associate Degree

Engineering - Associate Degree

Science specialization in Math Education - Associate Degree

Electrical Engineering Technology - Associate Degree



Amy Lugo

Army specialist Amy Lugo, thinking about post-military life, is plotting a course for a career in the automotive industry.

Male-dominated fields are those that have 25% or fewer women in the ranks. That's according to Catalyst, a global organization dedicated to guiding companies to build workplaces that work for women.

Catalyst also indicates that women comprise almost half the nation's labor force but represent slightly over one-quarter of the automotive workforce. In 2020, women were 9.0% of automotive repair and maintenance employees.

Amy Lugo is not deterred. She is pursuing an automotive technology degree at Thomas Nelson (becoming Virginia Peninsula Community College) and may one day enter the field. Lugo takes evening classes several days a week after full-time duty as a motor transport operator in the Army.

She enlisted in 2019, ranks as a specialist (E-4), and is positioning herself for life after the military. A Michigan native who grew up in North Carolina and Florida, Lugo attended the College of Central Florida for a short time while considering a teaching career. When the military sent her to Virginia's Fort Eustis in 2020, she decided to take another shot at higher education the following year.

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Being elected as a co-chair of a task force subcommittee often is considered a burden, but not to Sgt. Kathy Shannon of the Thomas Nelson campus police.

"To have that opportunity to sit on that committee and then come up with ways on how to change that environment, that was a privilege to me," she said in reference to being assigned to look into faculty diversity.

It was part of the Law Enforcement Curriculum task force, which was formed by the VCCS in 2020 to examine the faculty hiring practices and student requirements of institutions that offer Administration of Justice degrees.

Shannon earned an associate degree in Administration of Justice from Thomas Nelson before obtaining bachelor's and master's degrees. She said most of her instructors throughout her educational journey were predominantly Caucasian men.

"I didn't see anyone teaching the class that looked like me," she said.

And while she said that wasn't difficult for her because she knew what her purpose was, she said it's important to have diversity in the classroom.

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Georgie Marquez

Georgie Marquez grew up in Puerto Rico, in what she described as a traditional environment. She often saw women in leadership roles, including politics.

"In Puerto Rico, there have always been women who have been very powerful," she said, mentioning former San Juan mayor Dona Fela and describing her as "a brilliant woman."

As a student in a Catholic school, Marquez said she the nuns who taught her were "very strong, brilliant women who were not dependent on the traditional being married and having children. They just seemed to be very independent."

However, there are not many women in her chosen field: architecture. She said she had few female classmates in architect school, and even fewer female teachers. She had one male professor tell her she shouldn't be in architecture school because she's a woman.

"Because I knew who I was, and because I knew what I wanted, I just laughed and thought what an ignorant thing to say," she said, adding she didn't take it personally. "The professor was just ignorant."

Marquez now is the principal owner at Andre and Marquez Architects in Norfolk and was one of the panelists for Thomas Nelson's virtual presentation called "Women in Leadership."

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Automotive Technology - Certificate

HVAC Technician - Workforce Credential

Welding Technology Advanced - Career Studies Certificate

Commercial Driver License (CDL) Training - Workforce Credential