Pride in the college one attended runs high at almost every four-year institution. Graduates often display license plates, bumper stickers, clothes, flags and much more with their school’s insignia and colors.
However, there doesn’t seem to be the same pride for alums of community colleges. Thomas Nelson graduate Jennifer Frickman said that’s unfortunate.
“Other colleges, you hear people boasting after they leave for years about their college. You wouldn’t necessarily do that with a community college but you should. It’s a big accomplishment,” she said. “You should be proud of your school.”
Frickman is the owner of Rod Busters Inc., a Newport News company that builds bridges throughout the state. She traces much of her success to Thomas Nelson, which is why she was excited to be one of the founding members of the Thomas Nelson Alumni Council in 2017.
“I thought it was good to participate in something that built such a good foundation for me,” she said. “The College, I feel ties from my family, from my career. I guess I wanted to be part of it. Education is very important. Even today, I’m still having to keep myself sharp.”
Katrina Bailey is an academic adviser at the College and was named the Alumni Council Chair in August after being the vice chair. She, too, has personal reasons for being involved.
“I very much so believe in the mission of Thomas Nelson and I know that it changes lives,” she said. “It changed mine very much so.”
She started out in the early childhood program at the College but switched when one of her instructors saw something in her that she hadn’t seen in herself. After earning her degree from Thomas Nelson in 2015, she went to Old Dominion University for a bachelor’s in Human Services and Counseling with a minor in history. She’s working on her master’s in community college leadership at the University of Arkansas.
“I really want to give back to the students of Thomas Nelson in my capacity as an alum to be more of a mentor and to help these students that may not have anybody who believes in them,” she said.
She said that works well with her goals for the alumni council.
“I believe it’s very important for us to be seen and not just kind of in the background trying to raise money for the college,” she said. “A really important aspect is for the students to see people who have graduated from Thomas Nelson coming back and saying this is how this changed my life, this is we can help you change your life.”
For Bailey, who graduated from Warwick High School in 1996, Thomas Nelson has been more than a place to get an education. She served for two years as a student secretary of the Phi Theta Kappa honor society, then the organization’s adviser for two years. She also was involved in SGA as a student senator. After graduation, she was the office services assistant in the new student success center, where she was involved in welcoming students to the college and supporting the admissions office. She left the College in 2017, but returned in 2018 to be an academic adviser.
One thing she would like the council to do is pair students with alums in the same field of study.
“I feel it is very important for alumni to be ambassadors for TNCC in the community,” she said. “I find that as alumni, we are in unique situations and fields that we can share what community colleges and Thomas Nelson have done for each of us.”
Frickman feels the same way, and sees one of the Council’s missions as keeping people involved with the College.
“Just because it’s a beginner, steppingstone school, you don’t have to forget where you came from, and you can build off those contacts just like you built off that education,” she said.
That’s exactly what she did. While at Thomas Nelson, she also was working at the Newport News Shipyard. She graduated from the College in 2008 with a degree in drafting and design. She continued her career at the Shipyard, and also earned a four-year degree in business at Saint Leo.
“Even though my Thomas Nelson degree was more technical, it transferred just about perfect for a business degree,” she said. “It was terrific for me, and of course kudos to the College that it transferred perfectly.”
After earning her business degree in 2014, she started taking on more roles she said were project-management related. That led to her becoming owner of Rod Busters in 2016. She thinks it’s important to show current students that success.
“They also help spread the word that this is a good school; that this is where you got your foundation from. I think it encourages students to enroll,” she said of alumni.
Bailey also sees a connection between alums and student success; that as alumni are more involved it can lead to students reaching their academic goals.
“I think it helps with completion rates because they can see themselves in somebody that has graduated from Thomas Nelson, or any community college,” she said. “I think it’s really important that there’s that connection.”
She remembers when she started at Thomas Nelson she was at a crossroads in her life and wasn’t sure what she wanted to do. She was kind of stuck.
“But then when given the opportunity, I was able to kind of blossom,” she said. “I think that alumni can be very integral in helping students connect those dots for themselves.”
With the coronavirus pandemic limiting gatherings and events, the council is looking at other ways to connect with one another, as well as students. It is playing more of a supportive role, but is working with the College’s marketing department and Educational Foundation in the hopes of having an event in October.
For more information on how to be involved with the alumni council, go to tncc.edu/alumni.