Even before she decided she wanted to come to Laurel Ridge to become a counselor, this year’s Outstanding Graduate for the Middletown Campus, Pamela Neff, was a hero.Neff, who is graduating with her degree in human services, spent 17 years with the Virginia State Police. In 2016, she was awarded the International Association of Chiefs of Police/Flock Safety Leadership in Looking Beyond the License Plate Award. She had initiated the traffic stop of Vester Lee Flanagan II while he traveled on Interstate 66 just hours after gunning down a reporter and cameraman on live TV. Neff had typed the license plate number of the car Vester was suspected to be driving into her license plate reader and got an immediate hit. That’s not the only award Neff received. She was also recognized with the Mid-Atlantic Association of Women in Law Enforcement Valor Award, among others. However, her time in law enforcement, came with a heavy price. Neff was standing beside her partner, Trooper Kevin Manion, when a firearm in a vehicle discharged while the vehicle was being moved following a crash, killing him in 2006. She was also working during the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville. After being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and medically retired, Neff immediately began preparing for a second career. “The date I retired, the next day I signed up to go back to Laurel Ridge,” said Neff, who had originally attended the college to study criminal justice in the early 2000s, but left after being hired by the state police. “Laurel Ridge is amazing. The staff there is just absolutely so caring and so understanding towards our situations and they want to see you succeed. If you ask for help, they’re going to make sure you find a way to succeed.” Neff went out of her own way to help her classmates succeed, too, according to Administration of Justice Professor Lisa Kara, who nominated her for the Outstanding Graduate Award. A classmate who had come to Laurel Ridge later in life was having trouble with the technical side of attending college. “Pam saw her struggling and reached out to her to offer assistance,” said Kara. “Pam served as a mentor, meeting with her one-on-one. Pam is truly outstanding as a model of student excellence who had the admiration of her classmates. When a student like Pam is part of a class, the entire group of students performs at a higher level.” Kara said fellow students frequently sought Neff’s input on various topics, and she would respond “kindly and professionally, providing unique perspectives and insights that went far above and beyond what students would typically learn from the regular course materials.” Neff said she “loved” all of her courses and her professors, including Professor Kara and Sociology/Human Services Professor Larry Friedenberg. “I always wanted to start a second career after law enforcement, and I’m happy that I did,” said Neff, who is a volunteer teacher’s aide and cheerleading and track coach at her daughter Madalynn’s school, Mountain View Christian Academy. While at Laurel Ridge, Neff benefited from the National Fruit Product Company Endowed Scholarship and the Laurel Ridge Community College Pacesetter Endowed Scholarship. She will continue at the school after graduation, supporting students and teaching physical education and health. Neff plans to complete her bachelor’s degree in counseling and possibly also early childhood education so she can counsel children. Her end goal is to earn a master’s degree and to provide counseling to law enforcement officers. Police officers often don’t seek mental health help because they fear it will jeopardize their careers, said Neff, and she hopes to combat that. Neff said her 13-year-old daughter and her husband, Brian, will be at commencement cheering her on. “My daughter is all for me going back to school,” she said. “She absolutely loves it. She’s doing better in school since I went back to school. She has been doing a little bit of everything with me.”
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.