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The Pack Always Calls you Back

2010 alumnus, Dr. Brandon Jones shares his experience with returning to the classroom as an instructor this fall to help out the program.  It is sometimes hard to believe that it has been 14 years since I first came to NC State in 2006. I didn’t even know about Paper Science and Engineering then, and I had no idea how much of an impact it would have on my life and my career. My brother, Mitchell Jones, is also a graduate of this program, and part of the reason I stayed to go to graduate school. I will always look back fondly on my years at NC State, the Department of Forest Biomaterials, and the lifelong friends I made there. There is something about this program and department that just keeps calling me back!

Pandemic or not…there’s reasons to celebrate life

Aside from the obvious challenges of managing life in a pandemic, I have many reasons in my life to celebrate. It is my 5-year working anniversary with Novozymes, my 10-year undergraduate graduation from PSE and CHE. My 5-year wedding anniversary, and 10-year dating anniversary with my wife Katherine (sorry I took so long!). Katherine and I also welcomed our first baby girl, Charlotte, who will turn one this December. In these challenging times, I try to focus on the silver-lining that has allowed me to work from home some and spend more time with family.

Rising to the challenge to serve others

Additionally, over the summer, I was offered an exciting opportunity to help my graduate school adviser, Dr. Venditti, by delivering the Process Control course, PSE 475, this Fall. I have always enjoyed teaching others, whether it be in the classroom, in the lab, or in sports. I care about this program, the students of this department and felt like this would be a great test for me, but also a wonderful chance to help out during this crisis.

The semester started with flurries of uncertainty and many discussions about how to safely deliver face-to-face, in-person lectures with surgical masks and plexi-glass shields. Or, as the semester progressed, how to effectively deliver and record online lectures, labs, and problem sessions. Finally, whether classes could be delivered synchronously or asynchronous. A few weeks into the semester we made the shift to full online learning. Now halfway through the semester, I am feeling settled into this new strange normal.

Biltmore Hall still brings a feeling of comfort

Although it is eerie to be on campus in the middle of the semester without students, it has been nice to be back in Biltmore Hall to deliver the online lectures. It has provided some sense of familiarity and a routine for me. The lectures and labs are looking a little different today, as they are all virtual. I am embarrassed it took me a couple of repetitions to get all the in-class teaching technology just right, but thankful for the grace from my students. Biltmore Hall is still very much how I remember it from my undergraduate days. It triggers many happy memories walking by the TAPPI lounge, and seeing my old graduate school desk, and lecturing in main classroom, PPL 2221. I am proud of NC State and the Department of Forest Biomaterials. They have done a great job making me feel safe and welcomed back after my 3-year hiatus. Hand sanitizer at all the entrances. One-way egresses.

PSE Program Develops Leaders

I am thankful for my classmates who made my time at NC State special and continue to be the leaders in this industry. I am really impressed with the current students in PSE. I have only gotten to know them for a short time, but they are so resilient and still performing at a high level. They are adapting well to a very different type of college semester and class environment, but we are all making the best of it together. I know what keeps calling me back… it’s the faculty and staff and students that truly care about each other and cultivating an environment for learning. I am honored to be a part of this PSE family, and Biltmore Hall will always feel like home.

Stay Safe and GO PACK!

By guest blogger Wallace Layman