Paper Science and Engineering major Lindsay Leonard is currently on an 8-month co-op experience, where she’s worked for two different companies with vastly different experiences. She spent her first three months at a summer internship with EDT as a Field Service Engineering Intern. She then spent her fall semester (the remaining five months) at Kimberly-Clark interning at a converting facility. Back on campus for the Spring, Leonard will stay busy as a Caldwell Fellow Dinner Seminar team member, Technical Association of the Pulp and Paper Industries (TAPPI) Publicity Chair, active member of the Alumni Association Student Ambassador Program and piccolo player in the NC State Pep Band.
Tell us about your hands-on experience.
I am currently on an 8-month work rotation in the paper industry! Over the summer, I had the opportunity to work for EDT in Norcross, GA. EDT was a unique internship experience within my major; it is an enzyme company that supplies green, mill-specific enzyme solutions purely within the pulp and paper industries! As a Field Service Engineering Intern, I spent about half the summer at the global headquarters in Norcross researching up-and-coming technologies and doing pre-work for trials, particularly in enzymatic bleaching.
I also had the opportunity to be a part of two different trial teams. I spent three and a half weeks in the Värmland province of Sweden and four weeks in Tennessee; on these trials, I worked in two bleach plants and on a paper machine! On trial, I performed lots of quality testing, spoke with mill personnel, created and used data analysis files, and gave presentations to help optimize production and add value to the customer. Even though trials consisted of very long days and 24-hour coverage schedules, EDT gave me lots of opportunities to experience the locations I was placed.
I was in Sweden for Midsommar, the famous solstice celebration, and since the mill was shut down for the weekend, I went to my Swedish mentor’s house and celebrated with him and his family. I explored the cities of Karlstad and Stockholm, and I went hiking in the Swedish countryside. I learned common Swedish phrases, tried new foods (Swedish pancakes, pickled herring, spinach soup, and lots of pastries!), and learned how to travel independently. Back in Tennessee, I spent my days off hiking in the nearby mountains with my coworkers and experiencing Appalachian culture.
Working for EDT was a fantastic experience that allowed me to see multiple sides of the paper industry in a high-intensity learning environment. From Norcross, I moved to Beech Island, South Carolina, where I am currently on co-op with Kimberly-Clark. I’m working mainly in a converting facility, where I help lead/work coverage for a multi-million dollar capital project installation, assist on numerous product development and packaging innovation trials, evaluate key parameter testing procedures, and create new operator displays in process softwares. Working permanently in a single mill has been a very different experience than the supplier side work I did over the summer, but I have genuinely enjoyed both opportunities.
How did this experience impact you?
This 8-month period was my first foray into the paper industry, and I think one of the most important takeaways for me was learning that the paper industry is definitely where I want to spend my career! I learned a lot about my major, industry and myself.
Aside from the knowledge and work experience gained, I think the most impactful part of this overall sabbatical in industry was my trip to Sweden. This was my first overseas experience and my first trial with EDT, and it was fascinating and humbling to travel to a place where I knew no one, didn’t speak the language, and felt wholly unprepared to contribute to my trial team. I learned a lot from the people I met in Sweden, and I gained self-confidence both in my ability to travel and adapt to different situations in my life and in my ability to add value on my trial team and convert my academic knowledge to working industry knowledge. Throughout my entire experience, I have had to solve problems on the fly, try new things, adapt to quickly-changing situations, and go outside of my comfort zone. I think these experiences have made me a more confident engineer and human being who will be more capable of adding value in my future work and life experiences!
What did you learn about yourself?
I learned that I want to remain in the pulp and paper industry for my career, that I enjoy travelling, and that I am capable of adding value in an engineering position. I also learned that I’m capable of solving problems, giving presentations and living on my own.
How has this opportunity prepared you for your future career?
I had the opportunity to work for a supplier and an actual paper company in adjacent time periods, so I can compare and contrast those experiences to help me decide what I want to do with my career. I think the knowledge and hands-on work I have gained will allow me to be a better future employee regardless of whether I decide to work permanently in a mill, work on the supplier side, or work in a more corporate environment.
How did this opportunity enhance your experience as a College of Natural Resources student?
I had always heard that two important tenets of a collegiate experience were industry experience and travelling abroad, and I had the opportunity to do both in a singular experience. I can now fully vouch for the importance of going abroad and gaining work experience; I believe that experiencing the world outside of our campus and even our country is a formative experience. I gained a global and professional perspective on my major that will definitely change for the better how I view and pursue my education when I return to school.
Why was participating in this experience important to you?
Due to personal circumstances my freshman year, I did not have an industry experience that summer. I ended up having a wonderful research experience at Georgia Tech, but I felt like I was falling behind my peers and I feared that I was pursuing a degree in a field I wouldn’t actually enjoy working in. With both my experience at EDT and my experience at Kimberly-Clark, I have found that I love the paper industry and the work associated with it.
What did you enjoy most about your experience?
I loved working in the mill quality lab in Sweden; the permanent lab tech did not speak English but the mill had an intern from Gothenburg who spoke Swedish and some English and could translate between us. Even though we could not easily communicate, we found common ground in listening to music and sitting down to the traditional Swedish fika (cake and coffee break) together each morning. In that lab, I also had the chance to work with a Swedish man named Stefan, who challenged me to question everything, design my own experiments to answer my questions, and supported my decisions so I could learn from my mistakes.
What did you find most challenging?
I think the biggest challenge for me was overcoming my fear of not being “good enough” for my positions and getting out of my comfort zone. Since I had no industry experience going into my job at EDT, I felt like I was quickly going to be left behind since I was working with three other students who all had more education or industry experience than I did. For the weeks leading up to my start date, I was anxious about being a “wasted hire,” and being in way too far over my head. However, once I got over that fear and got in the swing of things at my job, I had a successful and fulfilling work experience!
Would you recommend this experience to other students?
Having industry experience only helps when it comes time to decide what you actually want to do with your career. It’s a really cool experience to see the things you learn in school unfold in real life. I would also highly recommend EDT and Kimberly-Clark as great companies to work for; I really enjoyed the level of independence and responsibility I was given, the different projects I was given to work on, and the company culture at both places!
Have you completed any other hands-on experiences?
During Summer 2016, I participated in a REU program at Georgia Tech through the Center for Bio-mediated and Bio-inspired Geotechnics! I researched methodologies to chemically and geometrically quantify natural systems for use in civil engineering applications, presented at a National Science Foundation (NSF) conference, and published my work in a research paper. I learned about research methods, environmental engineering and hazard mitigation. My work will hopefully be used in the future in combination with other sustainable methods to help avoid geotechnical catastrophes like soil liquefaction and erosion.
What do you enjoy most about being a College of Natural Resources student?
I love the family atmosphere that CNR provides! My advisors, professors, and peers are always ready to help me in any way at all, and I always feel inspired to be a better engineer and a better human being.