Guided by Michael Sundblad, Thomas Nelson Performing Arts presents an operetta every year. Thomas Nelson “is the only community college in the state that stages an operetta, and maybe the only community college in the country," according to Communications, Humanities and Social Sciences Dean Patrick Tompkins.
Sundblad, an assistant professor and performing arts department chair, is putting Thomas Nelson in the spotlight again. This time, it’s with his doctoral work, for which he’s been awarded a Chancellor’s Faculty Fellowship by Virginia's Community Colleges (VCCS). He is one of three educators statewide, among them Thomas Nelson’s Shanda Jenkins, to receive the award in 2018. Tompkins was not surprised Sundblad received a fellowship.
“I would have been shocked if he didn’t,” Tompkins said.
The fellowship recipients are awarded a $7,500 grant and up to a one-year leave of absence with support for salary and expenses while engaging in full-time graduate study.
Sundblad, who joined the College in 2007, has been taking online classes with Boston University since September 2014 pursuing a Doctor of Musical Arts (DMA) degree in music education. He completed his course work and exams, and is just down to his dissertation.
Sundblad, 36, said he realized he wanted to be a teacher when he was in the second grade.
“But then it took a while to decide what field I wanted to pursue,” he admitted.
He enjoyed science, and thought about majoring in physics in college, but chose music. He earned his undergraduate degree from North Central College in Illinois before getting his master’s in Orchestral Conducting from Illinois State University.
In his undergraduate days, Sundblad “discovered Beethoven and Mozart and Wagner and all this great music,” he said. “And I was always interested in teaching. Music plus teaching, oh that’s conducting.”
His love for both is evident, and his students benefit.
“He’s a very, very gifted teacher with a loyal following,” Tompkins said. “He’s a leader in the region and state in musical direction. At Thomas Nelson, he has built an impressive and well-renowned musical program that includes a chorus, winter and spring concerts, a fall musical and a summer operetta.”
While Sundblad is proud of the growth performing arts has experienced over his 11 years at Thomas Nelson, he measures his success by that of his students'.
“What I think I’m proudest of is the successes, my students’ experiences both here and as they leave to continue their studies outside of here,” he said. “If it weren’t for what we were able to build on campus, those students never would have been able to go on and finish degrees.”
He has had a lot of support, especially from the administration.
“I think what has been helpful is all of the presidents have seen what the arts can do and how they make outreach with the community and bringing the community on to campus,” Sundblad said. “There aren’t a lot of things that bring the community to us in ways that the arts can.”
And he's quick to point out there’s more work to do.
“We’re still building,” he said. “We’re a young, burgeoning program. And we’re going to be building for a long time.”