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Nelson helps guide Princeton in and out of the pool

By Alexandra Assimon

NCAA.org

Thomas Nelson grew up as a typical California kid, playing water polo. But while his is the sport of choice for locals, it wasn’t as familiar to his East Coast classmates at Princeton University.

“What is water polo?” they sometimes ask.

“Coming to Princeton,” Nelson said with a laugh, “one of the hilarious aspects was that a lot of people on campus had never seen or heard of it.”

That small cultural difference is one reason the chemical and biological engineering major chose a university 3,000 miles away from his comfort zone.  Princeton allowed him to learn about a new element of the sport he loves.  

Nelson has stepped up in a facilitating role for his team this year as the conference championship nears. He has been able to distract opponents to allow his teammates to sneak in and score, while still finding scoring opportunities for himself.

When he is not teaching the East Coast about water polo, you might spot him showing prospective students around campus. When his schedule allows, he enjoys being a campus tour guide and showing others all that his university has to offer.

“I just told my parents, I find it really difficult to give tours because they only give you an hour to share all the information,” explained Nelson. “There is just so much I could talk about and show on the tours.”

Nelson does admit that most of his free time is devoted to studying but he has never felt restricted in either his academic or athletic experience. His coaches make sure that he and his teammates have plenty of time for the classroom while still excelling in the pool. His team has been told that in order to succeed in the water, you must first succeed in the classroom. And this seems to work for the Tigers as they are currently ranked 12th in the country and have their sights set on the postseason.

The college experience could not get any better for Nelson. He enjoys the flexible structure and the ability to schedule classes pertaining to his individual interests.

“We have the possibility to earn excellent internships and jobs while at the same time, we are still able to compete at the Division I level and compete very well,” said Nelson. “To be able to come to a school like Princeton and be a top national performing team is an amazing experience."

Nelson would like to potentially do something focusing on alternative energy or chemical engineering. He recently attended a science and technology job fair and discovered the Navy has an intriguing program for nuclear engineering that might also be possibility.

But those opportunities will have to wait until after his tour guide days are over.