By LEIGH C. MERRIFIELD
News & Journal Editor
Bouncing back after an entire decade of personal and medical difficulties would not be easy. Add to that being out of the workforce for the same amount of time or longer.
Both recovery and reentry would be challenging. Just ask Shinnston native Lisa Hall, who currently resides in Huntsville, Alabama; she has undergone these circumstances. BUT she did recover from her debilitating medical condition, and she has reentered the workforce – now with a greater lust than ever for both her life and her work!
Lisa, a graduate of Shinnston High School, Fairmont State University, and West Virginia University, began her career as a Human Resources Administrator. Her life and her career, though, were interrupted by illness … an illness that, despite visits to 37 doctors at numerous leading hospitals, could not be diagnosed. Imagine what it would be like to spend years not knowing what was wrong with you or how to fix it! Imagine being an active participant in life and suddenly living it from a wheelchair! Luckily, doctor #38 discovered the root of the problem that had virtually disabled her and offered treatment that gradually enabled her to recapture her life.
Because she had undergone such an ordeal, she felt strongly that while she recovered she could be useful by writing a book that offered advice to other patients who struggled with misdiagnosis; that book evolved into a very comprehensive patient reference guide titled Taking Charge of Your Own Health. And “taking charge” is exactly what she did. She took charge of getting her life back through diet, exercise, and calling upon her strengths – attitude and determination – to both recover and reenter the workforce. Now she is literally back on her feet and running full speed ahead!
Seven years ago she gained employment at a small manufacturing company in Huntsville. Two years later, she was hired through a contractor at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, also located in Huntsville. Last year, she was hired as a civil servant, working directly for Marshall Space Flight Center as an Organization Development Specialist.
What that means is that she is back in the field she studied at Fairmont State – industrial psychology. What does she do? She works with a team of diagnosticians to resolve issues within the workplace so that it operates smoothly and with greater efficiency.
“It is rather an unusual field because only organizations that are very large (1,000 employees or more) have the funding to afford this – what smaller organizations would call a ‘frill’,” Lisa said. “But at NASA it is an important part of fostering success when teams work together … when employees are healthy … when the work environment is satisfying to all. So when conflicts or potential problems arise, we step in to resolve them. Greater productivity is the result.”
Let’s face it; in any workplace there are different personalities and different thinking styles. Lisa and the members of her team are certified to assess these situations and qualified to find the remedy.
“There is a lot of psychology involved. We ask questions and listen to the responses. Sometimes it stems from a lack of communication, and sometimes it turns out to be a leadership issue. Our goal is to address these issues and work out a solution. Getting to the bottom of the problem is something like peeling back the layers of an onion. While peeling back those layers, we discover that different people are wired differently and all have different strengths, so we dig into human behavior a lot!”
Lisa’s job may differ from day to day and week to week. If, for example, there is a team deficiency, her group may orchestrate a workshop to address the problem and resolve it. Sometimes it may be that a team is simply butting heads, so they facilitate a discussion to help them see one another’s point of view. Other issues may involve devising ways to better handle stress.
Lisa has had the opportunity to work with the mission operations lab where, to be sure, stress may be extreme. If you have ever witnessed such a sight on television, Lisa describes it as tense.
“There are work stations in the mission control room with perhaps 11 flight controllers on a 24/7 operation, communicating directly with astronauts on the space station. They wear headsets and they communicate via a computer, video, e-mail, etc. and have to be ready to talk to multiple people at the same time in different parts of the world,” Lisa continued. “People rotate so there is no team cohesiveness. They have to multi-task and make very critical decisions. Making a wrong move can be ruinous! So, yes, stress can be significant at NASA, and our job is often to find ways to help them handle that job stress, to cope with change and to keep a positive, dynamic mindset so that productivity and employee health remain at high levels.”
NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama has existed for half a century. Their unique capabilities and expertise have been used to design and build engines, space systems, instruments and payloads that make unprecedented missions of science and discovery possible. Team members there take on an enormous responsibility, and it has become part of NASA’s culture to keep employees satisfied and happy in a healthy work environment. Lisa Hall helps to ensure that that happens, and just in the few years she has worked there, she has been the recipient of five awards for her exceptional performance.
However, she, too, needs to unwind and de-stress to stay healthy and happy. Now that she is “on her feet” once again and wheelchair-free, she enjoys running. Although she began with small steps, she has gained strength and stamina and has completed numerous 5K, 10K, 15K and 10-mile races! Add to that, 17 half-marathons, 14 full marathons, ten 50K races, four 50-mile races and even one 100-mile race! She holds two state age records in Alabama in the 50-mile distance. She has more than made up for her decade of lost time and activity!
She concluded, “I believe my life experiences made me tough. But I have to watch myself; sometimes I overdo it because I had time taken away from me. Now, I am doubly passionate about life and my career and I work hard to bring about positive changes at the NASA agency.”