Tom Wilson, who touched hundreds of lives of middle- and high-school students hoping to make it to college against all odds, is ending a 30-year career at Virginia Tech that he began as a tutor in 1982. Soon thereafter he became a counselor with Virginia Tech’s Upward Bound/Talent Search programs, assuming the directorship in 1999. He says he plans to retire June 1.
Jessica Price Evans, who participated in Upward Bound from 2000 through 2003, said that when she told Wilson she’d been accepted to a four-year college, “He was so happy for me, he cried. That’s something you wouldn’t see in any other kind of program. You wouldn’t see a counselor that would cry because you’ve succeeded.” Evans went on to earn a Ph.D. in chemistry from the College of Science at Virginia Tech in 2010.
Upward Bound and Talent Search at Virginia Tech are federally funded programs designed to assist high school students in making the transition from high school to college. Thousands of students in Southwest Virginia have benefited from the services of the program since 1967. Upward Bound has been at Virginia Tech since that year; Talent Search since 1973.
Both programs target students from families with parents who did not earn four-year degrees or who have low incomes. If students show potential for college, they can receive tutoring and other support as early as middle school. Students who participate in the program are much more likely to graduate from college than they would be without the help.
“I have had the opportunity to work with some of the most amazing students one could work with,” Wilson said. “I have been truly honored to work with them, and I am so proud of their accomplishments.”
Upward Bound and Talent Search are part of Outreach and International Affairs at Virginia Tech.
“Tom Wilson and his team do a phenomenal job of making sure that parents know that college can be within reach of their children,” said Susan E. Short, associate vice president for engagement. “As we search for Tom’s replacement, we will look for someone whose dedication equals his – which will be a challenge. He passionately communicated the importance to school personnel that the Upward Bound/Talent Search programs could help students achieve their dreams of a college education.”
Wilson has been recognized as a leader at the state and national levels. He has twice served as president of the Virginia Association of Educational Opportunity Program Personnel, served two two-year terms on the executive board of the Mid-Eastern Association of Educational Opportunity Program Personnel, and in 2004 and 2011 was recipient of the Virginia Outstanding Service Award for service to the state and regional associations. Throughout the years he was a presenter, panel member, and moderator at state, regional, and national conferences.
Many graduates of the Upward Bound and Talent Search programs at Virginia Tech have earned distinction as well, including achievement awards from the Virginia Association of Educational Opportunity Program Personnel and the Mid-Eastern Association of Educational Opportunity Program Personnel.
Wilson earned his bachelor’s degree in music education from Concord University in 1979 and his master’s in educational administration from Virginia Tech in 1982. He began his career as a band director and music teacher in the Highland County, Va., school system. He has been choir director at Luther Memorial Lutheran Church in Blacksburg for more than 20 years.