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Yates Sikes ’08


Yates Sikes '08

Improving Seating for Rail Riders Across the Country

Durham Academy challenged Yates Sikes ’08 to think of different ways to problem solve. Now, as a mechanical engineer, he’s using that skill to innovate and modernize rail cars that impact riders in major cities across the U.S.

QWhat have you been up to since graduating from Durham Academy? 

A — I went to Durham Academy for all four years of high school. During those four years, I had the pleasure of experiencing a community that truly cares about the development of all members of its community, student and faculty alike. We were afforded many opportunities that other schools might not have been able to offer us due to the smaller size, making it much more tightly knit. Many of my best friends and memories of classes and the outdoors come from my time spent at DA.  

The coursework at DA impacted me by helping me explore physics, math and the sciences, ultimately propelling me to become a mechanical engineer. On the personal side, I think that taking Latin at DA helped me later when I chose to pursue learning Italian, which would ultimately lead me to meeting my wife, who also speaks Italian.

For a period, I worked in the aviation industry while working on the 787 project at Boeing, focusing on the windows that dim electronically and seating components. It had always been a dream of mine to work in aviation, and one of the things that DA pushed me to do was to always work toward my dreams and aspirations.

Q — What are you doing now?

A — Now, a little over 10 years after graduating from DA, I am working in the rail industry, making rail seating for trains for almost every major city in the U.S. that has a rail system. Working in the rail sector brings its own set of regulatory challenges with regard to fire and crash safety. These challenges mean that we get to conduct crash testing alongside companies like Fiat Chrysler and Ford, but we are small enough that individuals can have the opportunity to truly influence and impact the direction of the product.  

Q — Why do you do what you do?

A — These challenges, along with the changing atmosphere in the U.S. rail market to modernize the appearance of rail cars for future ridership, has meant that we have to innovate not only on the design but also in the ways to manufacture the product. Recently, we designed and patented the only type of table in the world to meet the most stringent requirements of testing for crash safety to save passenger lives. We hope to continue to move forward with this type of safety initiative while at the same time improving the aesthetics of our products.

Q — What DA experiences influenced you or helped you get where you are today?

A — I think that the thing about DA that prepared me the most for working in industry is constantly challenging me to think in different ways to problem solve, and to promote a balance of working hard while also experiencing as much as possible, be it through reading, journeying in the outdoors, remaining active in sports or finding new things about which to be passionate.