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From College Prankster to Tesla Engineer

Throughout his years at Wheaton, Hudson Thomas ’18 learned how to balance fun and games with intense focus in the physics and neuroscience labs, both of which helped him pursue (and achieve) his California tech dreams.

Words: Ciera Horton McElroy ’17


Thomas Hudson headshot for Wheaton College Athletics

No students were hurt in the making of the infamous chapel prank. 

When asked about his favorite college memory, Hudson Thomas ’18 answered promptly: the chapel prank known as #OperationMark2.

The setting: Town Hall Chapel, 2016. A student walked up to the microphone and asked President Philip Ryken if he could help interpret the story of the paralytic man in Mark 2. As he read the passage, shouts rippled through Edman. A student was lowered from the ceiling by a climbing harness. Thomas, clad in a toga as the scene’s acting Jesus, leapt from his seat.

“I had longer hair at the time,” said Thomas, laughing. “I laid out a yoga mat for him and when he got down, he picked up his mat and we walked out together.”

It’s important to have hard conversations, Thomas said. But it’s also important to have fun.

And Thomas isn’t all prankster: he’s also a very accomplished software engineer, currently working at Tesla in Palo Alto, California. He participated in several high-level internships for both Tesla and Johns Hopkins while he was a college student, working on robotics and programming projects.

As a physics major and math minor, Thomas worked hard to chart a path to engineering. And his short stint in the neurosciences at Wheaton helped him get there. “My senior year, I did an independent research project,” said Thomas. “The end product was a robotic control-claw that you could control by flexing your arm. It picked up on the neuron signals in the arm.”

A student at a nearby school was missing an arm, and he participated in Thomas’ project. The resulting prosthetic claw required quite a bit of neuroscience for a physics student.

“I was separately learning about a lot of neuroscience on my own for that independent research project. I talked to Dr. Nathaniel Thom, and he helped point me in the right direction,” said Thomas, who also spent time helping in Thom’s neurobiology lab. “It was definitely good exposure to science—to get a lab environment and real-world experience. It was cool to be able to contribute to a field that was tangential to the field I was studying.” 

At Wheaton, Hudson ran track and cross country and participated in the robotics club. In 2017, he ran a season-best time of 27:16 at the Aurora Spartan Classic. Today, he still runs but has also tried his hand at surfing in California.