Young Professional Profile: Evan Thoman

May 1st, 2016

5-1XEvanXThomanInterviewed by Michelle Hundley

In this month’s young professional profile, we sat down with Evan Thoman, manager, Employee Wellness and Fitness Services for NASA’s Johnson Space Center. Evan is responsible for policy guidance, program oversight and new innovations and initiatives for leading the Starport wellness program and fitness services for all members of the JSC community.

Have you always been interested in fitness?

Absolutely! Growing up, I always participated in different sports activities and I was always attracted to the physical aspects of sports. In fact, after high school, I knew I wanted to go to college to study Exercise Science. In college, I spent a lot of time volunteering, reading, and acquiring certifications to one day become a collegiate strength and conditioning coach.

What about “wellness” – is that the same thing or different?

I actually became interested in wellness in graduate school while I was a graduate assistant for the Marshall University Department of Campus Recreation. It was then, that my eyes were opened to the complete spectrum of health and wellness. Wellness includes social, emotional, financial and even occupational wellbeing. There is so much more to “being well” than just physical fitness.

There are more companies today that are focused on sustainability, including a focus on employees and their needs. Have you found this new business environment supportive of your efforts?

Yes! I believe businesses have realized that having a wellness program is good for the employee, period. But, it also makes good business sense.

My first introduction into this new environment came while working as the Health and Fitness director for the YMCA. I managed my first employee wellness program for approximately 90 Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield employees at their Charleston, W. Va., location. It was there that I had the opportunity to work with a different kind of athlete. These weren’t your “typical” athletes, you know, those that you envision when you hear the term “athlete.” These were 50-year-old males with multiple risk factors and soccer moms. But to me, these were my new athletes. Honestly, I got more satisfaction out of their success stories than out of any small part I played in anything the college athletes I worked with accomplished.

I really grew there, and learned about the importance and value that an employee wellness program can have on a company.  I quickly realized that was what I wanted to do. From that moment on, it was full steam ahead. I next became responsible for the planning, design, implementation, delivery and evaluation of a comprehensive corporate wellness program for over 7,000 employees at the Charleston Area Medical Center.

My entire approach was about having boots on the ground and communicating the importance of wellness to each and every employee.

I really enjoy being in the trenches with my athletes, and it’s the same approach that I take in my career today. Learning from them and listening to them; in some ways I’ve become their mentor, someone they can turn to when they need to overcome a challenge. It’s an honor and a privilege; and I take their trust in me very seriously.

What led you to Johnson Space Center?

As mentioned already, employee wellness makes great business sense; and in my last position, that was what drove our organization’s programming. Don’t get me wrong, my team and I made such great progress toward improving the overall culture of health, but I was applying to work with some of the smartest people on the planet! I mean, wow! It’s NASA!

Having the opportunity to relocate to Texas and work with NASA was never something that I could have imagined I would ever be doing. But I took a risk and applied for the position when it became available. After meeting with the JSC team, it was clear they shared my same beliefs about employee wellness.

You mention it was a risk to apply for this position…

Yes, but it was a calculated risk.  If an opportunity presents itself, and you feel you are ready and believe that you can make a positive impact on the organization, why not take it?

Does risk taking play a role in what you do daily?

First of all, I work with real rocket scientists here, they are really smart. So, I often have to think through how I want to present health and wellness information to them.  I have learned the best way here is to talk about risk aversion rather than risk taking.

Here, we are trying to eliminate or manage health risk factors so our employees can live a happier, healthier, more productive life. Quite simply, I have found using scare tactics as it relates to improving your health doesn’t work. It’s not enough to say, “If you don’t work out, your risk of having a heart attack within the next 10 years increases dramatically.” They already know that, and they’ve even probably already calculated that risk. But, if I say, “Let’s talk about what we can do now, so when you go home in the evening, you still have the energy left to play with your kids.” I get more attention and people are more willing to listen. They are even willing to take the risk to try something new, which here is a big deal, because there is ambivalence to change. So, watching them take a risk to try something new and make impactful lifestyle modifications – well, it’s very rewarding to watch.

What’s your advice for someone who wants to improve their fitness and pay more attention to their personal wellness?

I don’t want to sound cliché [laughs]. But, it really is a lifestyle choice. You have to have a plan; create SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound) goals to work towards. There is no quick fix. Reach out and form a support network. Reach out to your friends, family, even co-workers to not only support you, but hold you accountable for reaching your goals. It won’t be easy, but with your support network, and with some dedication, you will reach your goals.

For more on Johnson Space Center’s wellness program:
For more on Evan:
For more on the Interviewer:

Michelle Hundley

October 1st, 2015

hundleyInterview by Traci Koenig

For our first monthly Young Professional Profile, we sat down with Michelle Hundley, J.D., M.P.A., of the Economic Alliance Houston Port Region. Michelle has been with the Economic Alliance for almost three years now and has worked in other public sector Public Affairs positions prior to her position with the Economic Alliance.  We sat down with Michelle to learn more about how she came to choose her career path, what moments stand out as character-defining, and what principles guide her decision-making process.

There’s a really fine line between the idea of persevering and the idea of choosing your battles.  How do you navigate that?

I think choosing your battles is part of perseverance; I don’t think there’s an either/or.  The way that I do it is gut instincts and prayer (laughs).

And how did you learn to trust yourself and your judgment?  I know especially for a lot of young professionals, there are so many external influences, and sometimes it’s easy to attach yourself to a mentor who ultimately may not end up being a good influence so it’s so important to use discernment and judgment- to really trust your gut.

It’s about being true to yourself and what you believe in and not letting that go.  So, if you have a very strong ethical base — whatever that is — just maintaining that and knowing who you are because at the end of the day your name is what will last.

It’s your currency.

Correct.  Honesty and integrity, moral ethics and being strong in your values and faith — whatever your faith may be — these are the things that help make decisions.  For me, it’s a matter of “What would Jesus do?” It sounds cheesy, but that question keeps me grounded and guides all of my decision-making.  There have been times in my career that I have had to make a very clear distinction on what I would and would not do based on my ethical values. Would I lie or not lie?  Would I say this person did something they didn’t do? Would I stand up for somebody that I knew was being targeted or not?  Those are real choices I have had to make in my career, and I knew in myself that I was comfortable and okay losing that job if I did the right thing.

And how did that affect your career?

I didn’t lose my job in any of those cases, but it wasn’t easy to be in that position. People knew then what I was and wasn’t willing to do, and that made some people uncomfortable. I have always stood up for the ”little guy.” My grandfather was a Mexican immigrant. I watched his struggle here in the United States as people treated him disrespectfully because of his language barrier, and I always stood up for him. I think that’s where it started. It’s a facet of my personality that has helped me succeed because people know that they can trust me, that I will stand up for the right thing; and I think that’s a strength.

You mentioned your grandfather is a Mexican immigrant and had a language barrier.  Your maternal grandparents are Mexican immigrants, and your paternal grandparents are….?

European, white.

It’s easy to see how people could just assume that you are white and say some things in front of you that really speak to white privilege. It’s a tough thing, and it’s going to become a greater part of the professional dialogue as diversity in the workplace continues to increase. How do you handle that?

Well, in the past, I haven’t handled it as well as I probably should have (laughs). There was a time in my undergraduate career when I was rushing between two sororities that I won’t name, and we were at a football game. All the girls were tall and blonde and beautiful — like you would expect — and when our band came out, one of them made a comment to me about how “disgusting” their mariachi-style uniforms were. I let her know pretty directly that I thought they were great and that coming from a Mexican family, I liked that the band represented part of my culture. I then promptly got up and left (laughs), so I guess I could have handled that better.

You are a woman, you are young, and you are a minority; but you are professionally surrounded by people that are not those things.  How does that affect the way you interact with them?

What has helped me is my law degree and legal background.

Why?  Do you feel that it automatically lends you a sense of credibility with audiences who otherwise might not take you seriously?

Yes. And I don’t always tip my hand on that because I want people to know my work before knowing what my background is. If there is a problem, then I will pull that card out. It’s knowing how to play poker — knowing when to hold ‘em, when to fold ‘em, when to walk away.

I think Kenny Rogers wrote a song about that.

(Laughs) Yeah, but it’s true.  Specifically in public affairs.  Poker, chess, strategy — it’s all the same. It’s always really important to know which cards to play and when.







About the Young Professional Profile
The Young Professional Profile is the inception of an effort to create a forum for those under 40 who are excelling in their respective fields across Texas. There is a depth and breadth to the Millennial generation as a group of adults that is marked by a commitment to higher principles in the work they do, the ability to professionally marry what were traditionally separate streams of expertise, and a voracious appetite for new skills.

About the Economic Alliance
The Economic Alliance Houston Port Region, a non-profit organization created in 1985, provides professional economic development services for over 200 members, Harris County, the Port of Houston Authority, and 17 communities surrounding the Houston Ship Channel — home to one of the world’s most influential energy corridors and trade ports. Since 2008, the Economic Alliance has supported over 40 successful projects that have facilitated business activities creating over 4,400 new jobs and over $5.5 billion of capital investment to the Houston Port Region.  For more information:

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