It’s My Job: Lauren Hicks

Materials Engineering
Design Engineer, YETI

Why Auburn? Why materials engineering?

I grew up in San Antonio. I knew I wanted to go into an engineering discipline — that’s how Auburn came onto my radar. I had a bunch of friends whose older siblings went to Auburn, but I had never even been in the state of Alabama before coming. I applied to a few Texas schools, but the engineering at Auburn was just a lot better. I wanted to do things with biomedical devices, but Auburn didn’t offer a strictly biomedical route. So, I chose material science because it was somewhat similar to a biomedical engineering degree. That kind of opened my eyes to everything it can be used for, especially when you have the right professors and the right people.

What do you do at YETI?

I’m a design engineer. But with my materials engineering background, I’ve been assigned to the seasonal colors program. Every year, we come out with two sets of seasonal colors. You’re trying to tell a story with a brand. Any time you add color to a product, you add contaminants. So, I advise on which colors would be higher risk than others. We work very closely with suppliers and manufacturers. I work closely with our validation engineering team to transform the initial industrial design into a reliable and durable product. This involves working with them to create test plans that test the product to its limits, which helps us ensure we only release the strongest products to support our consumers’ adventures. I have become well-versed in the injection molding process thanks to designing accessory products for our hard coolers. We also use another manufacturing process called rotational molding, which forms our indestructible hard coolers.

What attracted you to the company?

I graduated in 2022 and had no idea what I wanted to do. What drew me to YETI was its mission to be a sustainable brand. YETI uses plastics, but the products are built to last a lifetime. You can pass it through generations. I’m passionate about my work to make consumer goods that you’re never going to have to replace. If you drop one of our coolers out of a jet, it might crack. But YETI’s whole brand approach is to make something that lasts — used in the wild forever. Part of that ties directly into my job. Whenever I receive a cooler with new colors, it still has to pass all of our rigorous validation testing protocols that ensure our colors are sustainable. We see failures, of course. Not everything will be perfect on the first try, and it’s very difficult to get the answer right away. There’s problem-solving to get a passing result and figuring out what needs to be done on the manufacturing side.

How did Auburn Engineering help prepare you to do that?

Everything you interact with every day is material. What you walk on, what you wear and what your phone is made of. Auburn University taught me a different way to perceive those things. That’s what really made me interested in it in the long term. Knowing that this paper is not just paper — this plastic is not just plastic. Auburn changed my perspective on many things and trained my brain to think a certain way. Dr. (Bart) Prorok taught us a lot during our senior year, especially in senior design. For one project, he gave us a broken crutch and a crutch that had been used for 13 years without failure. We had to do a failure analysis. Did the crutch break because of user error? Was it a design failure? Everyone had a different opinion, and he didn’t give us a lot of instructions. He told us to figure it out. That was one of the most impactful projects I worked on. We learned some pretty advanced stuff but also the importance of teamwork, communicating concisely and delivering information in a way that makes sense to everyone involved. That is something I’m really proud of. I’m able to go up to anyone and ask a question without fear. It is still early in my career, and not a lot of people, especially in companies in different countries, take well to dealing with a 23-year-old woman just out of school. Being able to approach those personality types in a way that can connect with them is something that Auburn definitely taught me. I believe that showing respect makes people want to respect you back.

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