Tommy Shaw

Williamsburg Technical College

"The teachers, professors and students here push for your success. They're excited to see you be successful as well. "

My name is Tommy Shaw. I’m studying criminal justice  at Williamsburg Technical College. My dad and my mom both went to Williamsburg Tech as well. I came to Williamsburg Tech because it was the best option for me. 

Coming into college, I already knew I was someone who prefers a one-on-one approach with a teacher. Students have different learning styles. Some can understand the lesson just as quickly in a classroom with 50 other students just by taking notes off the board. Others need that one-on-one connection and extra time to stay after class and ask questions. I definitely sought a deeper connection with the teacher to get a better grade.

Oftentimes, there’s a stigma around technical college. Did you hear any of that while you were in high school? What was your impression of technical college?

Of course, there’s going to be a different perception of a technical school, especially compared to a university. Four-year schools get more publicity and are more well known. When I came to Williamsburg Technical College, I knew I’d be able to get a better hands-on, one-on-one experience with the professors and the teachers. If I were to go to a university with a classroom of 50+ students, it would definitely be a lot harder to connect with my teacher on a personal level. 

What does your family think about you being a technical college student?

They’re very supportive, very proud and excited about my journey. I recently made the Dean’s List, and they were ecstatic. That definitely makes me feel good. Even my grandparents ask me about school. Every time they talk to me, it’s about school and education.

Were there any obstacles you had to overcome, or any sacrifices you had to make to go to college?

As far as sacrifices, definitely working and going to school at the same time. I’m currently working third shift at UPL in Kingstree and going to school. I’m working at night, and I’m up during the day. I have to balance my schedule, but I know it’s going to work out in the end. I can’t complain. I have no regrets. There is no doubt.

There were also some people who gave me the impression they were giving up on me. It would have been easy to get discouraged, but I know I can’t allow that to affect me in a negative way. It’s just fuel for my fire. I’m really hyped about being able to prove the doubters wrong. I really want to be able to prove, not only to them, but also to myself, that the hard work has paid off and I am able to achieve and accomplish whatever I set out to do.

Tell us a little about the community at Williamsburg.

I’ve had amazing professors. Dr. Edgar Staggers is a great professor from my criminal justice field. I love to listen to his stories, and he has been a very good supporter. I actually got off the phone with him a couple of days ago. He was telling me I could put him down as a job reference because he knows my work ethic, and knows that whatever field I go into I’m going to give it my fullest potential. The teachers, professors and students here push for your success. They’re excited to see you be successful as well. 

I have some classmates that I graduated high school with who are at Tech with me. We all push each other. They are taking a lot of trades — welding, and all the different classes — and we always check up on each other and push each other to be successful.

In a year where we’ve had George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, have you given any thought to what it means to you to be studying criminal justice?

I’ve definitely given it a lot of thought. This has been a very influential year. Originally, I was going to go into law enforcement, originally either state trooper or patrol, and my family didn’t really like that idea. There’s a big discrepancy between the communities of the world and the people who police those communities. 

That’s why I’m taking a different route and going into the correctional system. I’ve thought a lot about it, and I really want to make sure that I’m doing my job to the fullest. I want to make sure that I treat everybody fairly. I don’t want to see anyone treated unfairly because of who they are, the color of their skin, where they’re from or their language. I really want to see a lot of things change, but at the same time, understand that this world will never be perfect. But as long as you’re doing your part, that is what you can control. I want to be someone who brings integrity to the criminal justice system.

So what’s next?

After I receive my two-year degree in criminal justice, I will be going back to school to get my four-year degree. I don’t want to limit myself in any way. I want to go ahead and strike it while it’s hot.

I haven’t really pinpointed an exact college where I would go to get my bachelor’s degree, but I will be able to transfer my credits from Williamsburg. Right now my primary focus is getting a job in my field.

What advice would you give to others thinking about technical college?

Attack your weaknesses. Address them before you hit a roadblock. You’re still going to have stumbling blocks and things that don’t exactly go your way, but at least you will be better prepared for them when they arise. If you know you’re a procrastinator, go ahead and start working on that now. That way, once you get to college, you won’t have those same struggles.