Ellissa Johnson and Erika Moore (pictured right) took different paths to Thomas Nelson. Johnson grew up in Williamsburg and was home-schooled. Moore attended Tabb High School.
They continued on different paths at the College, with Johnson earning a liberal arts degree at the Historic Triangle campus, and Moore a social science degree in Hampton.
And their paths aren’t expected to cross anytime soon, either, as Johnson is headed to the College of William & Mary to study genetics, and Moore will pursue a degree in video gaming at George Mason.
However, what they do have in common is being named TRiO students of the year at their respective campuses. Both credit the program, which is part of Student Support Services, for putting them on the path to success.
“Not only did they help with all academics and logistics, but also with having some fun,” Johnson said, mentioning outings to see “Hamilton” and the ballet. “They’ve just been wonderful friends, as well as advisers.”
Moore agreed: “It was a great experience, and I’ve stayed with it the whole time I was at Thomas Nelson.”
Both were exposed to TRiO through the College’s JumpStart program, a four-week orientation program usually held in late July or early August at each campus. Johnson participated in JumpStart before the 2017-18 academic year, and Moore a year later.
“That was just a really, really great transition out of homeschooling into college,” said Johnson said. “It allowed me to get to know (TRiO adviser) Keyanna Hawkins better before I started my classes and just familiarize myself with Thomas Nelson.”
Hawkins holds Johnson in high regard, as well, saying she was an asset to the program and will be missed.
“Ellissa excelled in the classroom and developed into a campus leader,” Hawkins said.
At the Hampton campus, Moore’s TRiO adviser was SaraLynn Goergen.
“Not only did she excel in the classroom at Thomas Nelson, she was a leader on campus,” Goergen said of Moore.
Johnson starts at W&M soon, but is undecided about a major. She’s considering biology with a minor in music.
“I’m very interested in genetics. I would want to do some sort of genetic research,” she said.
Since she grew up on the Peninsula, she was familiar with Thomas Nelson. She thought starting at a community college before attending a four-year institution would be the best route for her.
“I just loved the 2 and 2 program that Thomas Nelson has,” she said. “It makes things so much easier.”
Moore wasn’t sure if she wanted to attend a four-year school right out of high school. During her senior year of high school, a lot of her friends mentioned they were going to Thomas Nelson, so she took a closer look at it. At George Mason, she will be studying video gaming.
“The Game Design program at GMU is a selective admissions program and she worked immensely hard to be admitted,” Goergen said.
However, Moore will spend her first year at home, taking all online courses.
“Since our laboratories are very close and have a lot of people in them, it’s just going to be better for the students if they stay home,” Moore said, adding she could have been on campus in the spring, but decided against it.
Moore has always been interested in computers, but is not sure what part of gaming she wants to focus on. She’s done coding, but she’s also interested in art.
“I wouldn’t mind doing different art styles for video games or getting that atmosphere when you sit down and play and are amused at the art style,” she said. “If I’m not doing the coding behind the game, I would definitely like to do art, (and) I know a little bit of music.”
She prefers games that have a story line, and she’d like to make a game where you can tweak the ending depending on your decisions.
No matter where they end up or what they do, they are thankful for JumpStart and TRiO. Both were involved in the programs for much of their time at Thomas Nelson, including as Peer Tutors.
“The people at TRiO, they’ve helped support me for everything,” Johnson said. “TRiO was great.”
It seems to have worked both ways. Goergen said Moore was always looking to help her fellow students.
“She is a student others can look up to as a model of how to work hard and achieve a goal,” Goergen said.
Moore was not expecting to be named the TRiO student of the year. She just enjoys helping people.
“I didn’t think I’d get something in return for helping a bunch of students in the same place I was two years ago,” she said.
Moore doesn’t know Johnson, but said she and her fellow award-winner have at least one more thing in common.
“It seems she went out of her way to help people, just like I did,” Moore said.