As a senior at the University of Wisconsin—Stout, I’m just on the edge of entering the workforce and starting my full-time career as a packaging engineer. Because I have such a passion for this major—and for this industry—I want people to know more about what it is, and what a career path might look like. Right now, there are more packaging engineering jobs available than there are graduating students to fill them, which is great news for us! Traditionally, students choose this industry because they know someone in it, or because they transfer into the major after hearing more about it. I, however, have known that packaging was the industry I wanted to pursue since high school.
At seventeen years old, I was introduced to packaging through an influential teacher, Randy Schullo, at Rice Lake High School. Randy taught an engineering class where we were asked to redesign a tissue box in the most creative way possible. My tissue box was the only one in the class that worked when it was built! As a result of this, Randy encouraged me to look into packaging at UW—Stout. Ever since then, I haven’t looked back.
As a packaging major at Stout, I have chosen an emphasis in graphics and printing. One of the reasons I continued on the packaging path was that I loved art classes just as much as I loved science. The major, and this emphasis in particular, bridged the gap between my technical and creative sides, producing a best-of-both-worlds scenario for my educational experience at UW—Stout.
I get asked a lot, what’s it like to be a packaging engineering student? What kind of classes do you take? I attend 3-4 hours of class each day. The majority of my class time is based in a lab environment. At Stout, we have three lab spaces—one for material testing, one for distribution, and my personal favorite, the design center. All the materials we use in the labs are donated from the industry, which is a prime example of the amazing partnerships the Stout packaging program has with our industry counterparts.
As a senior, I am also working on my senior capstone research project, where I am exploring sustainability in medical device packaging. Sustainability is a hot topic, both in the industry and among students. I would say about 75-80% of my graduating class is focused on sustainable or compostable packaging research. This is a big area we are passionate about, and we’re focused on minimizing waste and understanding recycling systems. Another hot topic among students is usability since this was a new item added to ISO 11607 recently.
As I said, some people fall into the packaging industry by chance, and not many wake up in the morning thinking, I am going to go to school for medical packaging. However, I got into medical packaging by attending UW—Stout’s career conference in 2019. As part of the graduation requirements for a packaging student, we’re required to complete a co-op, which is an 8-9 month internship for credit. As I was looking to land my first co-op, I came across Smiths Medical. I really liked the team and felt it was somewhere I could learn a ton (which I did). I’ll admit, my passion for medical packaging didn’t develop overnight. Slowly but surely, I began to develop a knowledge base about medical packaging. I learned to love this innovative industry during my co-op. Right now, I am continuing to grow my knowledge of the industry by working as a Product Management Intern at Oliver!
As I look to enter the packaging profession within the next year, my recommendation for freshmen or anyone looking to go to school for packaging is to take a class and try it out! As a campus tour guide, I always stray from the tour route so students can see the packaging lab because I want to raise as much awareness about this industry as I can. I tell these prospective students, if they are looking to bridge the gap between technical and design work, this is the perfect medium. What I love most about working in the medical packaging industry is that I can provide solutions that will help to save and sustain lives. It’s an incredibly rewarding feeling to know what I am doing is making an impact.
To my fellow classmates entering the workforce, your passion and desire to change the world make me so excited to have you as my peers; I can’t wait to see where this industry takes us.