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Engineering Alumna Makes Impact On People’s Health

February 22, 2018
Lady arranges plant on tabletop
UW graduate Taylor Wollert has made a career at an innovative company, Plenty, using her engineering background. (Courtesy Taylor Wollert)

Even as an unpaid intern, Taylor Wollert was passionate about healthy, sustainable and easily accessible food for people around the world.

Now a full-time employee at a hydroponics company in Wyoming, she’s able to ensure that food can be produced. She relies on a strong technical background thanks to an Energy Systems Engineering (ESE) degree from the University of Wyoming. Wollert now is a mechanical design engineer for Plenty Unlimited. She started with Laramie-based Bright Agrotech, which merged with Plenty in 2017.

“My role started out as an unpaid intern with Bright Agrotech in July 2016, which then transitioned to a part-time paid position within a few months, and now I am employed full time as one of many mechanical design engineers for Plenty,” she says. “I couldn't have planned a better start to my career.”

Growing up in Lingle, Wyo., Wollert had no idea what major she wanted to pursue when she began thinking about college, so she focused on finding a university that was affordable, close to home and offered quality education. UW fit those requirements perfectly, so then she determined what she would study.

“As a graduate of the Energy Systems Engineering program, I know firsthand how useful this program can be,” Wollert says.

She gained extensive knowledge of mechanical engineering studies in areas like thermodynamics, fluid dynamics and transport phenomena, and an understanding of broader systems studies like environmental law and policy and approaches to problem solving, and covers areas like global environmental politics, nuclear engineering and plants and civilization.

“I was drawn to Energy Systems Engineering because of its unique and diverse course requirements,” Wollert added. “I knew that this major would be a great challenge, as part of the mechanical engineering program, but I also understood the benefits that would come from earning this degree. My understanding proved true as I continued in my career path.”

Plenty manufactures high density, practical, and productive vertical farming equipment. As a mechanical design engineer, Wollert works with a team to design new systems and optimize current technologies. The company’s technology helps reduce waste and can improve food quality and health for people around the world. With this focus, Wollert and Plenty can improve the quality and affordability of food, which makes it easier for people to maintain healthy lifestyles.

“In my Senior Design project (at UW), I came to the realization that technology designed to improve the planet, the economy and society is only as good as the desire of people to use that technology,” she says. “My company is addressing that issue by making fresh produce something to be desired as opposed to required. The more I'm in this company, the more I see opportunities to apply vastly different elements of my education at UW.”

Wollert highlights those opportunities, including using fluid dynamics education to improve plumbing systems and lessons from systems design to optimize technologies. But she says the most valuable skill she developed was the ability to learn, think critically and work in a team.

“At Plenty, I've learned that if one product is great but doesn't fit into a system, that product is useless,” she says. “Likewise, if a business has people extremely skilled in one area but unable to relate to co-workers in other departments, those people are highly ineffective. It takes teamwork to build a great company. So, do you want to be part of a great company or a sub-par company?

“For all those prospective students out there, I'd say go for ESE as your major. You can go for a degree in mechanical engineering, environmental systems, or politics; or you could stick with Energy Systems Engineering and learn aspects of all three of those degrees.”

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