Thigpen has received numerous awards and recognition for his multidisciplinary work, including chairing the National Sea Grant Assembly of Extension Program. He is the past president and recipient of the excellence in extension award from the Southern Rural Sociological Association. In addition, Thigpen was a rural affairs fellow for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Before becoming extension director, Thigpen worked as a coastal recreation and tourism specialist for North Carolina Sea Grant, and earlier as an associate professor of rural sociology at Texas A&M University.
He holds a doctorate in natural resources sociology from the University of Kentucky. He earned a master’s degree in rural sociology and a bachelor’s in agricultural business, both from the University of Tennessee.