Chris Derocher: Veteran turned to Laurel Ridge when seeking a new chapter ‣ Laurel Ridge Community College
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Chris Derocher: Veteran turned to Laurel Ridge when seeking a new chapter

Derocher in front of American flag
Chris Derocher served six years in the Air National Guard.

Air traffic controller, former Air National Guardsman, and now Laurel Ridge student, Chris Derocher is a generous and selfless man. So selfless that in 2014 he donated his kidney to a stranger.

Nine years ago, his wife showed him a social media post about someone needing a kidney.

“It mentioned the blood type,” said Derocher. “I was the same blood type.”

He was flown from Albany, N.Y. to Boston for the surgery.

“The recipient is doing well,” Derocher said. “She has been able to have two baby girls since then.”

Not only has he given up an organ, he and his wife have also opened their home to foster children.

Service to others runs in Derocher’s family. His father and grandparents had served in the military. And his mother was a nurse and his grandmother worked in a hospital.

After graduating from high school in New York in 2007, Derocher enlisted in the Air National Guard, serving for six years. Derocher started with electronic warfare in Burlington, Vt., and was cross trained in air traffic control in Portsmouth, N.H.

Last year, having worked as an air traffic controller for 11 years, Derocher decided to enroll in Laurel Ridge. He’s taking 19 credits this semester, including some classes he is taking through the University of New England, which specializes in pre-health coursework. Through the university, he is taking bachelor’s degree-level biology II and biochemistry courses.

This upcoming spring, Derocher will be transferring to George Mason University. He plans to transfer a couple of his classes there back to Laurel Ridge in order to earn his associate degree in applied science.

At GMU, Derocher’s bachelor’s degree will be in individualized study, and he is able to apply some of his military experience towards it. After he earns his bachelor’s degree, he is considering further his education to become a doctor or an anesthesiologist assistant.

“Anesthesiology was always something that kind of fascinated me,” he said. “That specialty just seemed really interesting.”

However, the idea of returning to college to embark on a new career didn’t seem like an option until recently. Derocher’s wife is in school studying to be a nurse practitioner and inspired him.

“Just seeing her do really well in everything and excel kind of focused me a little bit,” he said.

Then during the pandemic shutdown, the Derochers were able to pay off their debt, and could live more comfortably.

“I was able to think, what do I want to do now, not what do I need to do,” he recalled.

One of Derocher’s favorite teachers has been Chemistry Professor Sam Dillender. He has taken four chemistry courses with him.

“He’s a caring guy, and he was able to break stuff down to teach really well,” Derocher said. “I liked his method of teaching. You could tell that he wanted to be there. Any time I’ve needed help, my professors have emailed back, offered to meet via Zoom on nights and weekends.”

A favorite spot on both the Middletown Campus and the Fauquier Campus for Derocher, who lives in Bealeton, is the Veterans Center.

“They see me all the time,” he said. “It’s quiet. There’s always a place to study. I’m able to print stuff out, and staple and organize all my paperwork. I borrow their textbooks for classes. And, they always have snacks.

“Everyone has been amazing and [school certifying official] Sharon Painter and [veteran academic advisor] Jeanmarie Corrado have been a great help. I like the small class sizes, the intimate environment at Laurel Ridge. I didn’t think I would like some of the online aspects because I’m older, but I’ve liked them, too.”

Derocher, who has two sons, ages 9 and 11, also volunteers as a concierge at Fauquier Hospital visiting patients and at Fauquier County Public Schools where he assists with vision and hearing screenings. He received support from the Laurel Ridge Foundation through the Alice & William Johnson Memorial Endowed Scholarship and the Grisdale Family Veterans Endowed Fund.

This spring, Derocher will be taking the Medical College Admission Test, better known as the MCAT, with a goal of enrolling in medical school in fall 2025.

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.