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WestRock Endows Graduate Award in Honor of Peter Hart

A Renaissance man. A passionate innovator. A kind and caring teacher. One-of-a-kind. Peter Hart, an adjunct associate professor of forest biomaterials at NC State for the last two decades, would never describe himself this way. But his colleagues and those who have endowed a scholarship in his name do – without hesitation.

WestRock, the second largest corrugated packing company in the United States, recently pledged up to $50,000 in matching funds to help establish a new scholarship endowment for graduate students studying paper science and engineering in the Department of Forest Biomaterials.

The Dr. Peter W. Hart Graduate Student Award honors his exceptional contributions to the industry in 30 years with WestRock – most recently as senior director of research – and his work with NC State’s students. The scholarship will give graduate students the finances to attend industry conferences that are otherwise too costly for a student’s budget. 

“Peter is truly a renaissance man — a rare combination of incredible acumen, a bright, incisive wit. And he’s so human. A very caring and compassionate man,” said Lucian Lucia, a professor of forest biomaterials and chemistry at NC State.

“He is that rare type of person who excels in industry but also fits in well in the academic world. He loves his students and has helped shepherd them and connected them with people in the industry. He embodies a real humanity,” Lucia added.

(L-R) Dean Myron Floyd and Lucian Lucia present the Dr. Peter W. Hart Graduate Award to WestRock’s Fritz Paulsen.

WestRock did not hesitate to support the idea of matching funds for a scholarship honoring someone who truly has changed the industry, said Fritz Paulsen, the company’s senior director of research and development. The two have been friends for nearly 30 years.

“At the end of the day, this is all about the students,” Paulsen said. “Peter had a very specific directive as we put this together: that this would be used to basically cover graduate student travel to promote their ability to attend conferences, like those provided by TAPPI (Technical Association of the Pulp and Paper Industry). He wanted this to help promote their participation within the industry early on in their career.”

Paulsen said his friend is an intellectual who has changed the way the industry does business, especially in the areas of pulping and bleaching. He literally has written the book – and dozens of papers – setting new industry standards. 

“Peter has had a huge impact. Not only in his ability to cross the aisle from industry to academia, but one of the many areas I remember well that not only had significant impact to the industry, but to me as a young graduate student starting my career was the opportunity to work and learn with Peter during the implementation of ECF (elemental chlorine free) bleaching in the late nineties,” Paulsen said.

He added, “Peter showed me and the world that three-stage ECF bleaching was the future. Seems commonplace now, but then the industry did not know where bleaching was going. Thirty years later Peter is still having that impact on the graduate students of today. His work in the backend of the mill and in his textbooks will be his legacy. Peter is not only a strong contributor, mentor, researcher and teacher, but I am also proud to call him my friend.”

The Department of Forest Biomaterials has selected Gavin Gaynor as the inaugural recipient of the Dr. Peter W. Hart Graduate Student Award. Gaynor, who is originally from Ohio, is expected to graduate with a doctoral degree in forest biomaterials in 2025. He previously graduated with a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in chemical engineering from NC State in 2020 and 2021, respectively. The scholarship will allow Gaynor to present a poster and “flash talk” session on his work at the Frontiers in Biorefining conference this fall.

This article was written by Beth Grace for the College of Natural Resources.