Laurel Ridge academic advisor Tajmarie Rowe, who until recently also served as chair of the college’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council, continually seeks opportunities to learn and grow as she fulfills her mission of helping others to do the same. Originally from Kingston, Jamaica, Rowe immigrated to the U.S. with her younger sister to attend college. She had secured an appointment with a traditional four-year college in Northern Virginia, but decided instead on Laurel Ridge to be closer to family.
In Jamaica, most of her schoolwork was completed on paper, but Rowe acquired some foundational knowledge of computers. She also completed some college-level work while in high school. However, the transition to extensive computer work, the U.S. collegiate system, the vastly different local environment from her home in Jamaica, and the intricacies of financial aid were a culture shock to her and her sister. A complex evaluation of the credits she had earned in Jamaica, as well as an evaluation of the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE), which offers certification of secondary academic, vocational, and technical achievements for students from the entire Caribbean system who wish to continue their studies, were required.
As a first-generation college student and older sibling, Rowe felt a deep responsibility and determination to ensure that both she and her sister were able to persist with their education. She speaks glowingly of colleagues Tina Anderson and Karen Goulbourne, who helped her navigate the college’s admissions and financial aid systems.
Rowe became a participant and work-study student in the TRIO program, which enabled her to learn both the student and the employee side of college administrative processes. She acquired key professional contacts at the college, and learned to better navigate college systems so that she could finish her initial degree and transfer to a four-year college for a business degree.
Although she became pregnant after her first semester at the new university, she continued her studies. She took one semester off following the birth of her son, but returned immediately for her last semester to graduate. She attributes her motivation to her parents, sisters, and the mentoring she received at Laurel Ridge and its TRIO program. She didn’t want to let anyone down.\
Following graduation, Rowe applied for and accepted a part-time position working in the TRIO program at a nearby four-year college. She also decided to pursue a master’s degree in business. She was promoted to counselor and then to academic retention specialist within the Student Support Services side of the TRIO program.
From there, Rowe’s career blossomed. She enjoyed tremendous opportunities to give back by helping students who were income-eligible, students with disabilities, or first-generation college students. Their stories were different, but the challenges and obstacles they faced were similar to her own. Using a computer, signing up for financial aid and accessing the resources to persist in college, having a lot of questions and not knowing who to ask, and even struggling with free time can be challenges for today’s students.
As Rowe’s leadership qualities were unleashed, she began to become more involved in college and community groups. Through it all, she increasingly felt a pull to return to Laurel Ridge where her higher education and career had begun. In 2019, she was hired for her current position as academic advisor.
Rowe also realized she wished to continue to be active in diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. She notes that an influential part of that comes from being a woman with a young Black son. She was concerned for her son and herself and felt a calling to be involved. She says, “Diversity is a journey – learning things about myself and how I can change things to help my son and the community.”
Wishing to expand her own cultural awareness, she began attending DEI Council meetings and stepped up to fulfill needed leadership roles. She was accepted into a leadership program hosted by the Top of Virginia Regional Chamber, and through that experience, gained insight and validation for her compassionate and charismatic leadership style.
Because she comes from a different country, Rowe notes that she often has to do extra research and reading to learn about culture and communication styles. “My brain doesn’t stop,” she shares, and also notes that she carefully observes, learns from, and often emulates the leadership styles of others whom she admires. Leading the DEI Council has allowed her to exercise her leadership abilities, as well as helped her to increase her own confidence and belief in herself.
Moving forward, she is excited about the college’s transition to Laurel Ridge, and the continuing efforts to develop more outreach and education related to diversity, equity, and inclusion.
There’s no doubt Rowe has a promising future. But beyond that, she serves as a shining example of how the support and services offered to community college students can translate into a true return on investment for the college and a forward-paying contribution to our communities and world.
Laurel Ridge Community College was known as Lord Fairfax Community College until June 2022. For consistency purposes, the college will be referenced as Laurel Ridge going forward.