K-State Research and Extension News
December 06, 2012
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Young Professional Tells Kids “Stick With It!”

JUNCTION CITY, Kan. Joseph Thomas, who has built a successful career as a structural engineer, returned to Rock Springs 4-H Center Nov. 17 to serve as the keynote speaker for the 2012 Kansas 4-H Youth Leadership Forum.

When a student at Kansas State University, Thomas, a former 4-H member from Ottawa, Kan., served on the planning committee for the first Leadership Forum as a professional development opportunity for youth ages 14-18.

The 2012 edition of the Forum attracted nearly 300 youth and adults from across Kansas.

“The Leadership Forum is important because many youth drop out of youth development organizations such as 4-H and Boy Scouts in high school,” said Thomas, who urged youth to “Stick with it!”

The Kansas 4-H Youth Leadership Forum is open to youth ages 14 to 18; one need not be a 4-H member to attend. More information about the Forum, held each November, is available from K-State Research and Extension offices throughout the state and online.
“Older members in youth development programs can give back by mentoring younger members and, also, are eligible for leadership and growth opportunities that help youth -- including myself -- transition into young adulthood successfully,” he said.

Thomas cited participating in 4-H Citizenship Washington Focus, which is directed at leadership and citizenship, and serving as a National 4-H Conference delegate charged with identifying issues facing youth and planning programs to address the issues. These opportunities for personal growth and development would not have been available if he had ended his 4-H career before finishing high school.

Thomas also earned the rank of Eagle Scout and attended Philmont Scout Ranch on two occasions.  And, during three of his summers off from K-State, he served as summer staff at all three of the Boy Scouts’ national high adventure bases: Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico, Northern Tier in the Boundary Waters of Minnesota, and Florida Sea Base in the Florida Keys.

 “I was lucky enough to enjoy mountain views, days in pristine wilderness or waking up to the ocean every day, while others were flipping burgers,” said Thomas, who encouraged Forum delegates to consider summer employment as a camp counselor.

In that role, he said that he learned many lessons about working with youth and adults, the environment, and the larger world.

In speaking with the youth, Thomas spoke of life lessons, as if writing a letter to himself about what he has learned.

Looking back, he said: “I was busy during my high school years and managed to add sports (basketball and baseball) and other activities, yet remain active in 4-H and Scouts.”

“I benefitted from each opportunity,” said Thomas, who also urged youth to consider career goals and seek opportunities to learn more about them.  Thomas was interested in sports stadiums and how they were built, and asked to shadow a local architect to learn more about architectural engineering as a career.

He has since earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in architectural engineering with an emphasis in structures (at Kansas State University), and is pursuing his dream job of designing and renovating sports stadiums.

His primary work project for the past three years has been multiple renovations to the Superdome in New Orleans, La.

With a bit of pride, he reports that he has worked, at least in some part, on the stadiums of the previous three Super Bowl Champions, as well as working almost two years on the design and construction of the new Bank of Oklahoma Center in Tulsa, Okla., which seats nearly 20,000 people.

In talking about his career, Thomas emphasized the need to be a dependable team member. As structural engineers, he said, it’s our responsibility to ensure structural integrity.

In speaking with youth delegates, Thomas’ also touched on managing money, personal responsibility, giving back to community, and relationships, including the importance of choosing your best friend as your spouse and partner.

Thomas, who earned a standing ovation after concluding his remarks, is currently employed by Thornton Tomasetti, a leader in engineering design with 26 offices around the world.


K-State Research and Extension is a short name for the Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service, a program designed to generate and distribute useful knowledge for the well-being of Kansans. Supported by county, state, federal and private funds, the program has county Extension offices, experiment fields, area Extension offices and regional research centers statewide. Its headquarters is on the K-State campus, Manhattan.

Story by: Nancy Peterson
K-State Research & Extension News

Joseph Thomas is available at 785-565-3236