Women’s History Month: AMDT alumna encourages students to make career connections

Lauren Thomas
Lauren Thomas, an assortment planner at Nordstrom Rack, helps students learn about career paths as a WSU AMDT alumna. “I’m not afraid to raise my hand and say, ‘I’m ready for the next challenge,” she says.

During Women’s History Month, the College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences is sharing stories of how the women of our college find inspiration and pay it forward.

One such woman is alumna Lauren Thomas. Inspired by her family and experiences at WSU, she helps students make the personal connections that launch their career journeys.

Lauren, an Assistant Assortment Planner for Nordstrom Rack and 2014 graduate of the Department of Apparel, Merchandising, Design, and Textiles (AMDT), is a dedicated Coug who shares lessons from her education and decade-long career with current students.

“I’ve known my entire life that I wanted to be a Coug,” said Lauren.

Growing up, she rode with parents Doug, a 1987 Agricultural Economics grad, and Sandy Thomas from Bellingham, Wash., to every WSU home football game.

Lauren credits her mother as her biggest inspiration: Sandy went back to school and earned her WSU degree in Political Science and History, Summa Cum Laude, in 2010.

“If there was ever an obstacle, she always provided encouragement to get through it, no matter what,” Lauren said. “She always turned negative experiences into positives by helping me learn from them.”

Sandy, Doug, and Lauren are part of a wider family of passionate Cougs. Aunts, cousins, and friends attended WSU. To Lauren, arriving as a first-year student, the Pullman campus already felt like home.

“But when you get there, you realize it’s for real and you’re on your own,” she said. “Without the confidence to pursue my dreams and the determination to achieve what I set my heart to, I wouldn’t have succeeded. Those were things I learned from my mom.”

Lauren made the most of college by engaging with as many people as possible, from professors and industry visitors to advisors and peers in the Alpha Gamma Delta sorority, which she served as chapter president. One woman who made a lasting first impression is Denise Junell, a current AMDT advisory board member and Nordstrom Vice President and Divisional Merchandise Manager who met with one of Lauren’s first AMDT classes.

“She was friendly and approachable, and I will never forget how she carried herself, what she wore, her great style,” Lauren said. “I could tell she was a woman with drive and power who knew what she wanted. She was exactly the kind of professional that I wanted to be.”

During college, then in her career, Lauren watched Junell and other role models, emulating how they make and keep lifelong connections.

She joined the Northwest-based luxury department store chain Nordstrom just after graduation and marks her 10th year at the company this May. Lauren started in stores, managing locations in the Pacific Northwest and opening stores in Canada. She rose to become Assistant Assortment Planner for Men’s and Women’s Active Shoes for Nordstrom Rack, where she leads efforts to buy products for the expanding retailer.

“I’ve been lucky to be surrounded by women who have power and treat each other with respect,” she said. “That has kept me going and kept me invested.”

Lauren regularly visits WSU AMDT classes to give guest lectures on careers in the apparel industry and share the lessons she’s learned.

“The challenge I always encountered as a student was ‘How do I get there?'” she said. “I wanted to meet the person in the job I wanted, and that can be intimidating.”

Today Lauren is that person. Visiting WSU, she encourages students to actively network and introduces them to working professionals.

“I want to be that steppingstone,” she said. “I can help students find the path to take and provide insight on what that path would look like.”

Lauren pays her inspiration forward by always striving for improvement: for herself, for the company, and for the students she meets.

“I’m not afraid to raise my hand and say, ‘I’m ready for the next challenge,'” she said. “I hope that inspires those who come after me see the road that they can travel.”