Surprising Opportunities: How the English Major Led Shane Thomson to an Unexpected Country and Career Path

Someone once told me you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting an ABD in English. Well, what of it? I could never have anticipated that hard work, flexibility, a little charm (very little charm), and the skills I learned in the English program would connect me to people and resources that have since combined into a life-changing opportunity.

The day I passed my comprehensive exams in the summer of ’08, I started editing full time for Variance Publishing, a small, author-friendly house where we strive to help our writers improve their craft and ability to navigate the rough waters of a career in the publishing industry. When revenue ran low, my income ran out. Then, continuing on as pro bono managing editor, I have continued recruiting and training a cadre of young editors to multiply my efforts while fulfilling a new position, which grew out of a glorified lawn-mowing job I took out of desperation in the summer of 2010, as director of operations at a biomedical services company near Fort Wayne. Go figure.

Maxim Medical Services specializes in installing and servicing surgical lights and booms in hospital ORs nationwide. In the course of daily operations in the field, we bring home used lights that are still in good-to-excellent working condition. The latest generations of lights we refurbish and resell for a profit, but the older lights, despite full functionality, have little mainstream market value.

Late in 2010, during a week-long service project in Guatemala organized by Smiles for Central America, Maxim’s owner (a former missionary to Guatemala) and I toured local hospitals and recognized the tremendous need for external support in those facilities. That’s when we decided to start the Light Up the World foundation (aka Iluminar el Mundo) that would provide us with a mechanism to channel lights to the region and work in conjunction with other, better-established not-for-profit (I prefer “for-purpose”) organizations.

We scheduled a trip to Tegucigalpa, Honduras, during the ice storms of late-January/early-February last year, to meet with key hospital administrators. When we arrived, however, the mutual friend who had set up our meetings had also arranged a meeting with two prominent religious leaders who, in turn, invited us to attend an appointment with the First Lady the next day!

With the full support of her office and resources, we started a project at the Hospital Escuela, the main hospital in the capital city, to replace 10 of 20 sets of lights installed before the last ice age with newer, more reliable sets. We coordinated logistics with the above-mentioned local ecclesiastical leaders, the undersecretary of health, and the national director of the network of hospitals. We also contracted a local business owner, who donated the labor, to fabricate needed adaptive components for the project. Local community members offered their support as well.

During the preliminary OR walk-throughs, when we assessed the existing structural integrity and electrical systems, we included as many maintenance, technical, and biomedical engineering staff as the hospital would afford us. Our intent was not only to have ready access to experts in their respective fields, but to later include them in the installation phases. In this way we would train them on the equipment’s functionality, upkeep, and repair while building relationships that would leave them feeling comfortable and confident in contacting us regarding future issues—troubleshooting, bulb replacement, etc.—because we are not just replacing bad lights; we are establishing a model anchored in ongoing relationships that will increase the longevity of the lights and preserve the dignity and self-sufficiency of the people and institutions we are hoping to support.

We will complete this project later this spring or early summer, sometime before I finish my dissertation, si Dios quiere.

But that’s not all.

In the course of events, we have developed strong and personal relationships with governmental and religious leaders. Last fall, for example, we worked with the Visiting Dignitaries Program at Utah Valley University to facilitate a visit by the First Lady, where she gave a speech to a packed auditorium, detailing ongoing humanitarian efforts in Honduras. We met with the lieutenant governor of Utah and prominent members of the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce, international programs administrators at Brigham Young University, and with leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its international humanitarian programs.

It was a powerful experience to be instrumental in a process that brought together leaders of such magnitude and commitment, whose sole purpose was to serve their people, and to discuss and coordinate resources and strategies—powerful enough to resign my position as director of operations in order to dedicate myself to building and expanding the scope of our mission as executive director.

The amazing opportunity I am enjoying may appear to have little to do with my pilgrimage through the English grad program at Ball State, but that is not true. I correspond by phone and email with some of the most influential people in Honduras, albeit in Spanish (yikes!), as well as leaders of communities, businesses, institutions of higher learning, and other humanitarian organizations constantly. Every conversation I have and every project I coordinate is political—not because I want it that way, but because that’s how things are. So, everything I say and write is a careful negotiation of multi-layered discourses—personal, political, socio-linguistic, cultural, religious, business, etc.—with real-world implications to the careers, livelihoods, objectives, and agendas of the said leaders, not to mention the 1.2MM people our current project is intended to serve.

We’ve been invited to join an exploratory excursion of healthcare facilities in Peru in June, if you’d care to join us.

For further information or questions, please feel free to contact Shane at his email address, SLThomson@bsu.edu.

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One comment

  1. Way to go, Shane. Just think what will open up when you complete your dissertation and really leave a mark.

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