Thomas Nelson President Dr. Towuanna Porter Brannon surely made a memorable entrance at her first state of the college address. Walking on stage with the song “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now” by McFadden and Whitehead playing, she explained that’s how she feels about the College.
“The song that you just heard playing, that is a song that I think about almost every morning when I get up and I think about coming to Thomas Nelson Community College,” she said to an audience of more than 50 gathered at the Peninsula Workforce Development Center as well as those tuning in online.
Brannon, who was named the College’s ninth president in January, said many great things occurred in her first year, which is why she’s optimistically looking ahead to 2022 and beyond.
Among the list of accomplishments the past year at Thomas Nelson, which is in the process of being renamed Virginia Peninsula Community College:
- Dual enrollment, which has increased from 1,301 students in 2015-16 to 2,049 in 2020-21;
- The Academy of the Advanced College Experience (ACE) with the City of Hampton Schools, where 26 students from Phoebus were able to earn associate degrees while still in high school;
- The Summer Experience, where two dozen rising 10th graders earned college credits in Information Technology.
- The JumpStart program, which helps students adjust to college life;
- Three recent graduates earned prestigious internships with the National Institutes of Health;
- Four students filled five openings for prestigious nationwide NASA internships;
- TRiO graduation rates increased from 63.6% in 2017-18 to 71.9% in 2019-20;
- Phi Theta Kappa (the College’s honor society) earned five-star recognition (the highest possible) for the second consecutive year, and awards for service projects, for chapter excellence, for its officers, its president and its adviser;
- The Finish Line initiative, where more than 100 students have returned to the College to finish their degrees after taking time off;
- The IT program was named the 21st best in the country by Value Colleges;
- The drones program became part of an FAA training initiative;
- The Early Childhood Education program earned accreditation;
- The Graphic and Media Design program was named among the top 15 in the country by Best Value Schools;
- The College was named one of the Best for Vets by the website colleges.militarytimes.com;
- The Community College Workforce Cooperative with Paul D. Camp and Tidewater Community College;
- A partnership was formed with Ancora to improve the College’s CDL (commercial driver’s license) program;
- The College’s Support Services program, which among other things runs the food pantry. In 2020, more than 1,600 students were served;
- The College received a $1.7 million grant from the Department of Labor to open a trades training center in the Williamsburg-James City County area that will offer new programs and expand existing ones;
- Opening of the Career Works Center at the Historic Triangle campus;
However, it wasn’t all about looking back at 2021. It also was about continuing those successes and being motivated to do even better in 2022 and beyond. As far as that goes, there already are plenty of optimistic signs. Among them:
- The College is scheduled to open a Trades Center in Williamsburg at the Historic Triangle campus in the fall;
- A partnership with Colonial Williamsburg could be announced as early as January ;
- Operation NEXT, which helps departing military personnel transition into the manufacturing sector, is expected to be finalized in the spring.
Brannon also provided updates on some building projects. College officials are targeting 2024 as the time frame for the renovated Mary T. Christian Auditorium to reopen. Meanwhile, the College will move those affected to the Templin Hall closing to 521 Butler Farm Road, which is next to the Hampton III Building. The new building set to replace Diggs, Moore and Harrison halls is projected for 2025.
Among the areas Brannon cited for improvement are trust among all parties, enrollment, class scheduling, retention, three-year graduation rates, budget, staffing and professional development.
She’s confident things are finally coming around even though there’s a long way to go, and she is confident the College is on the move. So it’s no wonder Brannon chose “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now” to help deliver her message.