The U.S. Coast Guard seems like a natural fit for a Florida Keys native like Helen Fleming, now an instructional designer and sociology instructor at Laurel Ridge.
“It was a way to pay for college and a way to kind of get into my own space as an adult,” she said. “I really enjoyed what I did. It suited my personality very well – working search and rescue cases, being able to handle multiple tasks. It was stressful, but a lot of fun.”
During her four years in the Coast Guard – 1991-1995 – Fleming was stationed in Miami and served in telecommunications. In addition to search and rescue missions, she was responsible for classified message trafficking.
“It was a great job, I loved it,” said Fleming, who probably would’ve been a lifer in the Coast Guard but for one issue. “I served under ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’”
She has spent the past 24 years working in higher education, which has taken her to Colorado, Alaska, Oregon and now Virginia. Fleming, whose wife Leeann Collver served in the U.S. Army, has been a student as well as an employee for many of those years, with a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of South Florida, and master’s degrees in liberal studies and sociology from the University of Denver.
“My son actually got out of the Navy and accepted a position with Amazon here in Virginia,” said Fleming, who is currently working on a third master’s degree, this one in instructional design. “He and his wife have our two grandchildren, and so we moved to be closer to them and to be helpful.”
She has been with Laurel Ridge since September 2022.
“My focus is designing coursework for distance education courses and helping faculty abide by policy and ensure that their courses are designed for all types of students, including neuro-divergent students,” Fleming said. “I help faculty realize just how much more robust their courses can be.”
She said she brings her Coast Guard experience into her current career.
“I had to follow the rules in the Coast Guard, and if there’s a policy that’s being handed down to us by the Department of Education, we’re required to do certain things,” Fleming explained. “And, we’re constantly putting out fires. When I’m in the middle of a situation, I’ll say nobody died, we can fix this. I think that’s one way I’m still connected to that space and time.”
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.