As the students are reaching the end of their time in the Mission: Packaging program, we thought it was important for them to gather as much insight as possible before their next big step: joining the packaging work force. For this mission, we asked them to interview alumni who graduated from their university and major to get suggestions for a brighter future.

Anna: Rochester Institute of Technology Alumna Denise Lefebvre

Denise Lefebvre grew up in Long Island, N.Y., and began her college experience at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) as a Business major. She, like most RIT packaging professionals, was introduced to packaging through a friend when she was trying to figure out which major was the best fit for her. She made the switch her sophomore year as packaging was and continues to be an ever-changing industry, provides job stability, and provides multiple career paths depending on a person’s goals and dreams.

Denise has been a member of the PepsiCo family for over years and has taken on several different roles in various business groups. This has led to her current position as Vice President of Packaging & Process Engineering for PepsiCo, where she continues to be at the forefront of several global packaging initiatives. She now lives in Connecticut with her husband and two daughters, loves to cook, and to hike! Below is what Denise had to share:

Question One: What are some tips and advice you have for young female engineers?

Denise suggests three important keys to success: (1) be authentic in what you are saying, (2) have passion for what you are doing, and (3) continue to learn, no matter what level you are.

Authenticity is a key factor on resumes and during interviews because most people can cut through the fluff and get to the point. The worst thing to do is to fluff up your resume, then not be able to support and go into detail about your resume during an interview. It looks bad on you as it may make you appear as a dishonest person.

Having passion for what you’re doing is another key factor. When you talk to someone who loves what they do, you can tell through their actions, their words, and their excitement. This person is someone who will not only meet goals, but also exceed them because they want to put out their best and nothing less. We have all had conversations with someone who loves what they do and with someone who doesn’t. This resonated with me as I live by the motto, “love what you do and do what you love.” I know firsthand when someone has a passion for something, they put their heart into it and you can tell. It’s a great feeling!

Finally, when someone stops learning, they stop growing. When someone stops growing that means they have begun to plateau. Plateaus are not good for a company as it stifles a company’s ability to grow and remain competitive. Denise shared that part of the reason she moved to various positions within PepsiCo was to grow and to continue to develop as a packaging leader.

Question Two: What are you most proud of?

Denise laughed and said, “I’m a mom. So I’m the most proud of my kids! They have grown up to be good and authentic people.” She went on to say from the career aspect, she is most proud of the risks she has taken and the strategic position changes (lateral moves and sometimes demotions) in order to gain the critical experiences to ultimately move to the next level. She said don’t be afraid of taking risks – how will you know until you try?

Garrett: UW-Stout Alumnus Riley Anderson

I interviewed a friend and teammate who graduated from University Of Wisconsin Stout in May. Riley Anderson started his schooling pursuing a degree in Plastics Engineering, but, after 2 years, switched to Packaging with an emphasis in plastics. He graduated in the normal amount of time, even acquiring a co-op, playing a sport, and changing engineering majors in the middle. Now Riley is a cost estimator and designer for Wisconsin Foam Products in Madison, WI. Since 1985 they have been providing companies with flexible foam products for products components, assemblies and packaging. I asked Riley six questions to help me and other current students get better prepared for our first packaging engineering jobs:

Question One: What is one thing you would suggest to do to keep a student at the top of his/her class in the packaging world?

I would suggest to keep up on every packaging industry connection and keep an eye out for new ones. LinkedIn and Career Services are just two of the many avenues for potential employers or partners to find you and for you to find them. Another great thing for connections is various internships and co-ops. These not only give you experience, but also let you meet a lot of people in the industry.

Question Two: Would you recommend following industry news?

Yes, I would recommend following industry news. This will allow you to predict what directions certain packaging areas are heading. You never know what certain part of the industry you will end up working with, so knowledge in as many areas in the industry as possible will allow you to more easily communicate with people around you.

Question Three: Would you recommend networking with other like-minded practitioners?

Absolutely, I would recommend networking with other like-minded practitioners. This will help you gain experience and knowledge through others. I would also recommend networking with people you wouldn’t necessarily call like-minded. Networking with these people will allow you to communicate with others who might be more difficult to understand, listen, and talk to. This could, in turn, make you more well-rounded and a better networker.

Question Four: Is there any additional training you would suggest an upper class student take to prepare for the work force?

I recently received my Microsoft Office Specialist Certification. This is just a certification showing others you know how to perform tasks on various Microsoft programs such as Excel, Word, Access, and more. You could say it is a resume booster, but with how integrated many of these programs are within companies, it just gives you a leg up on others. Also, you can train for these certificates online, they cost minimal money or not at all, and you can usually take the tests under most college and university supervisions.

Question Five: What advice would you give freshmen students coming into a packaging program?

First, and foremost, I would tell freshmen students coming into a packaging program to clean up their online image. Clean up all social media so potential employers have nothing negative to see. Also, beginning to set up networking sites such as LinkedIn is a smart thing to do. Secondly, I would tell them to take as many internships/co-ops as possible during their schooling. This is great for experience and for resumes. Taking internships/co-ops as soon as possible helps keep you on track to graduate, too. Lastly, I would tell them to join as many clubs as possible  – at least join a packaging club and go from there.

Question Six: What advice would you give an upper classmen who is starting to wrap up school when getting ready to apply/search for their first job?

The one thing I would tell upper classmen is don’t underestimate where your first job will come from. Get yourself and your resume out to as many companies as possible – if the biggest problem you have is deciding which job you will take after school, you will be alright. LinkedIn, Career Services, co-ops, and word of mouth are all good opportunities to find prospective employers.

Eric: Michigan State Alumnus Eric LaMontagne

A student’s college years are a time to become immersed in a field of study, gain practical work experience, network both at the university and in the industry, and prepare for success in his/her chosen field. Recent graduates are great sources of insight into career paths to success since they have recently completed their studies, made their preparations for their careers, transitioned into the work force, and already gained valuable career experiences.  To gain more understanding about how to become a better Packaging professional, I interviewed Michigan State University Packaging alumnus Eric LaMontagne.

Question One: What do you suggest helps to make a better Packaging professional?

Continuous communication in the workplace across disciplines and departments is absolutely necessary to be an effective Packaging professional.  Staying connected with co-workers is a way to meet expectations and convey needs.  Keeping management teams informed on the status of projects helps to maintain necessary interest in the project, provide advance notice of unexpected hurdles and challenges, and can allow for reconsideration of resources necessary for the project’s success.  Finally, communicating frequently with one’s manager helps accomplish career goals, acknowledge strengths and weaknesses, agree on mid-course adjustments and corrections, and sets oneself up for long-term success.

Question Two: Would you recommend following industry news?

Following your industry’s prominent publications, attending relevant trade expos, and being involved with your profession’s societies are always good ideas as they keep you up-to-date with the latest trends, innovations, and learnings while providing greater opportunities to build relationships in your field.

Question Three: What is the importance of networking with other like-minded practitioners?

Networking – both internally and externally – among your fellow professionals is an incredibly important aspect of professional development.  Having contacts within the industry can not only improve your performance in your job, but they can also open new doors for the advancement of your career.

Question Four: Thoughts on additional training?

Training opportunities are great ways to expand knowledge and skills within your field. When seeking new training opportunities be mindful of what can benefit you the most in expanding necessary skills as well as broadening your skills as your career progresses.   It is also a good reminder that training opportunities are available from a multitude of sources.  Online courses, in person workshops, visits to suppliers, seminars and courses through professional organizations, and internal training within your company are all great ways to gain additional skills and knowledge.

Question Five: Any other thoughts/suggestions?

Directly from college, a new employee wants to make a good impression with their employer.  However, it is important to do so while taking on a manageable workload.  Having a planned on-boarding when starting a new job allows you to understand the in’s and out’s of a position and a company as well as the employer’s expectations that are key to becoming successful.  Learning what workload you can handle, how to prioritize, how to be efficient, and how to deliver on your commitments are all skills that develop as you launch your career.