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Student Success

Not Your Average Summer: Optimizing Paper Mill Processes

Brianna Ochoa is a senior majoring in paper science and engineering in the Department of Forest Biomaterials at NC State’s College of Natural Resources. This summer, Ochoa is working as an industrial sales intern in the paper division of Nalco Water.

As part of her internship, Ochoa is working at the Savannah River Mill in Georgia. The facility, opened in 1986, houses five of the world’s 12 largest tissue paper machines. We recently spoke with Ochoa about her internship experience and what she’s learned so far. Check it out below.

What kinds of things are doing during your internship?

One of the things I’ve been doing is testing the microbiocide system on all the paper machines as excess bug buildup can cause runnability issues on the machine. Another project I’ve been assigned is running hydrophobicity testing for two of the paper machines to see if there is upcycling of “stickies,” which are small particles of tape and adhesives from recycling paper like office waste in the process/water loop for the machines. 

How did you find out about this internship and why were you interested in it?

I was fortunate to get asked back as an intern from Nalco Water from my previous virtual internship with the company last summer. I was interested in working for Nalco Water again as I was not able to truly understand the job role of a sales rep for a chemical supplier in a paper mill during my virtual internship experience. I had enjoyed my virtual internship last summer and found my projects to be interesting and beneficial, so I wanted to continue to see what working for this company would be like in a more typical setting. 

In what ways did the College of Natural Resources prepare you for this internship?

I have learned many soft skills in handling communication through my experience as an ambassador for the College of Natural Resources. I have been able to understand how to spark conversations with new people and find out how to relate to others to build connections and relationships with them. I have also been able to learn a multitude of information that is directly related to my current job through the hands-on lab classes I have taken during my college experience thus far, especially Dr. [Martin] Hubbe’s wet end and polymer chemistry class.

What are your long-term goals, career plans and how does this internship factor in?

I don’t have any long-term goals or career plans as of yet, except for just keeping myself open to as many opportunities as possible. Although I may not have any set goals or career plans, my current internship allows me to see what a possible career working for a chemical supplier company in the paper industry entails. Having this experience ultimately allows me to get a better insight into what I may or may not want to have as a full-time career once I graduate.

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned while at NC State?

The most important thing I’ve learned while at NC State is to take every small chance to make a connection or meet someone new because you never know what you could learn from them and sometimes the smallest connections can lead to something life-changing, whether it be in your personal or professional lives.