"There is a great amount of support for veterans here at HCC. We have the Military Club and we have The Bunker student-veterans center. I think the biggest thing with veterans, once we leave the service, we lose the camaraderie, and you can really feel alone. But after coming here, I didn't feel that. I've never felt that."
Thomas Kim joined the U.S. Army at the age of 37 and served four years with the 82nd Airborne as a combat medic, including one year in Iraq. The 49-year-old Westfield native is now a business administration major at HCC, a champion golfer, real estate agent and partner and CEO of the Global Project Group, a film production company. He was one of the featured speakers at HCC's Nov. 8, 2017 Veterans Day celebration and interviewed on WWLP-22News by Sy Becker.
Westfield; graduated from Westfield High School
Activities and Awards:
HCC Military Club; HCC Veterans Committee; HCC golf team (won Massachusetts Community College Athletic Association Conference Golf Championship in Spring 2017); real-estate agent; partner and CEO of the Global Project Group, a film production company; served four years in U.S. Army with 82nd Airborne as a combat medic; HCC Foundaton Scholarship (2017-2018).
Why did you decide to come to HCC?
"This was a total accident. I was living in California and moved back to Westfield to take care of my mother after she broke her hip. After a couple of months of rehab, she was fine and she said, you know you don't have to be with me all the time, so why don't you take a class somewhere. You get a gree education anyway through the GI Bill. I looked at different schools around here. HCC was the most friendly and the closest. I decided to take a really hard course to see if I could handle it and I did really well. I loved the atmosphere, the professor, my classmates. That was Introduction to Biology (Bio 101). It was a summer course, accelerated. It was a lot of work, but it was fascinating stuff and I really enjoyed it, so I decided to continue."
What was your next step?
"I met with Karen Rock, the coordinator of Veteran Services at HCC. She's my VA advisor. I think within 30 minutes I had my schedule all set up. All of my financing issues, she took care of. She did everything for me. She was amazing. I had been a little wary at first cause my buddies who tried to access their veterans benefits at other colleges said they had a really tough time. When I tell them about my experience at HCC they say it sounds like paradise."
What made you decide to join the service at the age of 37?
"A few factors. One was in high school. I had always wanted to serve and then I went the traditional route of just going through life instead. I lived in Korea for a while and almost all of my male friends there they all served. It's mandatory for two years. They had their horror stories, but they also had their comaraderie stories and I thought maybe I should enlist, but business got in the way. In the middle of 2006 I was just reading too many stories of young guys getting killed. Then I thought I was too old but I talked to a recruiting sergeant and he said, no, you're still good. They said I scored high enough on the ASVAB test to pick any field I want, and I chose the medical field. I joined the Airborne because I was inspired by movies like "Saving Private Ryan," "Black Hawk Down" and "Band of Brothers."
Why did you chose to be a medic?
Typical Asian mom wants her son to be a doctor. I thought, I'll give it a shot and if it's something I agree with then I'll continue it, and if not I'll be done in four years.
Do you have a favorite class or teacher at HCC?
"There have been a lot. Karen Hines for marketing. Leah Russell for accounting, which I'm taking right now. She really knows her stuff. Kelly O'Connor for business law. Amazing class. I think marketing has been my favorite. It's helped me rethink how I've been doing business for the last 20 years with my film company, the Global Project Group. It's been an eye-opening experience."
So is your degree meant to complement or support your business or do you intend to transfer after you get your associate degree?
"Honestly, I didn't have any plans to use the degree. It's more of a learning experience for me. All the instructors seem like they are experts in their fields and I wanted to get their take, their experience and apply it to what I've been doing for the past 20 years."
What's your favorite thing about HCC?
"I think just learning or relearning things that I thought I knew. Just a new way of looking at things. Interacting with people. A lot of people suggested I take classes online, but I wanted to interact with the professors. I wanted to get to know them. I wanted to get to know the students. I wanted to know what's going on in the minds of youths today."
What's been your most memorable or meaningful experience at HCC?
There is a great amount of support for veterans here at HCC. We have the Military Club and we have The Bunker (the student-veterans resource and study center). I think the biggest thing with veterans, once we leave the service, we lose the camaraderie, and you can really feel alone. But after coming here, I didn't feel that. I've never felt that.
What's been your biggest challenge?
Juggling my business activity with a full school load. Time management has been tough.
Why is education important to you now at this stage in your life?
"You can never stop learning. You always have to keep striving. The more you know the more options you have."