Thomas Nelson Community College’s 50th Commencement Exercise is set for Thursday, May 9 at 7 p.m. at the Hampton Coliseum with Dr. Glenn DuBois, Chancellor of Virginia’s Community Colleges, as keynote speaker. During the ceremony honoring graduating students, the College will present its Distinguished Alumni Award, Thomas Nelson Medallion and Dana B. Hamel Award.
The Distinguished Alumni Award acknowledges alumni who have displayed outstanding leadership, professional qualities and made significant contributions to their profession, business or community at local, state, national or international levels. This year’s recipient is Sang Tran.
The Thomas Nelson Medallion recognizes citizens who exemplify the spirit and highest ideals of Thomas Nelson – patriot, soldier-statesman and governor. For the first time, This year’s medallion will be awarded to two members of the Thomas Nelson family, The Honorable Dr. Turner Spencer, Thomas Nelson Professor Emeritus and Robert Auerbach, Thomas Nelson’s longest serving employee.
Named in honor of Dr. Dana B. Hamel, the first chancellor of Virginia’s Community Colleges, the Dana B. Hamel Award recognizes individuals or entities for their commitment to public service; to fostering access to higher education; and promoting an understanding of the role of workforce development as an essential part of Thomas Nelson’s mission. This year’s recipient is Newport News Shipbuilding, a division of Huntington Ingalls Industries.
About the recipients:
Sang Tran received an Associate of Applied Science in Electrical Engineering Technology and an Associate of Science in Business Administration from Thomas Nelson Community College in 1979 after arriving in this country as a Vietnamese refugee at the age of 18.
He parlayed his education into a distinguished career in new technology development research with NASA Langley. In 1992 he was awarded the NASA Exceptional Achievement Medal for his outstanding contributions to the design, development, and application of a direct-deposit thin film sensor for two- and three-dimensional models. In 1995, he was on a team recognized with the prestigious R&D100 award for one of the 100 most technologically significant new products of the year. He still holds patents on many products from his NASA career.
In 1988, Sang and his wife, Lindsey, founded what is now Kokua Support Services, which specializes in engineering program management and logistics to support our country’s premier warfighters within the Department of Defense.
Sang’s journey of becoming a proud, productive American citizen and entrepreneur has had a profound impact on his personal life and that of Kokua Support Services; his love of country, perseverance, and commitment to the highest standards are evident in the integrity and professionalism of the Kokua leadership team and all its employees.
Sang is a proud Thomas Nelson alumnus who has continued to stay connected beyond his college years. In 2018, he served as an alumni panelist for the College’s Career and Technical Education Symposium. He shared his industry knowledge with students, faculty, and peninsula business leaders.
The Honorable Dr. Turner Spencer is a founding faculty member of the College, professor emeritus and former Biology department Chair. He joined the College in September 1968 and after more than 30 years on Thomas Nelson’s faculty he has maintained connections with the College through its Educational Foundation Board serving as Director, Vice President and President.
The former Vice Mayor of Hampton and Hampton City Councilman has affiliations with numerous civic organizations including Hampton Roads Transportation District Commission; Virginia Municipal League; Virginia Transit Association and others. He also serves on alumni associations for Hampton University (HU), Virginia State University (VSU), University of Virginia and the College of William & Mary.
His awards and honors include Hampton’s 2006 Distinguished Hampton Citizen Medallion, Conference of Minority Public Associates’ 2006 Distinguished Service Award, Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc.’s 2006 Citizen of the Year Award and the 2014 Thomas Nelson Presidential Leadership Award for his community service and leadership.
Spencer has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Biology and General Science from VSU; a Master’s degree in Education from HU and a doctoral degree in Higher Education Administration from the College of William & Mary.
Spencer also has the distinction of having attended all 49 of the College’s past commencement ceremonies, and this year he expects to celebrate its 50th.
Robert Auerbach has served as a lab assistant for Thomas Nelson’s Science Department since the College opened its doors in September 1968, retiring from the College with 50 years of service in January 2019. He is currently the longest serving employee in the College’s history.
Auerbach graduated from Hampton High School in 1959 and came to Thomas Nelson to finish a degree. At the time, Auerbach, who is deaf, was looking for a program that didn’t require a foreign language, and found that option at Thomas Nelson. It was then that he began working for the College. In addition to equipping science labs with everything from chemicals to cadavers, Auerbach has maintained a substantial greenhouse on the roof of Hastings Hall.
For Auerbach, his 50 years at Thomas Nelson has been about family. He loves Thomas Nelson and his colleagues return the sentiment.
Newport News Shipbuilding is a strong long-term partner of Thomas Nelson dating back to the opening of the College in 1968, and its support of the College has been vital to the success of our students and the economic vitality of the region. Newport News Shipbuilding (NNS) is the sole designer, builder and refueler of U.S. Navy aircraft carriers and one of the two providers of U.S. Navy submarines. With approximately $4 billion in revenue and more than 20,000 employees, many of whom are graduates of Thomas Nelson, NNS is the largest industrial employer in Virginia and the largest shipbuilding company in the United States. The College’s partnership with NNS began with offsite campus assignments, teaching at the yard, and has grown to NNS generously funding scholarships and creating pathways for workforce development. The partnership and its proven track record of collaboration has helped meet hiring needs of NNS, as well as others in the region.