EWU Electrical Engineering Alumnus Working on High Profile Project

January 26, 2023

EWU electrical engineering alumnus Russell Thomas ’13 is working on one of the country’s highest profile construction projects.

Thomas is senior design engineer for electrical systems inside the 600,000-square-foot gowning building that is part of a $12 billion project to construct a chip manufacturing plant for Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co.’s (TSMC) first U.S. campus, located in Phoenix, Arizona.

The glass-fronted gowning building, connected to the state-of-the-art 4-nanometer chip manufacturing factory that is currently under construction, is filled with offices and a dedicated area where the production team can change into sterile clothing before entering the plant.

Thomas said the TSMC building is by far the largest project he has worked on in nearly a decade as an engineer. “This project is so big that you have to coordinate with a lot of other companies and even a lot of other electrical firms and mechanical firms,” says Thomas.

In addition to widespread collaborations with engineers and contractors, Thomas’ electrical system designs needed to perfectly align with other construction documents to earn final approval from city planning officials.

“That’s probably the hardest part when it’s such a fast-paced project,” Thomas says.

The TSMC’s campus covers more than 1,100 acres in northern Phoenix. To date, the construction projects have employed more than 10,000 people, according to the TSMC website.

The campus represents a major victory in America’s battle to overcome an international shortage of semiconductors. The chips, sometimes referred to as the “brains of modern electronics,” are essential to thousands of products including cell phones, computers, automobiles, fighter jets and high-tech appliances.

Currently, the U.S. produces just 12 percent of the world’s chips. The eagerly anticipated TSMC plant, which is expected to produce 20,000 semiconductor wafers a month, is slated to start production in 2024.

A second planned phase on the TSMC campus will construct a factory to produce 3-nanometer semiconductor chips, which are even more advanced, with an adjacent gowning building. The TSMC manufacturing will fill supply gaps that slowed and temporarily halted production of certain semiconductor-dependent products.

Thomas’ involvement in a project of top importance to the U.S. is just part of his EWU alumni story. Thomas lives in Phoenix with his wife, Natasha Stamper, who graduated from EWU with a criminal justice degree in 2010 and master’s degree in public administration in 2011, and their kids, Samuel, 4, and Aaliyah, 10 months.

The couple met as teenagers attending middle school in Flagstaff, Arizona, just north of Phoenix. Years later, both of their families moved to Washington. The two reconnected while pursuing degrees at Eastern and embarked on a life together.

Thomas worked his way up the engineering ladder with much-famed Eagle grit. He spent the first seven years of his career juggling up to 10 projects at a time, while designing electrical systems for small commercial buildings and offices – something that proved essential to learning about processes, regulations and building codes that led to bigger and bigger jobs, he says.

Along with earning his stripes as a senior electrical engineer, Thomas hit his stride as a barbecue master – recently winning a citywide contest for his smoked brisket.

“I’m always barbecuing. It’s a dad thing, I think,” Thomas says.

Other “dad things” Thomas is tacking include building a 22-foot offshore fishing boat and refurbishing a vintage Argosy travel trailer for family excursions.

Still, Thomas somehow finds the time to give back to his alma mater by mentoring electrical engineering students who belong to the Omega Delta Phi fraternity (Beta Gamma Chapter). Thomas, Carlos Hernandez, Victor Cardenas, and other founding members were integral to creating a chapter on the Cheney campus, years ago as students.

He credits Natasha with helping to make his professional achievements possible, as she put her career as a social worker on hold to stay home with their children, allowing him to put 60-plus hours a week into his work on the TSMC project.

“To have a project that the president of the United States visits – that was the biggest thrill,” Thomas says. “I was even there while he was speaking.”