Human Resources Generalist | Chattanooga, Tenn.
The leading roles may win the accolades, but the supporting cast is important, too—in real life as well as on film.
Take Erica Thurman’s job at TVA, for example. She’s a human resources generalist currently supporting about 600 employees in TVA’s Resources & River Management organization.
“TVA’s strength lies with its employees, and its success depends on their capabilities and engagement—that’s where we come in,” she explains. “We work behind the scenes to foster a work environment where employees are willing to go the extra mile and feel connected to each other and to TVA's mission of service. It’s all about continuous improvement—finding ways to help the groups we work with be more effective.”
This is where I wanted to my life to be. I met and married my husband here in Tennessee and we raise our two children here. My life was wonderful here, and I want their life to wonderful here.
It’s a role that requires a lot of versatility. In the course of a day, Thurman switches hats—a lot. She may take a call from an employee with a question about using sick leave to care for a family member. The next call could be a manager with questions about succession planning. In between, you might find her working on a leadership development strategy for her business partners or in a meeting on any number of topics— from labor relations to business planning to upgrading HR technology.
“It’s one of the things I love about my job,” says Thurman. “No two days are ever the same. I also like having the chance to interact with different groups and people at all levels in the company. That gives me a great perspective that I can share when I’m sitting at the table with the management team.”
To say she enjoys job satisfaction is to understate the case: “For someone who likes being around people, who wants to make a difference and who enjoys a challenge, it’s a dream job.”
A self-avowed people person, Thurman knew she wanted a job where she could make a difference in people’s lives. She started out working toward a Ph.D. in clinical psychology, but soon realized it would be difficult for her to separate herself from her work.
“I found myself lying awake at night worrying about my patients and decided to look for another way I could support people outside of a clinical setting,” Thurman recalls.
She ended up getting a Master’s degree in industrial/organizational psychology from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in 2009, and was certified as a Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) in 2011. She now has 10 years of experience as an HR professional.
Thurman’s TVA career began in December 2014. “I was commuting from Chattanooga to Cleveland, Tenn., when we found out we were expecting twins,” she remembers. “I loved my job in Cleveland, but I wanted to keep working after the babies were born and didn’t like the idea of being so far away from them during the day. I started half-heartedly looking at job postings in the Chattanooga area. My grandfather had worked for TVA so it was one of the first places I applied. I was ecstatic when I received a job offer.”
Thurman’s grandfather, William (Bill) Preston Cook, would have been pleased. He worked at TVA in the 1930s and 40s as an engineering aide, traveling around the Valley conducting ground and aerial surveys.
“I was only four when Grandpa Cook passed, but I grew up hearing stories about him and his work at TVA,” said Thurman. “His survey images helped TVA determine where dams should be placed. He was proud that his work helped to shape the future of the Valley. He also was the first man ever permitted to photograph the Oak Ridge atomic energy plant from the air.”
“Grandpa Cook was an innovative photographer. Before the arrival of color film, he used colored pencils to hand-color his black-and-white photos. Some of his colored photos appeared in the ‘Ford Times,’ a national magazine published by the Ford Motor Company that featured travel stories. Later, he and Grandma Cook ran a flight school in Alcoa, Tenn., where they trained all of the pilots from the area who were going over to fight in World War II.”
Thurman is proud of her job, but it's not what defines here. “I’m Mama first and foremost,” she says. “My kids are what motivate me.”
Twins Jack and Charlotte turned two on March 25. “They are our world,” says Thurman, speaking for her husband, Matt, too. “Jack is a sweet little guy, who is very observant and mechanical; he likes to take things apart and put them back together just to figure out how they work. Charlotte is my outgoing social butterfly. She knows how things should be and keeps us all in line. We call her ‘the little supervisor.’”
It’s here that her work life and personal life intersect, Thurman says.
“The Valley was a wonderful place for me to grow up, and I want to make sure that it is the same for my children,” she says. “At its core, TVA’s mission is to make life better in the Valley. By supporting the people who carry out that mission, I know it positively and directly impacts Jack and Charlotte.”