When Cross Junction resident Kelly Himelwright first started studying cybersecurity at Laurel Ridge, he only planned to get a career studies certificate. This Saturday he’s graduating with his bachelor’s degree, plus three career studies certificates, and transferring to Old Dominion University to finish his bachelor’s degree.
Not only that, Himelwright was recently named the TRIO Graduate of the Year. The TRIO program serves students who are low-income, first-generation college students, or students who have a disability. Students in the program receive specialized services, including academic advising, transfer planning, tutoring, financial aid assistance, financial literacy and college success skills training.
Himelwright spent 12 years as a correctional officer before working at Wal-Mart for a couple of years and later the U.S. Postal Service. Walking so many miles a day delivering the mail was hard for Himelwright, who by then was in his 50s.
His fiancée had been “begging and begging and begging” him to go back to school. Himelwright’s son enrolled in Laurel Ridge and encouraged him to do the same.
“I went there and found out I could sign up really easily,” he said.
Himelwright started off studying health information management, but discovered the medical terminology course “was all Greek to me.”
“The cybersecurity program really interested me,” he said, explaining he had taken some coding classes before graduating from Clarke County High School, and spent several years working for AT&T after graduation.
Cybersecurity proved to be a great fit for Himelwright – he excelled in all his classes.
“I’ve made the dean’s list and president’s list every semester,” he said.
Along the way, Himelwright attended a TRIO student leadership conference and a TRIO focus group; was a member of Epsilon Pi Tau, an international honor society for technology; volunteered with Sara’s Acts of Kindness, a charity dedicated to raising money for cancer research and awareness programs; and received a $7,000 Dominion Fellowship Scholarship. Additionally, Himelwright voluntarily tutored his fellow students in math.
“After 30 years of not being in school, I think math scared me the most,” he said. “Thankfully, I picked up on it really, really quick and everybody was saying they needed help, so I suggested a Zoom session for everyone who wanted to come and I would help them.”
He said he was very grateful to his TRIO advisor, Ashley Jay.
“I don’t think I would be where I am right now without TRIO and Ashley,” Himelwright said. “She’ll probably never have another student like me! At first, I was just going to earn a career studies certificate in cybersecurity, but I went back to her and said I only had a couple more classes to get my associate degree. Then, I just had a couple more classes to get the networking certificate and a couple more for an information systems technology one. Then, the college rolled out the cloud computing certificate, and I said, ‘OK, let’s do that one, too.’”
Now, Himelwright will be attending ODU Online, Old Dominion University’s partnership with Laurel Ridge, to get his bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity.
“I’m on a roll now – why don’t I just continue my education?” he said. “I never thought that I would get this far. I love Laurel Ridge and I love the people and professors.”
TRIO Director and Coordinator of Disability Services Viviane Meder said Himelwright was “extremely deserving” of the TRIO Graduate of the Year award.
“Kelly is extremely personable, goal-oriented and has balanced his work, personal life, and school with no complaints,” she said. “We have 23 other students graduating this year, and let me tell you, although Kelly is extremely deserving of the award, it was a tough choice this year because this group of graduates is so outstanding.”
When he found out about the honor, Himelwright said, “I started crying.”
“I guess they saw all the hard work I’ve been doing and how it’s paid off,” he said.
For more about this year’s commencement, visit www.laurelridge.edu/commencement
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.