Educating Peninsula residents to ensure a highly-skilled workforce while also shaping future leaders is a common goal of Thomas Nelson Community College and Newport News Shipbuilding (NNS), a division of Huntington Ingalls. The long-standing partners have collaborated for decades, and NNS’s recent contribution to the College’s Educational Foundation has afforded new academic and workforce scholarships for two years. That was the message Xavier Beale, vice president of Trades at NNS, imparted as guest speaker during Thomas Nelson’s Annual Scholarship and Donor Luncheon at the Hampton campus in Moore Hall.
“Like TNCC, we are committed to helping our youth reach their full potential. Like our community college partners, and others here today, we believe in the power of partnership. We are committed to providing opportunity,” said Beale, who earned an associate of applied science degree from Thomas Nelson in 1995. “These scholarships open doors for talented students to realize their potential and these 50 for 50thscholarships provide Newport News Shipbuilding an opportunity to give back to the community in a meaningful way.”
Joining Thomas Nelson President John Dever along with members of the Foundation and College boards at the April 5 event, Beale addressed a full house in Moore Hall’s Espada Room including students, their family members, donors, and specials guests. He gave on overview of NNS’s storied 133-year-old history noting that it is one of Virginia’s largest employers with roughly 24,000 employees and is the nation’s only builder of nuclear-powered aircraft carriers. He lauded the company’s connection with the College saying NNS looks to Virginia’s Community Colleges (VCCS), and Thomas Nelson in particular, to help train future shipbuilders.
“When Thomas Nelson’s Educational Foundation approached our company about their 50 for 50th anniversary (scholarship), the decision was simple for us. We were elated to participate,” said Beale. “We do important work. The ships that we build require complex skills, strategic thinking, shipbuilders who bring innovation and creative approaches and solutions to the shipbuilding process. Community college and career technical education programs equip our craftsmen and craftswomen with specialized skills in areas such as advanced integrated manufacturing, computer-aided drafting, information technology, mechanical engineering and industrial technology.”
“Programs like those Thomas Nelson offers provide a solid pipeline of shipbuilders who are the backbone of our success. Our future welders, pipefitters, IT professionals, engineers and our future leaders are likely among some of our recipients here today that we may have never known if it were not for the important partnership we share with Thomas Nelson,” he added.
Beale’s address followed opening remarks by Dr. Dever, who congratulated scholarship recipients, thanked donors, and acknowledged the Foundation Board, which is among the oldest foundations within VCCS at 40 years old. He pointed out that in 2018-19, the Foundation awarded its highest amount in recent history with private scholarships totaling $196,830 to 313 Thomas Nelson students enrolled in academic and workforce training programs. Of those students, 124 were supported by contributions from NNS.
“Many of the students assembled here today have benefited from these and many other scholarship and student emergency support opportunities made possible by the generosity of private donors,” said Dr. Dever. “The rising cost of higher education and the consequence of crippling student debt, can be a significant barrier for many students.”
“The students here today are grateful for the opportunity to pursue their dreams of higher education and will express their gratitude to you as donors for assisting them in this pursuit, and to the faculty, staff and others at Thomas Nelson who have demonstrated that higher education can be both excellent and affordable,” he added.
Representing their peers, scholarship recipients Kylee Baines, Jacob Andrews and Monica Gurung addressed the audience of roughly 150 people thanking donors, the Educational Foundation, their families and the College. The students are poised to graduate in May and will be part of the 50th anniversary class.
Baines, who received the Continental Automotive Systems, Inc. Commonwealth Legacy Scholarship and is a Phi Theta Kappa member, said she is grateful for the generous donor whose support has helped her pursue higher education. Having started her college journey in the dual enrollment and Early College programs through Newport News Schools in partnership with Thomas Nelson, Baines juggles two part-time jobs. She is a first-generation college students and views her Thomas Nelson experience as “fantastic … like being with family” particularly thanks to the TRiO program. Aspiring to a career in law enforcement, she is seeking an A.A.S.and plans to transfer to the College of William and Mary.
For Andrews, a Newport News Shipbuilding Scholarship recipient, selecting Thomas Nelson was a given since it’s a family tradition. His sister is a graduate and was among scholarship recipients who spoke at the College’s luncheon in 2017. Andrews said while homeschooled he was not as focused as he should have been. Thomas Nelson has helped him gain the footing to excel academically and today he is a peer tutor in Thomas Nelson’s Tutor Zone and is an “A” student. Studying information technology, he plans to transfer to George Mason University.
Gurung, an engineering major and recipient of the Virginia AeroSpace Business Association Scholarship, is thankful for the generous financial support and the opportunities afforded at Thomas Nelson. An immigrant, she credits the College for boosting her confidence and improving her academics via TutorZone services. A top benefit she named was participation in the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) program. Funded by the National Science Foundation, LSAMP aims to diversify the STEM workforce by increasing the number of underrepresented minority students earning higher education degrees. Through the program, Gurung has visited numerous four-year schools, presented projects and networked with fellow STEM students and educators. She is fielding acceptance to several four-year schools such as Virginia Tech and Clemson University.
The event wrapped with rousing closing remarks by Foundation Board Chair Rick Gallaer, who had the audience stand several times and cheerfully shout, “Thank you.” Congratulating scholarship recipients and expressing appreciation to the benefactors, he said the Foundation is delighted to be part of cultivating student success by connecting with the community as well as business and industry to facilitate financial support.
“For the past two years, private contributions to the Foundation’s many scholarship funds total $501,375. Without this much-needed assistance with tuition, fees, books and support for students with financial emergencies, many of these talented and deserving students would not be able to continue pursuing their dreams of higher education,” said Gallaer.