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By Sarah Pumphrey

Brian Ashley graduated from NC State in 1995 with a degree in Pulp & Paper Science.  He currently works as a Process Improvement Leader at Sonoco Products in Richmond, VA.    We recently reached out to Brian to find out about his experience here at NC State,  his current career, and advice for current students.


Experience at NC State

  • Internship/co-op experience: Chesapeake Corporation; West Point, VA, Champion International Corp; Courtland, AL.
  • Favorite Class: This was a 3-way tie between Dr. Olf’s Paper Properties, Dr. Kirkman’s Chemical Transport and Dr. Jameel’s Pulping Operations. Dr. Chang’s introduction class was a close second.
  • Best memory at State: Getting out of class on a Friday afternoon and having the whole weekend in front of me with nothing to do but hang out and do something fun with my friends.
  • Worst memory at State: MA 242.  I still don’t get differential equations.
  • Clubs/hobbies: Sophomore and Junior class TAPPI/PIMA representative; Vice-President TAPPI/PIMA Student Chapter; InterVarsity; Intramural Football & Basketball; First Annual Metcalf Talent Show.
  • Favorite part of PSE program: The work groups we formed.  Honestly, homework was a lot of fun at times.  Seeing how different people worked to solve problems and the camaraderie built, I won’t forget it.
  • Most important thing PSE taught me: The reward of hard work.  But more that that, the Pulp & Paper school is filled with the brightest students and an all star faculty cast that function as a family.  Even now when I go back I’m still treated like family, just like I was from the fall of 91′ to the spring of 95′.

Current Career Information

  • Company/job position: Sonoco Products Company; Richmond, VA, SPS Process Improvement Leader.
  • Years at current job: 1 year
  • Favorite part of job: With SPS, we are driving a zero loss culture at each fundamental level of the paper manufacturing process, (i.e safety, training 5S, DTM, etc).  As a part of this, people come to me with ideas that will help make performing their job tasks more productive and safe.  I like having a job like that.
  • Biggest accomplishment in career: During 2013, my first year as Production Superintendent at Richmond, I had the privilege of helping lead the mill to an injury-free year and break the all-time record for tons produced.  Moreover, we were able to reduce scrap and customer return YOY and set the stage for all-time lose in the years to come.

Advise for current students

  • Live in and enjoy each moment you have at State.  Learn all that you can, not just the core courses as       they are obviously important, but learn and engage in the electives that you have available.  You will be surprised how often building a relationship with someone can mean the difference between success or failure of a project/initiative.  Typically, that relationship is not built having a conversation about material balances, Bernoulli’s equation, or the charge density of a retention polymer.

Personal Information

  • Hometown: Shanghai, VA
  • Family: Wife Kara and two sons Will (9) and Chandler (6)
  • Hobbies/interests: Church praise team and choir; being the best husband and father I can be; recreational running; anything to do with finance and retirement planning.