The Thomas Nelson College Board is undergoing numerous changes, but outgoing chair Mike Kuhns is sure one thing won’t change.
“I think we’ll continue to march. It’ll be good,” he said about both the Board and his successor, Dr. Vince Warren, the former vice chair.
While Kuhns’ two-year term as chair comes to an end June 30, he still has two years left on the Board. Completing their eight years on the Board, the maximum permitted under the bylaws, are Augustus Owens (representing Newport News) and Elizabeth Tai (York County). Curtis Bethany is replacing Owens, but York County hasn’t appointed a replacement yet for Tai. York County did name Dr. Linda Reviea to a spot on the 14-member Board. The new vice chair will be Dr. Joyce Jarrett (Williamsburg).
For Tai and Owens, it’s been a rewarding eight years.
“It has been a pleasure to work with College faculties, staff and Board members,” Tai said. “I am proud to be part of the progress and achievements the College made in the past eight years. My proudest moment is to watch the College graduates walk to the commencement stage to receive their degrees and certificates each May.”
When she accepted the appointment to the Board in 2013, it was the first time she had served on a college board. However, she volunteers for numerous non-profit organizations and was the director of the Poquoson Public Library, retiring in 2016 after being there for 36 years.
She served on many committees in her time on the Board, including the College Facilities Name Task Force, and College Social Justice Committee.
“Elizabeth was very active, great attendance, not only to board meetings but to committee meetings and attended College events,” Kuhns said. “I could always count on her being there, representing the Board, very interested. She did a very good job.”
One of the things that drew Tai’s interest in joining the Board was to fight the stigma that community colleges are for students who can’t go anywhere else.
“It’s not true,” she said. “Community college can be the best college choice for some people. I will be a supporter of community college forever. They fill the gap. Not every high school graduate is ready for a four-year college. Community college provides a steppingstone for them, a transition time.”
Owens retired from the City of Newport News, where he worked in human resources and employee relations. He also was an adjunct professor at Thomas Nelson for more than a decade.
“It’s been very nice. I’ve enjoyed it. Met a lot of nice people,” he said of his time on the Board.
He said he’s always been interested in education, and also used to teach part time at St. Leo University. He said his proudest accomplishment on the Board was learning how the College meets the needs of the community.
“Shipyard workers, military people and regular students (all have this educational opportunity),” he said. “Just seeing how the community college works in a city like Newport News and Hampton. It works real well.”
Said Kuhns: “Gus served the community well and had a lot of interest in the College and opportunities for the underserved.”
Kuhns, who was an adjunct faculty at a community college in Illinois for 10 years, got involved with the Board through his job as president and CEO of the Virginia Peninsula Chamber of Commerce.
“The community colleges should be a partner to the chamber and its efforts,” he said.
His proudest accomplishment as chair was the hiring of Dr. Towuanna Porter Brannon as the College’s ninth president. He also said just getting through the past few years was an accomplishment. In that time, the College dealt with a reduction in force, financial struggles, declining enrollment, and will be going through a name change soon.
“I think it’s important to know this board, we had really good attendance,” he said. “A lot of special meetings were called to deal with matters. They remained not parochial, and they remained a very unbiased board. So they approached things with the College’s best interests at heart at all times.”
He said the individuals were able to come together for the greater good, something entire communities often struggle with.
“I think they should be applauded for that,” he said. “They were very, very good through all of the difficult things.”
He noted the Board members, who all are volunteers, had a lot on their plate.
“In all my years in running organizations, I always had a board and I always had a chair, and this board was probably the most insightful and dedicated and thoughtful board that I’ve had the privilege of being associated with,” he said.
The respect and admiration run both ways.
At the May Board meeting, Jarrett said to Kuhns: “I just wanted to say you steered us so ably through a very difficult time with COVID, and I just wanted to thank you for your leadership.”
Mary Bunting, who represents the City of Hampton, added: “And not only COVID, but the selection of a new president, the financial issues. … We owe you a debt of gratitude.”
Kuhns, who also spent two years as the vice chair before becoming the chair, is looking forward to his final two years on the Board. He is confident in the new leadership.
“Vince is good guy. He and I have worked closely over the last two years. He has strengths that I didn’t have,” he said.