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Technology alumnus helps equip manufacturing lab

Curtis Thomas ’91 wanted to give Illinois State University Technology students the opportunity to work with state-of-the-art robotic equipment to help them gain real world experiences and more career opportunities.  So Thomas arranged through his company, Asea Brown Boveri (ABB), to supply on consignment a full-size industrial robot in the Technology lab.

Curtis Thomas ’91 wanted to give Illinois State University Technology students the opportunity to work with state-of-the-art robotic equipment to help them gain real world experiences and more career opportunities.  So Thomas arranged through his company, Asea Brown Boveri (ABB), to supply on consignment a full-size industrial robot in the Technology lab. That robot has been replaced with newer models two times, with the latest model gracing the Caterpillar Integrated Manufacturing Laboratory in Turner Hall. Thomas also assisted the Technology department in purchasing 10 more industrial strength robots and software from ABB at a greatly reduced price.

“My parents taught my brothers and sisters and me to give back whenever possible and to never forget where you came from,” Curtis said.  “I am very pleased with my career choice and feel privileged to work with state-of-the-art technology such as industrial robots, so it was only natural to extend that privilege to the next generation of technology professionals at Illinois State.”

“Curtis, a very strong supporter of the Technology department, led the initiative to have ABB robotics consign a sophisticated, high-end industrial robot to the integrated manufacturing systems area,” said Rodney Custer, chair of the Technology department.  “We are now on our third robot, a brand new model, with our students gaining valuable knowledge and skills from hands-on learning about systems integration and programming logic.  Our program has taken a huge leap forward thanks to Curtis and ABB.”

Thomas, who majored in industrial technology at Illinois State, is an account executive at ABB, supporting the after-market needs of tier 1 and automotive customers in his territory.  He sells products and services such as service agreements, training, spare parts, robot rebuilds, used robots, site management and process and application consulting services.  Thomas worked his way up at ABB, starting as a field service engineer and graduating to project manager and regional service manager.

ABB is one of the premier companies in robotics, creating the first microcomputer-controlled, all-electric industrial robot in 1974.  ABB was the first company in the world to sell more than 100,000 robots in 2002.  The company has helped countries all over the world to build, develop and maintain their infrastructures and has gone from large-scale solutions to alternative energy and advanced products and technologies in power and automation.

A Detroit native, Thomas came to Illinois State to play football.  During a 1988 spring scrimmage, he broke his neck, but continued with the program as a coaching assistant.  Thomas originally planned to become an Air Force fighter jet pilot, and his Illinois State academic advisor felt an industrial technology degree would be viewed positively by the Air Force and would prepare him for the jet fighter pilot test.  He pursued a technology sequence of energy and power, and remembers the faculty who “encouraged me to push myself both academically and professionally.”

After graduation, Thomas first worked at Walter Norris Company in Rosemont, Ill., selling automation products such as programmable logic controllers.  “I procrastinated about signing up for the Air Force,” he said.  “When I finally decided to apply, I was over the age limit to become an Air Force pilot, so I concentrated on my career with ABB.”

Thomas made many enduring friendships at Illinois State, with the most important one being his wife, Denise (Reynolds) ’93, whom he met on her first day at Illinois State.  She was also an industrial technology major and pursued a career at Norman Equipment in sales support and product management and as senior application engineer at Square D Company.  Denise is currently making a career of raising their children, Cameron (7), Arianna (4), Kendall (3) and Kyle (1), in Richton Park, Ill.

Thomas said his greatest Illinois State memory was going through commencement in Redbird Arena, with his family and closest friends sharing the moment.  “That will forever remain a very special day for me,” he said.  Thomas is continuing to make new memories at Illinois State with his involvement as a featured speaker during Science and Technology Week and as the recipient of the Department of Technology’s Distinguished Young Alumni Award and the Illinois State University Alumni Association E. Burton Mercier Alumni Service Award.

“Illinois State University prepared me very well for my career, both academically and professionally,” Thomas said.  “My electronics, fluid power and CAD classes provided me with a basic knowledge and understanding of micro-robots, programmable logic controllers, electrical schematics and AutoCad, all of which are an essential part of ABB’s business today.  Professionally, my experience at Illinois State taught me the meaning of commitment, responsibility and determination, all of which are important attributes and qualities that today’s companies look for in college graduates.”

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