Alumni Spotlight: Mary Elliston ’05

Elliston family

By Manon Macallister

Mary (Johnson) Elliston graduated from NC State in 2005 with a degree in Paper Science and Engineering.  She currently works as an HR Business Partner at Sonoco Products in Hartsville, SC.  We recently reached out to Mary to find out about her experiences here at NC State, her current career, and advice for current students.

Experience at NC State

  •  Internship/co-op experience: One co-op and three internships with Sonoco Products Company at four different locations.
  • Favorite class: The Senior Papermaking lab taught by Dr. Heitmann where we would run the pilot paper machine. It was awesome to be able to produce paper from pulping to the finished product, and to be able to brag to my friends “look what I made in class!
  • Best memory at State – I played intramural flag football with the Papermakers (the student TAPPI team) during my freshman year. We were the runner-ups for the intramural flag football championship at NC State that season, but the first place team wasn’t able to attend the national intramural flag football championship game in New Orleans so our team got to go and represent the Wolfpack. We took a road trip to New Orleans and unfortunately lost in the first round of the national championship, but we still had a great time!
  • Worst memory at State: I was sitting in Economics 201 my freshman year when someone came in the class and told us that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. After class we all went to Talley Student Center to watch the news (this was pre-smartphone era!) and we saw one of the Trade Center towers collapsing. I remember this horrible feeling thinking about how many people must have been in the building, and having that horrible feeling over and over as details of the tragedy continued to unfold.
  • Clubs/Hobbies: I was very active in the student TAPPI chapter (was president my senior year), played intramural flag football, was a College of Natural Resources Ambassador, was a Work Study Student for the PSE program and waitressed at Applebee’s on Gorman Street.  I was also an avid tailgater for football games and learned how to fry a mean turkey!
  • Favorite part of PSE program – I really enjoyed the close-knit community that makes up the PSE program. I felt like everyone in the department was genuinely invested in the success of every student and I left with not only a great education, but also lifelong mentors and friends.
  • Most important thing PSE taught me – To be a logical thinker! I really learned how valuable it is to step through problems in a logical way and use data to help drive the next decision. This has been such a valuable skill to apply during my career.

Current Career Information

  • Company/job position: I work for Sonoco Products Company where I’m the Human Resources Business Partner for the Corporate Staff groups.  I’ve been in my current role since July 2019, prior to that I spent 4 years as the Human Resources Manager for Sonoco’s Hartsville, SC manufacturing complex.  Before transitioning into HR I was the Production Superintendent at Sonoco’s recycled paperboard mill in Holyoke, MA.
  • Years at current job: I have worked for Sonoco for nearly 15 years. I’ve been in my current role for four months. Prior to that I was HR Manager for 4 years, Production Superintendent for 6 years, and Process Engineer for 4 years.
  • Favorite part of the job: The fact that I have never had a boring day at work!  When I was in operations I loved the challenge of keeping multiple processes and people safely working together to run the paper machine.  Now that I’m in HR I don’t have as many process challenges but more people challenges – which are just as rewarding.  The best part is seeing someone that I coach/mentor be able to grow and develop in their career.
  • Biggest accomplishment in career: When I was the Production Superintendent at the Holyoke paper mill we broke two significant mill records. One was the record for the most consecutive days without an injury, and the other was the record for the most consecutive days without a sheet break. I was so proud to be part of a team that recognized the importance of both safety and production, and demonstrated it through high performance.

Advice for Current Students

  • When you’re making your employment decisions, take time to research the culture of a company to see if it will be a good fit for you. I know it’s easy to focus on the paycheck as the most important factor; but you will find it’s easy to be passionate about your job if you fit well with the culture of a company and that can be equally rewarding!

Personal Information

  • I’m from King William, Virginia and learned about the PSE program through a high school event held at the WestRock mill in West Point.  I’ve been married for 10 wonderful years to my husband Ronaldo.  We have three kids, Lizzy is 8 and twins Mia and Mason are 3.  We moved to Hartsville, SC four years ago from Springfield, MA and really enjoy the slower pace of life that comes with living in a small town.
  • Hobbies/Interests: Trying to keep up with my kids is my main hobby!  We enjoy riding our bikes, swimming and anything outdoors.  Lizzy likes to watch NC State football games with me so she can keep up with the antics of Mr. and Mrs. Wuf.  We also enjoy taking family trips including traveling to Jamaica every other year to visit my husband’s family there.  I represent Sonoco on NCSU’s Pulp and Paper Advisory Board where I’ll be serving as Vice President of the Broad for the next two years and I serve as Vice-Chair of the Scholarship Committee.