When Dr. Patrick Tompkins first went off to college in the 1980s, he planned to study history because that was his passion. As it often happens, things change, and he ended up majoring in English and philosophy “without really planning to do it.”
More than 30 years later, he finds that happening again. On Sept. 25 he will become the new provost at Thomas Nelson’s Historic Triangle campus in Williamsburg. When he joined the College in 2013 as Dean of Communications, Humanities and Social Sciences (CHSS), he had no grand plans to work his way up through the administration ranks to become provost.
“I’ve never been the type of person who could predict what the next job would be. So when I applied for and was hired as dean, that was my dream job,” he said. “I thoroughly enjoyed it, and it wasn’t until the provost position became open that I started thinking about it.”
Before coming to Thomas Nelson five years ago, Tompkins was a faculty member in the English department at John Tyler Community College in Chester, Va., for more than 20 years. While there, he slowly began taking on more leadership roles and responsibilities at department, college and state levels. He earned a doctorate in Community College Leadership from Old Dominion University in 2013. He also has a bachelor’s degree from Villanova and master’s degrees from Iowa State and Virginia Commonwealth University. Those leadership qualities and his education were noted when Thomas Nelson President Dr. John Dever announced Tompkins’ appointment.
“Dr. Tompkins has an excellent understanding of the responsibilities and opportunities associated with being the provost of the Historic Triangle campus,” he said.
Although new to the position, Tompkins said he already knows what he needs to do first.
“The first challenge I have is to really listen,” he admitted. “Go out there and internally work with the faculty, staff and students at the Historic Triangle campus and find out what’s their No. 1 priority; what’s their No. 1 need.”
Listening to community leaders to find out their wants and needs is just as important.
“The provost needs to get out there in the community and find out how can that Historic Triangle campus can identify the needs of that community, and then meet them,” added Tompkins.
Tasha Holmes, administrative assistant to the Historic Triangle provost, has served on several committees with Tompkins and sees his potential.
“He’s definitely proven that he has wonderful leadership abilities and the ability to get a lot of things done,” she said.
She also noted his personality will serve him well in his new position.
“He’s extremely personable,” Holmes said. “I think that is a really great strength in terms of building relationships. He knows everybody by name, and that’s a wonderful thing.”
Ursula Bock, academic assistant coordinator of CHSS, has been with the College for 14 years and has worked with four deans, including Tompkins. She mentioned many of the same traits.
“He’s also a very personable gentleman and takes considerable interest in the people who work with and for him,” she said. “There isn’t anybody that he could not strike up a conversation with.”
Bock said he also has intangibles that will help him.
“Once you get to a certain level of supervision, you tend to be either a really good manager or you tend to be a good leader,” she noted. “He’s both. And he knows when to be a leader and he knows when to be a manager.”
However, none of that would matter if he first weren’t a talented and involved teacher. That, too, has been evident to Bock.
“He’s not only extremely competent as a professional, he’s really remained knowledgeable and current on the trends and everything related to the discipline, the curricula that we need to be developing,” she said.
That helped lead to what Tompkins calls one of his biggest accomplishments as a dean: creating an associate degree in Fine Arts.
“That was a game-changer,” he said. “That degree did not exist in the Commonwealth of Virginia so we didn’t have to just bring it to Thomas Nelson. We had to create it in Virginia.”
Tompkins sees a lot of potential with the Historic Triangle campus. His hopes “every person in that area recognizes (the Historic Triangle) as the go-to place, the No. 1 place for their educational and workforce needs.”
Tompkins has never lost his love for teaching, and he’s discovered that his new position will allow him to teach, just a different way.
Once again, he finds himself on a path he didn’t originally plan to take.