CU Around the World: Gatluak Ter Thach (’07)

Gatluak Ter ThachLong before Sudanese-American nonprofit leader Gatluak Ter Thach became a Cumberland alumnus, he began his educational journey half a world away—and in conditions far different.

As a refugee in African United Nations camps in the late 1980s, Thach had to balance learning with survival.

Displaced from Sudan by the Second Sudanese Civil War, Thach began his formal studies amidst the harsh realities of camp life: food shortages, poor sanitation, and interference from rebel militias.

Despite the difficult circumstances, the experience sparked a lifelong passion for learning in Thach, who now helps educate Nashville’s immigrant and refugee communities as President and CEO of the Nashville International Center for Empowerment (NICE).

“At NICE, we serve people of nearly 50 nationalities from around the world, providing anything from English language training and job placement to youth involvement and health and education services,” said Thach.

Thach is helping his community every day through NICE, which he began in 2005, the same year that he began the Master of Science in Public Service Management (MSP) program at Cumberland University.

After coming to the United States in the mid-1990s, Thach furthered his English studies in Nashville, later earning a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Tennessee State University. Thach was a dedicated student, but he would only become an educator himself after a chance encounter led him to realize the need for English training in the Sudanese-American community.

“I was teaching my wife English in my apartment with a whiteboard, and others [in the Sudanese-American community] found out,” said Thach. “They came and wanted to learn. But there wasn’t enough room in my apartment, so I decided to rent a place to teach English as a second language.”

In so doing, Thach would establish what would eventually become NICE. A few weeks after he started the center, however, Thach realized he needed to learn more about the mechanics of nonprofits to better serve his growing list of clients.

NICE Logo“I had a desire to do more for the community and help my people,” said Thach. “But the only way to be able to help is to know how to. I had to continue my education to provide better services.”

To achieve that goal, Thach enrolled in Cumberland’s MSP program, later graduating in 2007.

“I loved the program,” said Thach. “The classes I took taught me how to organize and budget a program, strategically manage volunteers, and provide leadership. I was able to create and design the program for NICE based on the experience I gained at Cumberland.”

Today, NICE is a thriving nonprofit with a growing number of volunteers and community partnerships providing vital education, employment, and social services to Nashville’s diverse refugee and immigrant communities.

For Thach, the Center is only the most prominent manifestation of a lifelong commitment to educating both himself and others.

“I don’t think there’s any end to education,” said Thach. “It’s a part of us. The more you educate yourself, the better you can be and the more you can give back to your community.”

For more information about Thach and his new book, visit www.empowernashville.org.