Success Stories

Tom Sippie, Student

Lynchburg College, Class of 2016
Major: Health and Physical Education

Winning a national championship requires a lot of “pain and torture,” says Tom Sippie ’16, but it also brings a lot of satisfaction.

“It’s a real accomplishment,” he said modestly after winning the 400-meter race in the NCAA Division III Indoor Track and Field National Championship in Lincoln, Nebraska in 2014. His was the first indoor national championship for the Hornets since 2001.

Sippie’s mark of 47.86 seconds set a school record. He was just a sophomore athletically when he set the national mark so he has two more years ahead of him to keep LC in the upper echelons of the 400.

“Tom is what every coach wants in an athlete,” said Zachary Haupt, head track and field coach. “He not only works hard but takes the time to learn about his event and his body so that he understands all aspects of what’s going on. Working with Tom this year has been great I look forward to two more years of us working together.”

Sippie’s success is all the more impressive considering that he broke his leg while pole vaulting as a junior in high school and spent nine months on crutches.

He attended Ocean Community College in his hometown of Toms River, New Jersey, for a year before transferring to LC on the recommendation of his high school coach, who knew Dr. Jack Toms ’69, LC’s longtime track coach and athletic director.

Like many runners, Tom has a chronic issue that sometimes requires him to pull back a bit. He is nursing a tight hamstring that kept him from running outdoor as a freshman. He said he had to be careful at the outdoor ODAC Championship, where he was content with a second-place finish.

Tom aspires to be a middle or high school coach and physical education teacher.

He is glad he came to run at LC. “It’s like a second family to me,” he said. “I love the small campus feeling. I really like everything about it.”

Sandra Frazier, Alumni

Hollins College, Class of 1994
Major: History

Sandra Frazier based her choice of major on three factors: the quality of Hollins’ history courses, the strength of the department’s faculty, and her father’s opinion that history was an excellent foundation for any field. Twenty years later, it’s proven a solid decision (and spot-on advice from Dad), even if she’s never worked directly in a history-related field.

“It was excellent career prep,” notes Frazier, who has worked in corporate and public relations since graduating. “I gained strong research and writing skills, and in the seminar-style classes, I learned to deal with criticism and to collaborate. Every day in my career, I work with people to come up with a solution.”

Frazier graduated in December 1994 with every intention of going to business or law school. First stop, though, was home to Louisville, Kentucky, to be with her terminally ill father. After he died, she did apply to graduate school, just not in the fields she thought she would. In 2001, Sandra graduated from Boston University’s College of Communications with an M.S. in mass communications and public relations.

She’s worked with high-profile clients—Reebok, Arthur Andersen, John Hancock, and Louisville Slugger/Hillerich & Bradsby Co., to name a few—and for companies such as State Street Corp. and Doe-Anderson. “I had a number of jobs focused more on writing, editing, and managing events, but I realized that I liked being with an agency,” says Frazier, who has served as a member of the Hollins Board of Trustees since 2003, in addition to a number of other philanthropic roles in Louisville.

What she didn’t anticipate during graduate school was starting her own business, which she did in 2005 when she founded Tandem Public Relations and Marketing. “When I was working for an ad agency, it dawned on me that I could do this myself—as if it was that easy. Two weeks into it, I realized that it was going to be a little more challenging,” she says, chuckling.

The Hollins history curriculum wasn’t the only take-away for her role as entrepreneur: Her professors and the alumnae role models she met at Hollins proved to be case studies in how to demand the most from the people with whom she works while garnering respect and instilling motivation.

Flexibility is another key outcome of a liberal arts education, Frazier believes. “A liberal arts experience teaches you that every day is a different day, an important lesson when you manage people and need to be flexible,” she says. “You learn what you thought you would do isn’t what you end up doing, but you also learn that it’s not the end of the world. Hollins taught me to have a passion for learning, and with that as a foundation, you really can’t go wrong.”

Mark Vinson, Alumni

Bluefield College, Class of 1998
Major: Athletic Training

Bluefield College alumnus and former BC baseball player Mark Vinson has made his way to The Big Show*. While Vinson’s playing days on the diamond are over, his dream of making it to Major League Baseball is not, thanks to his career as an athletic trainer and his recent promotion to assistant athletic trainer for the Tampa Bay Rays.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in athletic training and completing a stellar playing career for the Rams in 1998, Vinson went on to earn a master’s degree in athletic training from the University of Virginia.
He landed his first job in professional baseball in 2001, beginning like all rookies in the Minor Leagues with the Pulaski (VA) Rangers, a rookie affiliate of the Texas Rangers in the Appalachian League, a league where the Bluefield Blue Jays (for merly Orioles) also compete.

After two seasons back in the Appalachian Mountains as head athletic trainer for the Pulaski Rangers, Vinson earned a promotion to head athletic trainer for the Rangers’ Class A affiliate in Stockton, California. He jumped out of baseball in 2004 to answer a call to serve his alma mater. Vinson came back to Bluefield to become the head athletic trainer for Bluefield College.

“I came home and took the job at Bluefield on an interim basis until (Coach) Tommy Brown and my wife (Mary Clements, a 1999 BC graduate) convinced me to stay,” said Vinson, who has been a certified athletic trainer (ATC) since 1998. “I worked at Bluefield until February 2006 when I took a position with the Tampa Bay Rays.”

Vinson went back to baseball as the athletic trainer for Tampa Bay’s Class AA affiliate in Montgomery, Alabama. After just one season in Montgomery, he earned a promotion to the Rays’ Class AAA affiliate, the well-known Durham Bulls in Durham, North Carolina, made famous in 1998 in the movie Bull Durham, which starred Kevin Costner.

In 2008, the Rays named Vinson Minor League medical coordinator, giving him the responsibility of overseeing all of the organization’s Minor League athletic trainers and the rehabilitation of all its Minor League players. A student who came to Bluefield College from Pearisburg, Virginia, originally to play sports, he said his experiences both in the classroom and on the field prepared him not only to compete, but also to excel academically and professionally.

“My experiences at Bluefield were vital to my professional career,” said Vinson, who is also a certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS). “While a student at BC, I received hands-on experience and had responsibilities that I probably would not have had at a larger school. I was confident when I graduated that I was capable of going to a large university and completing a graduate degree alongside other students from around the country. The faculty and staff at Bluefield College truly care and want to see students excel.”

In December 2010, Vinson got his break, the call he had dreamed of since a kid. When one of the two assistant athletic trainers for the Tampa Bay Rays decidedto become head athletic trainer for the Oakland A’s, a spot in The Show became available, and the Rays called on Vinson to fill the role.

“Making it to the Major League level is certainly a dream come true,” said Vinson. “I make a conscience effort to not take it for granted and realize that I’ve been very blessed. It would be easy to complain about the schedule and travel — playing 162 games in 180 days, plus six weeks of Spring Training — but in the end, this was something that I aspired to do, and there are plenty of Minor League athletic trainers that would love to trade places, if given the opportunity.”

Now as assistant athletic trainer for Tampa Bay, Vinson begins his ninth season with the Rays organization. In addition to the satisfaction of reaching the highest level in professional baseball, he says the friendships he has formed among players and co-workers are equally rewarding, not to mention the places he’s been able to visit and the people he’s been able to meet.

“The camaraderie with co-workers, coaches and players is what makes this such an enjoyable job,” said Vinson, who has been fortunate to be a part of two playoff experiences in the past three seasons with the Rays. “We all share in a common goal of helping this organization win a World Series.”

While making it to The Big Show is certainly a dream come true, Vinson said he would definitely like to be a head athletic trainer in the Major Leagues some day. But for now, he added, he’ll just live in the present and enjoy the job he already has.

“If that (becoming an MLB head athletic trainer) happens, then great,” said Vinson, “but I try not to be so focused on the future that you forget to enjoy the present.”

Vinson’s wife, Mary Clements, a 1999 BC graduate, is making her alma mater equally proud. After completing an All-American career in volleyball for the Lady Rams and earning a biology/pre-med degree from Bluefield College, Mary secured a master’s degree from Louisiana State University and then became a member of the first graduating class of the Edward Via Virginia College of Osteopathic Medicine.

After that, she completed a five-year residency in general surgery at West Virginia University in June of 2013 and started a two-year fellowship in
cardiothoracic surgery at the University of Mississippi’s Medical Center.

“I am extremely proud of everything Mary has accomplished,” said Vinson. “People think my job is neat, but she literally saves lives on a daily basis. She has been involved in some really impressive cases, including heart and lung transplants. It has been such a long process with our two careers, but we are both supportive of each other and have faith that we have each been called to our particular field.”

*The Show (noun): Baseball jargon, particularly among Minor League Baseball players, for the Major Leagues or Major League Baseball, the highest level attainable in professional baseball. The Bigs. The Big Show. Welcome to The Show, Kid.

Jennifer A., Parent

We have three children, ages 29, 21, and 19. My oldest was fortunate to find a company who paid for his two year degree and employed him when he finished the program. With our two youngest being so close in age, my husband and I truly were not sure of how we would afford college, but we knew we wanted them to have the opportunity to go if they chose that path. In looking at colleges, my daughter, who at the time had just been diagnosed with a severe chronic illness, did not want to be too far from home. And truthfully, we agreed.

She had toured Randolph-Macon and in looking at the initial price tag we had sticker shock. But sticker shock does not always mean that the price tag that is on it, is what you get it for. I attended scholarship seminars, financial aid sessions, and used numerous other resources to figure out how to cover this expense without working until we were physically unable to work anymore to pay for their education. I scheduled an appointment with the GRASP counselor at her high school and after we went through all the confusing aspects of college expenses, in reality Randolph-Macon was the clear choice. When we  broke down the cost, it was essentially the same as a state-funded school. In addition, once we received our financial aid package from the college, they were also able to help us obtain additional funding given the extreme medical expenses we were incurring.

I now have two children at Randolph-Macon and even with both there, on a true financial aid package the cost would be extremely close to that of a public college.