Beyond The Lab: New Graduate Student Initiatives

field work

Innovation and emerging technology continue to be the focus of the Forest Biomaterials graduate program, which currently enrolls 45 students, among its four programs, with an estimated 14 students graduating each year. The majority of students’ time is spent in the lab, but efforts to ensure success beyond the lab are ramping up.

Since the inception of the Forest Biomaterials Graduate Student Association (GSA) in 2018, several initiatives have added new value to the program. A visit to International Paper, Hoffman Forest, Frankie’s Fun Park, and a leadership development seminar are among them.

Improving the Research Environment through Leadership Development

Sherri Baldwin, CEO of Lead Advantage, Inc. donated her time to give students a crash course introduction to the topic of leadership. Lead Advantage Inc. works with CEOs and managers to guide them to be value-added leaders in their organization. She came with a very interactive agenda to show the importance of managing and leading with good communication and an understanding team dynamics.

For many of the graduate students, this was their first professional development event. Everyone was energetic and really got excited about breaking some of the team records from the activities Sherri had the teams partake in.

Students recounted, “The methodology (activities) that Sherri used to convey the message of the seminar [were enjoyable].” 

“The hands on activities were really good and very engaging. It did not feel like a ‘lecture.’”

“The seminar was executed very well. I also thought there were many take-away messages that can/could immediately improve team-based work/research environments.”

Fun Alert!

On the heels of the first international meeting on postgraduate mental health, held in May 2019, educators are becoming acutely aware and taking mental health in academia seriously. A visit to Frankie’s Fun Park provided a break for graduate students and an out-of-the-ordinary way to celebrate the accomplishments of the semester.

After feasting on artichoke dip, pizza, wraps, salad and wings students set off for a go-cart race! Department Head, Dr. Marko Hakovirta, decided to test his skills on the 18-hole mini golf course along with Operations Manager, Barbara White, and Career Specialist, Brittany Hayes.

Later, the winning team of laser tag attributed their victory to enemy tactic observation and strategically guarding home base. Other favorite attractions included the carnival-style Sidewinder ride and a multi-player, multi-puck Pac-Man Smash Air Hockey face-off.

The fun break left no room to fret over data and thesis defense — a necessary and appreciated refresher.

For Many… The First Pulp and Paper Mill Visit

A graduate student field trip to International Paper and Hoffman Forest took place this May. Outgoing GSA president, Matthew Kollman, discusses the importance of this initiative.

“The Forest Biomaterials graduate student body is highly diverse, representing many nationalities and professional/academic backgrounds. Although people may not join with pulp and paper experience, it is likely that they will find employment within the forest products and allied industries upon graduating. Recognizing an opportunity to enhance these students’ education by providing them with a first-hand introduction to the industry, the Forest Biomaterials Graduate Student Association organized a trip to visit two commercial sites.” 

First stop was a tour of International Paper’s New Bern facility – a fully-integrated pulp and paper mill – including bleaching. Students learned about every unit operation found in a typical mill. Next up was a visit to the 79,000 acre Hofmann Forest, which has a long connection to NC State’s history. The majority of the land is used to grow loblolly pine that supplies saw and pulp mills in the region, including the New Bern Mill.  Kollman adds, “Learning about the management and harvesting operations of Hofmann Forest instilled a respect for the foresters who provide our raw material and the importance of forestry to North Carolina’s economy.”

When asked how they plan to keep momentum going, a GSA representatives voices, “We have an engaged student body. Students want to participate. With donor and department support, I have no doubt that our program will continue to expand its opportunities and produce effective industry leaders.”