Walker Thomas: Recent KPE grad is ‘outstanding future professional’

SHAPE America, the Society for Health and Physical Educators, has recognized recent University of Maine graduate Walker Thomas of Sidney, Maine as an outstanding future professional. 

Thomas, a first-generation college student, earned a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology and physical education with a concentration in teaching and coaching, and health education, in December 2020. He will represent the Eastern District of the United States at this year’s SHAPE America National Convention, to be held virtually in April.

“To be selected out of so many other deserving candidates was a very satisfying moment,” says Thomas. “It felt like all of the classes and years of hard work that I put in during my four years at UMaine had come to fruition.”

SHAPE America’s Eastern District stretches from Maine to Maryland, and Thomas is just the fourth UMaine student in the past four decades to represent the region as an outstanding future professional.

“UMaine is a major reason I was selected,” Thomas says. “All of the professors and staff, especially in the School of Kinesiology, Physical Education and Athletic Training, always pushed me and my peers to put forth our best effort.”

Thomas joined the National Guard two years ago and was recently accepted a full-time job with the guard in Maine. He plans to coach youth sports and perhaps become a teacher once his time in the guard has ended.

Why UMaine?
Although I grew up in Maine, I always planned on going out of state and exploring the world a little bit. While I was in my college search, I visited 10 different schools in Florida, South Carolina, Wisconsin and Massachusetts. However at each campus I visited, there just seemed to be something missing. My mom talked me into going to see UMaine, and I agreed hesitantly. It ended up being the best decision I made in my life up until that point. As soon as I stepped foot on UMaine’s campus I knew that this was the place I wanted to spend the next four-plus years of my life. That feeling of something missing wasn’t there when I went to UMaine. There was this sense of family, security and community that I fell in love with, and from that day forward I knew I was meant to be a Black Bear. 

How would you describe the academic atmosphere at UMaine?
Throughout my academics at UMaine I have always felt like I was treated as a human being and more than just a number. The professors truly care about their students’ well-being beyond academics.

Have you worked closely with a mentor, professor or role model who made your UMaine experience better, and if so, who and how?
Lecturer in kinesiology and physical education Jesse Kaye-Schiess has been a mentor, a professor, a supervisor and a friend. Jesse is very enthusiastic about physical education, teaching and being a mentor to all. Through the years if I ever needed to talk about anything, academically or personally, I knew I could book an appointment and have his undivided attention for the duration of the meeting.

Have you had an experience at UMaine — either academically or socially — that changed or shaped the way you see the world?
I’m not sure that I have had one single experience at UMaine that has made me see the world differently, but instead the culmination of a lot of little experiences. For example, I have met some lifelong best friends at UMaine. I have developed my own understanding of the world, and have had social experiences that I would have never experienced somewhere else. Finally, I have found my calling in teaching and helping the future generations of our society and world.

Have you participated in any internships or field experience related to your major? Tell us about them and how your experience in the classroom helped prepare you.
I did my semester-long student teaching at Messalonskee High School. It was one the most influential experiences in my undergraduate career. During this experience, I took everything I had been learning for the past three-and-a-half years and put it in action each and everyday for 15 weeks. My coursework at UMaine gave me the knowledge and the confidence I needed to thrive in my placement. I found that I wasn’t searching for information, because I already had the knowledge needed to solve a lot of problems. That to me shows that the work and the preparation that our professors have us do in class has a lot of real-world application and a ton of meaning.

What difference has UMaine made in your life?
UMaine has made a huge difference in my life, from academics to personal enlightenment and growth. The list could go on. However, if I could pinpoint the biggest difference UMaine has made in my life it would be giving me the confidence to push the limits that I put on myself.

Describe UMaine in one word.

Contact: Casey Kelly, casey.kelly@maine.edu