From Thomas Nelson to Paper Mill | Thomas Nelson Community College

From Thomas Nelson to Paper Mill

December 6, 2018
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Glen Williams (left) and Matt Brown took classes together at Thomas Nelson in the 1990s.

When Glen Williams and Matt Brown are working together on a project at WestRock in West Point, they sometimes think back to their time at Thomas Nelson Community College.

“When we talk about something, we say, ‘What do you think Mr. (Cecil) Dickerson would say?’” Williams said with a laugh, recalling one of his most memorable instructors.

Nearly 30 years after taking a few classes together at the College’s Hampton campus, both are surprised they are working for the same company.

“Would I have ever thought I’d be working with anybody (from Thomas Nelson)? No,” said Williams, who earned his associate degree from Thomas Nelson in the spring of 1991.

For Williams, it was mostly because of geographic reasons. He grew up in West Point, and when he attended Thomas Nelson, there was no Williamsburg campus. His commute to school was about an hour each way.

“I was more of an outsider down there,” he said. “I didn’t grow up down there. Everybody either grew up in that area or were military. So I never had a thought that I would even see any of those people ever again.”

Brown, who is from Gloucester and took classes at the College from 1988 until the early 1990s, lost touch with his classmates after graduating so he wasn’t expecting to be reunited with any of them.

“It was a little bit of a surprise because we didn’t keep in real good contact,” Brown said of working at the same place as a former classmate.

Dickerson wasn’t the only instructor they remember. They also have fond memories of the Watson brothers (Mark and Bruce).

“I had some really good instructors, especially on the electronics side,”
 Brown said. “A lot of people stand out.”

While at the College, Williams took advantage of a co-op program with NASA, and Brown had a co-op with the Naval Weapons Station. Williams went from Thomas Nelson to the paper mill, but Brown stayed with the Weapons Station for more than seven years before joining WestRock.

Williams, who still lives in West Point with his wife and three children, was especially appreciative of the community partnerships Thomas Nelson had.

“A lot of people got a lot out of that kind of stuff,” he said. “I don’t think kids coming directly out of any school are really ready to go to work.”

Brown and his wife live in Gloucester with their two daughters. He chose Thomas Nelson because he “wasn’t ready or didn’t want to go to a four-year school.” He started out in engineering before earning his associate degree in electronics technology, as well as a number of certificates. He’s been at the paper mill, where he works in maintenance, for about 20 years.

“It was a good fit for me,” he said of Thomas Nelson.

Williams, an electrician, said he didn’t know what he wanted to do out of high school. He had taken automotive tech classes, so he tried that.

“But I found out quickly, as I was going through classes, this wasn’t for me,” he said.

He had friends and family working at the paper mill, and since he didn’t want to leave the area, he thought of a future at the mill.

“I went to (Thomas Nelson) as a purpose to coming here,” he said of the paper mill.