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Arauco Company Visit: Enhancing Student’s Curriculum Comprehension through Industry Exposure

The Sustainable Composites and Biopolymers course, made up of 21 third and fourth-year Sustainable Materials and Technology students, recently had the opportunity to visit Arauco’s MDF (medium density fiberboard) Plant in Moncure, NC earlier this semester. Arauco is a global manufacturer of sustainable forest products, including plywood, particleboard, MDF, and many others. The excursion provided the students with valuable insights into the production of wood-based composites. They had the opportunity to explore the plant’s operations, witnessing the processes involved in turning wood chips into a composite. Kate Macleod, a fourth-year student in the program, recalled the visit: 

“The tour was very beneficial to my understanding. In class, it is easy to memorize the steps of a process, but seeing it in person deepened my understanding of the purpose of each of the steps. I feel confident now that I can explain the process to others!”

Dr. Frederik Laleicke, the professor for this course and an expert in the Sustainable Materials & Technology field, takes his students to visit Arauco’s MDF plant each year. This year, the tours were given by two alumni of the Sustainable Materials and Technology program who now work at Arauco. They walked the students through their large facilities and showed the class how the different manufacturing processes are controlled and flow together. Another student, Bella McInnes–a fourth-year Sustainable Materials and Technology student–said “My favorite part of the tour was the control room. It was interesting to learn how automated the Arauco Moncure plant is and how few people are needed to keep the production line running.”

Sustainable Materials and Technology Students receive a tour at Arauco from program alumni.

The students asked a lot of questions and used the opportunity to improve their understanding of sustainable materials and the technologies within the industry. JT Chappell, a fourth-year student commented:

“I found that the tour helped me grasp a better understanding of the concepts covered in class. It provided me with a clear overview of how the materials we learn about in the Sustainable Materials and Technology curriculum are manufactured, tested/examined, and shipped to the end-use customer. I also have worked with Arauco’s products before and it was nice to learn more about the company and see what goes on behind the scenes.”

Sustainable Materials and Technology Students receiving a tour from program alumni at Arauco.

These testimonials of participating students highlight the enhanced comprehension obtained while touring Arauco’s MDF plant. Ethan Muncy, a fourth-year student, was especially grateful for the visit:

“When you learn about these concepts of manufacturing in class, rarely do you fully grasp the true scale of the operations. Being on site and seeing things first hand really lends to understanding the complexities of what’s going on in a way you just can’t achieve reading it out of a book–in that way, it’s very beneficial”

Beyond the classroom, this visit provided a context for the concepts covered in the course and throughout the Sustainable Materials and Technology program to deepen students’ knowledge of and expose them to their industry. This visit has become a staple activity in the coursework and something the students look forward to each year.

Guest Author: Emily Ramanata