For their first mission, the Mission: Packaging students were asked to learn more about the packaging field through the eyes of someone already in it.

It could have been a professor that’s helped guide them to success, someone with whom they’ve completed an internship or a pro they’ve met through networking events. The goal was to learn a little more about what their future holds by interviewing this person about a typical day in their life.

See what Anna, Garrett and Eric learned in their conversations below:

Anna: The Packaging Industry Through the Eyes of Professor Deanna Jacobs

For our first mission, we were asked to learn more about the pacProfessor Deanna Jacobskaging industry through the eyes of someone who has been involved in it. I chose to write about one of my professors who has taught me so much in the 2 years I have known her. Professor Deanna Jacobs has taught at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) for the entire duration of her packaging career, an amazing 31 years! I chose to use Professor Jacobs as my gateway to learning more about packaging, not because of her experience but because of her passion.

How did she become involved in the packaging industry? She, like so many other packaging professionals, had already completed a Master’s degree in another discipline before she found out about packaging. She had planned on teaching high school Biology, but realized that she was becoming restless in her career choice and decided to explore civil, mechanical, and this so called “package engineering” field. Turns out it only takes one course to hook someone into the field!

Packaging is something that is so necessary and so critical in our everyday lives, yet we don’t realize the impact of packaging until we see it in the landfill, on the side of the road, or when we get frustrated with the package that just won’t open. First, let’s define packaging. Packaging science is the study and focus on designing packaging for products in order to ensure they arrive at their destinations intact and still looking aesthetically appealing even after the rigors of distribution. One thing that I learned from Professor Jacobs is how important and intertwined packaging is. What I mean by this is packaging science doesn’t stop at designing a box to get something from point A to point B. It’s about making sure the product is contained, protected, preserved, and transported. It’s also making sure the materials being used to ship a product have the lowest impact on the environment, yet are economically feasible and beneficial for a company. This is where it gets tricky – the balancing of the environment and the company’s bottom dollar.

Professor Jacobs challenged and continues to challenge both current and former students to think about the bigger picture. Yes, there are some necessary additives and changes that must be done to ensure certain products are not contaminated or exposed; however, these changes also bring challenges to the packaging industry. The challenges lie predominately in the end of life cycle of packaging materials because we are constantly introducing additives, colorants, copolymers, and coatings that may make for “better” packaging in the short term, but in the long term – the bigger picture – can’t be recycled so they go to a landfill to take up space. Professor Jacobs hopes in the future we will be able to simplify and clarify packaging in order to make it easier for it to be recycled.

We have seen the green initiative take off over the past 15 years because people are becoming more aware of the impact that we have on our environment. The packaging industry plays a critical, yet underestimated, role in raising awareness by using packaging to educate people who want to help recycle by promoting eco-friendly packaging, introducing recycling streams, using recycled content, introducing by product markets, and various other methods. Professor Jacobs encourages us to be creative, but also to be aware. One thing I appreciate about Professor Jacobs is that she supports her teachings by being actively involved in Institute of Packaging Professionals; Sustainable Packaging Coalition; Recycling Advisory Committee for Monroe County, NY; Rochester Sustainability Coalition; Technical Association of Paper and Pulp Industries (TAPPI); and Institute for Industrial Ecology.

Professor Jacobs is the Packaging Program Chair for RIT, lives in Rochester, NY, with her husband, and enjoys cooking, spending time with her dogs, and spending time with her family. Thank you Professor Jacobs for all you have taught me, those before me, and those who are the future of packaging. I can only hope I am able to have the same level of passion for my career as you have for yours. Thank you from all of us who have been fortunate to have been your students!

Garrett: What Does a Packaging Pro Do Every Day?

Packaging Engineer Matt VargaThis is Matt Varga, a Package Engineer at Ethicon Endo-Surgery, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson in Cincinnati, Ohio. Matt was a mentor of mine at Kohler Co. and his professionalism and expertise of corrugated packaging highly influenced my own personal knowledge and behaviors. Matt is the packaging pro that we will be learning about today.

After graduating from Michigan State with a degree in Packaging, Matt had multiple job offers, but decided to work for Kohler Co. After working at Kohler for over two years, he built a resume with all the knowledge he had absorbed throughout his employment there, but wanted to expand into a different engineering industry, which lead to his current job at Ethicon Endo-Surgery.

Some people may ask, “What would a packaging engineer even do?” or “What is that?”

I’m often asked this question myself, so I took this opportunity to ask a fellow packaging professional a question I’ve been ask many times before, “What do you do each and every day?”

Matt spoke about using abstract problem solving, paired with business and design to solve a packaging issue. The problem could be in cost, quality, material, and/or the consumer prospective. He continued to talk about how anyone can design the “best” package, but the best for one function might be the exact opposite for another, and this issue is the hardest to balance. His current job inspires him to continue producing products that greatly impact the health and lives of customers worldwide.

Don’t you think that is pretty interesting?

In just the brief amount of time Matt and I worked together, his drive and inspiration for this field was undeniable. The biggest thing I took away from working with him was his great work ethic, his unique packaging designs and vast distribution knowledge. Matt said, “Our industry is constantly growing with new developments and advancements. It’s exciting to see how our role will evolve and change as such.”

Matt inspires me as I continue my college courses and in my future employment to learn every day and consistently grow in the engineering field. This field is an exciting one that I look forward to being a part of – just like Matt Varga has found throughout his short, but exciting and innovative life in the packaging industry.

Eric: A Day in the Life of a Packaging Professional

Packaging Professor Paul KoningAmong the first things I learned about the Packaging Industry were its power of innovation, importance in both protecting and presenting a product, and the breadth of opportunities it provides to people. A good way to better appreciate and understand those opportunities is to consider a typical day in the life of a packaging professional. Through my university classes and studies, I have become acquainted with one of my first Packaging professors, Mr. Paul Koning. Since our introduction, I have learned that he not only brings considerable knowledge to the classroom, but that he also has 35 years of experience in the field. From experience gained at several well-known companies and organizations, he is able to give his students a great understanding of what challenges they can expect as packaging professionals.

In speaking with Mr. Koning, it was obvious that his experiences have been very diverse. While studying Packaging and working as a teaching assistant at Michigan State University, he had the opportunity to work for a company specializing in product/package dynamic testing equipment. After college, Mr. Koning worked for several large technology firms as well as a specialty retailer of products for the home. The next phase of his career led him to ISTA, the International Safe Transit Association, an organization that works with and guides companies on their product delivery practices. Here, Mr. Koning had the opportunity to work with companies of all sizes in a variety of industries to continuously improve the design and transport of packaged goods. Ultimately, he ended up back at the roots of his career, teaching in the School of Packaging at Michigan State University. With the wisdom, insight, and knowledge he has gained during his career, Mr. Koning continues today to educate and inspire students sitting in the same seats he once sat in.

Mr. Koning has shared with me that the activities of a packaging professional can vary significantly from day-to-day. As individual contributors or members of cross-functional teams, packaging professionals can be called on in a variety of ways. As you bring your critical thinking, innovation, and analytical skills to the task or team, however, remember to also bring a positive can-do attitude, exhibit a sense of urgency, know that there are always multiple paths to a solution, and be a valuable team player. Many days will also have their challenges, too. Industries often categorize the field as “just packaging” and Mr. Koning advised that there is often a need to educate co-workers about the important role of product packaging. An important role of packaging professionals is to promote the value proposition of packaging at a company. This can play a key role when considering changing product design versus improving packaging design.

Knowing Mr. Koning has undoubtedly helped shape the beginning of my professional experience and he has been a very valuable advisor to me. The knowledge and passion he brings to a conversation translates into important lessons to value throughout a career. Every career will be presented with change. Embracing change as opportunity and building strong networks will be “keys to success” according to him. Mr. Koning has helped me understand the different paths a career can take. More importantly, he has shared with me many sound words of advice to follow as I prepare for my career in Packaging.