Sherlock Banks, here with Sen. Mamie Locke, was among students who represented the College in Richmond for meetings with Virginia lawmakers in January.
Standing on the side of the Blue Ridge Parkway in Waynesboro looking over a cliff is part of Sherlock Banks’ summer internship. As someone who is afraid of heights, he certainly wouldn’t be there for any other reason.
“I think after this summer, I might be over my height fears,” he said of his experiences as an intern with the Federal Highway Administration. “Just today, I was on a 2,500-foot mountain … We are doing a pavement rehabilitation so I had to be on the mountain with the different contractors. While I do that, I have to look over hills and look at the drops.”
It’s a fear he’s willing to conquer because he wants to become an architect and build bridges. Banks, who just earned an associate degree in engineering from Thomas Nelson, has been enthralled with bridges since he was a young boy playing with Legos. He loves (almost) everything about bridges: their aesthetics, their essence, their foundations, and how they work.
“That really intrigues me,” he said, noting he really enjoys learning the math that’s involved in designing bridges.
His studies will continue in the fall at Virginia Tech, where he’s pursuing a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering with a focus on structural engineering. His long-term goals include becoming a professional credentialed engineer by age 28, and opening an engineering firm.
His original path out of Bethel High School in 2017 did not include Thomas Nelson, even though he was familiar with the College since he had grown up nearby.
“I was accepted at ODU. When I got the tuition bill, I was like, ‘This does not add up. Why would an 18-year-old take out a $21,000 loan when he has no assets behind him, nothing to help him with the loan?’” he said.
He turned his attention to Thomas Nelson, and was sold after meeting with the advising team.
“It was amazing. I felt like I was at home. I felt welcome,” he said. “It was the first best choice of my career, honestly.”
Banks was much more than a student at Thomas Nelson. He was involved in the Student Government Association, the Investment Club, the National Society of Leadership and Success, and the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) program, which is a National Science Foundation-funded initiative focused on increasing the number of minority students earning degrees in STEM fields. He also is a student member of the American Society of Civil Engineers. Before his current internship, he was an undergraduate civil engineering intern for the City of Newport News, focusing on road design and land development.
“Sherlock is the most proactive student I have met … and one of the hardest-working students I have met in my 17 years of teaching,” said Ji Hyon Mun, Ph.D., engineering professor and STEM program head at the College.
His passion for learning began at an early age. His mother is a special education educator, who stressed the importance of education.
“I always had my eyes in the books, always learning about math and science and English,” he said.
Mun, who has known Banks for two years and had him in four classes, saw firsthand that dedication.
“Sherlock truly enjoys learning and came to each class always ready to learn,” she said. “His love for learning was contagious, and Sherlock inspired the other students in class to share in his learning experience.”
Mun said Banks also had an effect on her.
“His enthusiastic attitude toward learning made me a better instructor,” she said.
Another one of Banks’ passions is politics, which fits well with his career goals. He realizes building bridges involves building relationships.
“Engineering is a people job,” he said. “You need to have a relationship with the people that you work with. That’s the big thing, having that relationship and not trying to close off other people’s ideas. Hearing other people out (is key), not just staying to your own.”
He’s involved with politics in his internship, too. He’s working with the American Society of Civil Engineers as the group tries to pass a bill that calls for investing more in not just bridges, but the infrastructure of America as a whole.
“We need more money allocated for those funds,” Banks said. “That all comes from building relationships with people.”
Relationships are what he will remember most about his time at Thomas Nelson.
“Not just being a student, and not just meeting other students,” he said. “(But) feeling welcomed by the faculty.”
He recalled conversations with Dr. John T. Dever, retired president of the College who died in April.
“He was very organic with the way that he would talk to students,” Banks said. “He would actually remember my name, not just my name … but he would actually remember other people’s names. It was amazing. That just transitioned around the whole staff. Everybody knew everybody on campus. That was a beautiful thing to me.”
Mun has no doubt Banks will be successful, and that his fear of heights won’t stop him from reaching his goals.
“When faced with challenges, Sherlock will work even harder to overcome them rather than to be intimidated by or to avoid them,” she said. “I am excited for the world to experience Sherlock’s enthusiasm and I look forward to his positive impacts and achievements beyond TNCC. He has the capacity to achieve anything he sets his mind to, and will make a difference for the better.”