Aaron Thomas

Aaron Thomas

Engineering a Winning Future
A Passion for Transforming Lives
By Leah Andrews

Aaron Thomas is more than a nationally recognized chemical engineer and educator; he is a leader in community outreach. An associate professor of chemical engineering at the University, Thomas shares his passion for engineering and science with young students, especially within the American Indian community, encouraging them to pursue futures in engineering.

“I believe that as an educator, my responsibility goes beyond the classroom and labs,” said Thomas, who recently traveled to the White House to accept a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers. “This award shows that one of the goals of the scientific community in the United States is not just good research, but your impact on society as a whole, as well.”

The presidential award recognizes Thomas’s innovative research and community service demonstrated through scientific leadership and community outreach.

“My outreach goals are to increase the number of students in science and engineering, specifically Native American and Alaska Native students,” said Thomas who is a member of the Dine’ (Navajo) Nation from New Mexico. "I have been involved in a number of outreach programs at the University of Idaho and around the region.”

Thomas’s research in chemical engineering involves separating biological species on a micro-scale and separating contaminant gases on a larger scale, and by employing a novel mechanical separation mechanism that uses oscillatory flows.

Thomas gives demonstrations and presentations at schools within the tribal communities, and mentors native high school students in the summer through the University's Helping Orient Indian Students and Teachers (HOIST) program in the science, technology, engineering and math fields. He also is one of the principal investigators in the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program in Idaho, which brings University of Idaho faculty and students to the Nez Perce and Coeur d’Alene tribes to build computers with students and encourage them to consider careers in math engineering and science.

“Many people have helped me throughout my career, both as a student and as a faculty member, to reach my current position at the University of Idaho," he said. "I feel that it is my responsibility to do the same for other students, specifically Native students in the community. I believe my background and my position provides me unique opportunity to positively impact the Native community.”