The 2017 Mission: Packaging students kicked off the program by taking a look at the packaging industry through the eyes of seasoned professionals.
We asked them to interview someone they know who has experience in the industry, whether it be an employer with whom they have completed an internship, a professional they have connected with through networking, or a professor who has helped shape their interest in packaging. This introductory challenge was meant to provide the students with valuable insight that would give them a better idea what their future in a packaging profession will hold.
Here’s what Caroline, Kari, and Tristen had to say about their conversations:
Caroline: Through the Eyes of a Pro: Interview with University of Florida Alumnus Sean McKean
During this stage of my studies at the University of Florida, I’m immersed in my chosen field through coursework, internships, and general exploration of the packaging industry. This is both motivating and overwhelming, often leading to more questions than answers. To learn more about the packaging field, I interviewed University of Florida Packaging alumnus Sean McKean.
Sean is currently a Senior Packaging Developer at Bacardi and has been working in the packaging industry for 11 years. In my interview, I talked to Sean about a range of topics including how he got started, challenges he faces in his job, what trends and advances he looks forward to in the industry, as well as advice for students studying or interested in packaging.
Sean started out studying Civil Engineering but realized his interests didn’t lie there. He was looking for something different, which led him to the newly established Packaging Engineering program at UF. What appealed to him about packaging was the many possibilities in the industry such as manufacturing, marketing, and R&D.
In his position, Sean works in both the technical and marketing domain. He often collaborates with the marketing team to understand exactly what they want and figures out how to execute their thought process to the best of the company’s ability. He emphasized that a lot of the challenges he faces depend heavily on him understanding the design and manufacturing process to anticipate the challenges they may face in order to properly execute their plan and apply cost saving ideas. One common theme from his work experiences is the importance of communication and making sure that everyone is on the same page.
When asked about trends and advances in the industry, he discussed premium products and the demand for craft/local products. In all areas of the food and beverage industry, consumers want to know where ingredients are coming from. In the spirits industry, he also sees more premium products with there being a surge in limited editions and willingness to spend on high end products.
Sean’s advice to me was to always be open to learning, not be afraid to ask questions, and to “dig around” for new ideas. He emphasized that you shouldn’t assume that you know everything, because nobody does. Also, that it’s important to investigate and learn more about something if you aren’t familiar with it. Upon reflection of his time studying packaging at UF, he would tell students that the demands of the industry include so much more than just technical knowledge. Other skills such as working and communicating with suppliers and manufacturers are a necessity in the professional environment.
Kari: Through the Eyes of a Pro
One of the big reasons I joined Packaging Engineering Technology at Indiana State University was meeting Brian James. Brian is an instructor at Indiana State who is very passionate about packaging and the success of the program and the students.
I was interested in Packaging before I came to Indiana State since I had designed elements of it during the pursuit of my Visual Communication degree. When I found out Indiana State had a packaging program I set up a campus visit to check it out. During my visit, I met Brian. He showed me around the packaging lab and explained the program with such enthusiasm and optimism for the future of the program. Brian had a ton of ideas on how the lab set up could be improved and other changes that could be made to help students get the best education possible. I was impressed and decided to sign up for classes.
Since then I have had Brian as an instructor in many classes from Packaging Development and Analysis, to Packaging Materials and Testing, to Intro to CAD, and he is my advisor as well. He truly cares about my education and when he doesn’t have answers he reaches out to his network of professionals from all aspects of packaging to get you the information you need plus some.
Because Brian has been such an influential person on my packaging education, I decided to interview him to understand what got him into teaching packaging.
How did you get into packaging?
When I was a senior at South Vermillion High School, I talked to various family and friends trying to decide what major I wanted to pursue in college. Originally, I wanted to move away to college and attend Ball State University for Architecture. But as my senior year proceeded, and through talking with friends, I changed my mind and chose to attend Indiana State University. At ISU, there were a few programs I was interested in. I enjoyed working with and repairing computers, I was interested in construction, and I generally liked anything hands-on. An older friend from high school that was attending ISU at the time, told me about the Packaging Technology program at ISU. I don’t know why he chose it, but he told me “You make a lot of money and it’s easy!” I was sold. I can make a lot of money and it’s easy, what else could I want? I began my collegiate career at ISU in Packaging Technology in the Fall of 2005. It is definitely in the top 3 choices I have fallen into in my life. I fell into a great family, a great college major, and a great career. I learned much through my college career, through internships, and through the support of industry professionals. So, you could say I fell into packaging, and I haven’t regretted it one day.
Why did you decide to teach packaging?
During my junior and senior year at Indiana State University, I had the opportunity to be a Teaching Assistant for the Packaging Technology program. I had been a student worker in the packaging lab, and Dr. Schafer trusted me to help with classes. I was a TA for a handful of classes throughout the year and a half, and I found that I enjoyed engaging in discussions with younger classmates. As my senior year came to a close, I wasn’t ready to leave the college life. Fortunately, I was offered a Graduate Assistantship at ISU to complete a Master’s degree in Industrial Technology. During my Master’s degree, I taught in the Packaging Technology program as a Graduate Assistant. During my time teaching as a GA, I fell in love with the student and faculty relationship. I found myself looking forward to preparing and going to class. As any student can agree, this was uncommon. I didn’t normally like going to class. So, after 6 years in the packaging industry, I was blessed to have an opportunity to become an Instructor at ISU in the Applied Engineering and Technology Management department. Although I have had great experiences, and worked for and with some awesome people in the industry, I genuinely love coming to work every day at ISU.
What challenges do you face every day?
The challenges that I face with my transition from the industry to the university, deal with structuring my work. In the industry, it is fast-paced and you are expected to generate results rapidly. I had been used to being tasked with a job, told what parameters I have, then getting it done. Most of the “sign offs” in the industry came at critical financial expenditures, or when I needed to delegate work. In my position at the university, my specific task is to teach courses and ensure a high level of education and student success. Outside of my specific task, I am expected to help with accreditation, recruitment, student organizations, industry involvement, packaging lab needs, etc. I have found that, if I get certain things done before getting all the “sign offs,” it is worse than not getting them done at all. Fortunately, I have great colleagues and mentors and have been able to work with them to find a better balance at structuring my work and getting things done.
What do you look forward to?
I look forward to seeing where my career takes me. I am blessed to work in what I believe is the best industry in the United States, and in many other countries. The packaging industry not only has an abundance of careers available, but the careers are truly unique and exciting. You can be a designer for glass, plastics, corrugated, crates, displays, or you can be an expert in packaging testing, material analysis, or thousands of other interesting careers. Right now in my life, I can honestly say I am excited to go to work every day. I love being an instructor here at Indiana State University, and I am currently pursuing my Doctorate degree to help further my capabilities to effectively teach the students. The students in the Packaging Engineering Technology program at ISU have been wonderful to learn from and to work with. We have a very unique program that fosters the student and faculty relationship. I believe it is this way because of the way our industry members are. When students go on tours, or we have a guest speaker in class, they see the enthusiasm from the industry members. So in conclusion, I would say that I look forward to all the new knowledge I can learn about the packaging industry, and the interaction with the young professionals at Indiana State University and other packaging programs.
Tristen: A Glimpse into The Working World of The Packaging Industry
Having little experience in the packaging engineering industry and the majority of my experience developed from the classroom setting, my interview with Barbara Porter provided an invaluable window into the experiences I can expect working within packaging.
Like many engineering students, she was unsure of exactly which engineering discipline she wanted to pursue at first, but eventually a friend who knew of her interest in printing introduced her to packaging engineering and it was a perfect fit. Working in the packaging industry since 1990, she has worked on a considerable array of projects with company’s including Calvin Klein and Colgate (at which she currently works).
Knowing she had a desire to travel, she set her mind on living in Warsaw, Poland, for a short time, finding a job with the Colgate branch there, landing the job with the help of an internship she had there during her time as an undergraduate student at Rutgers. It’s a stark reminder of how important expanding your network is as you begin to break into the industry, and that early experience as a student can be incredibly useful down the road.
Considering my personal interests in the creative arts and how that ties into engineering, Ms. Porter’s passion for all things art and the way in which she applies that to engineering was great validation for what I see myself pursuing in the future. Her constant pursuit of knowledge was extremely inspiring and her comments on finding the balance between learning a lot of things and getting good at one thing offered a valuable perception which I plan to keep in mind as I continue to explore the world of packaging and design.