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UW Architectural Engineering Graduate Embarks on Exciting Career Path

December 20, 2017
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Yara Thomas, a May 2017 UW graduate, is now working as an energy systems engineer for Plenty, a leading field-scale vertical farming company based in San Francisco. (Yara Thomas Photo)

Yara Thomas has always had a connection with the University of Wyoming, and it led to a life-changing opportunity this summer.

Originally from Jackson, Thomas took summer trips to the Laramie area to be near her grandmother, and her family spent time at a homestead near Arlington. She attended Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Ore., as a freshman. After a year, however, she had a change of heart and headed back to her home state.

“I chose to transfer to UW because of the incredible value for your education,” Thomas says. “I wanted to switch from physics, my original major, to engineering, which was not offered at Lewis & Clark. Additionally, I was an art major and was lucky enough to start at UW the year the new facility was open.”

The College of Engineering and Applied Science made an immediate impression on Thomas, who graduated with a degree in architectural engineering earlier this year.

“In my opinion, the best thing about engineering at UW is the incredible support that I received from the professors,” she says. “Because UW is still relatively small compared to other institutions, individuals with ambition and work ethic have almost unlimited opportunity to shine. Hard work is recognized and appreciated.”

Her hard work led to a chance to work for an up-and-coming company in California shortly after she graduated in May. Thomas now is an energy systems engineer in San Francisco with Plenty, after she was recruited by the company’s co-founder and Chief Science Officer Nate Storey, a UW graduate. Plenty is a leading field-scale vertical farming company.

“I was acquainted with the company this summer when Nate Storey reached out to me after hearing about my thesis research on sustainable greenhouse design,” Thomas says. “At Plenty, I work on the mechanical engineering team. I have been designing our unique air distribution system and aiding contracted engineers on heating, ventilation and air conditioning equipment.

“Additionally, I build and coordinate models to represent energy flows through our system. These models will help to identify areas in which we can reduce our energy consumption and help to optimize our system.”

In summer 2017, Plenty acquired Laramie-based Bright Agrotech, a leader in vertical farming production system technology. Per a company press release, “Bright’s technology and industry leadership combined with Plenty’s own technology will help Plenty realize its plans to build field-scale indoor farms around the world, bringing the highest quality produce and healthy diets to everyone’s budget.”

Founded by Storey, Bright has partnered with small farmers for more than seven years to start and grow indoor farms, providing high-tech growing systems and controls, workflow design, education and software.

“We’re excited to join Plenty on their mission to bring the same exceptional quality local produce to families and communities around the world,” Storey says. “The need for local produce and healthy food that fits in everyone’s budget is not one that small farmers alone can satisfy, and I’m glad that, with Plenty, we can all work toward bringing people everywhere the freshest, pesticide-free food.”

Thomas didn’t necessarily envision working in her current industry while she was studying at UW. But, she definitely is embracing the chance to make a real difference for people and use her engineering degree to its full extent.

“I have found engineering to be one of the most reliable paths toward a job and rewarding career,” she says. “Architectural engineering particularly offers flexibility into civil, structural, architectural and MEP (mechanical, electrical and plumbing) professions.”

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