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Catching up with UWSP Paper Science and Engineering Senior Katie Ebelt

Katie Ebelt

STEVENS POINT, Wisconsin -- The University of Wisconsin Stevens Point Paper Science Foundation was organized in 1974 by the Paper Science Department Staff, along with industrial and business leaders.

The foundation's annual meeting will be held Sept. 18.

The University of Wisconsin Stevens Point's Paper Science and Engineering program is committed to preparing students for successful technical careers in the pulp, paper and allied industries. This mission is accomplished by promoting excellence in instruction, undergraduate research opportunities, industrial internships, and involvement in professional organizations.

Paperitalo Publications was able to catch up with Katie Ebelt, a senior in the program. Miss Elbelt is from Manitowoc, Wisconsin, and we asked her a few questions about her experiences at UWSP.

Paperitalo: What attracted you to the Paper Science and Engineering program?

Elbelt: What attracted me to paper science as a field of study was the integration of math, chemistry, critical thinking, and the challenge of learning different types of processes. I toured the pilot paper machine on campus with Dr. (Karyn) Biasca during my senior year of high school and it was like nothing I'd ever seen as I'd never really even heard about paper machines before. The newness of the industry to me as well as learning how it involved all my favorite subjects from high school made me excited to try it out. Beyond that, what made the program at UWSP stand out was the friendliness of the staff, small class sizes, and the 100% job placement right out of college.

Paperitalo: Were you looking into pulp and paper when you were in high school?

Elbelt: No. It wasn't until I was actively looking into colleges my senior year that I heard about the paper science and engineering program at UWSP. For most of high school I didn't think I'd head down the engineering path. I wanted to be everything from an elementary school teacher to a neurosurgeon to an actuary. However, for the majority of my senior year of high school I knew I wanted to go into engineering, particularly chemical engineering after I had taken AP Chemistry and fell in love with the challenge. However, since UWSP didn't have chemical engineering at that time I never thought to look there for related majors. My older brother went to UWSP and I loved the campus which is how I eventually ended up looking at possible majors there in my college search.

Paperitalo: Tell us about the internships and co-ops you have had.

Elbelt: The summer after my freshman year I worked on the campus pilot paper machine with WIST, the Wisconsin Institute of Sustainable Technology, and continued to work with them for the rest of college as a student lab assistant. Then I did a technical co-op with Little Rapids paper mill for eight months halfway through my sophomore year. I also worked for Little Rapids over winter, as well as, an additional semester on days that I didn't have classes. And currently I am a process engineering intern for Sustana - Fox River Fiber facility; this is my second summer with them.

When I started my co-op at Little Rapids I was both excited and nervous because I had never been to a paper mill, but I was quickly acclimated and loved every minute of it. Getting into the mill when you're a sophomore is a great idea that the program has because the experiences you have, the concepts, and hands-on things you learn help you better understand the course material later on in college. Some of the experiences I had on my co-op involved leading my own project and taking initiative in figuring out the cause of a quality problem and how to reject less paper. I got experience with holding meetings with several managers and writing reports. I was given the opportunity to work with suppliers on quality issues and visit customers to see how the final products are made from the paper. In addition, I learned the papermaking process in great detail from all the machine superintendents and learned how to do many different paper properties tests in the lab. They gave me responsibilities that made me feel like I was able to make an impact with my work, which I think is incredible for underclassmen to be able to experience early on so they feel prepared for industry when graduation comes around. The last two summers at Fox River Fiber have also been an amazing experience. Unlike Little Rapids, which is a specialty paper mill, Fox River Fiber is a deink pulp mill for recycled paper. Here I have gained a lot of hands-on experience with the process and optimization of chemicals and efficiencies. It is interesting being able to use courses from college like fluid mechanics, mass balance, and wood and pulping technology in an actual mill. One of the best parts of internships is being able to see your work put to use by the company. During both of my experiences in the mills I was able to help save the company real money, which is enough I think to get any student excited about engineering. Besides process experience, I also worked a lot with and learned a lot about Excel at both of the mills. Excel is such a powerful tool and the knowledge I've gained about it during my projects I know will be very useful in my future.

Paperitalo: What does this program mean to you?

Elbelt: To me, the paper science and engineering program at UWSP means a bright future, wholesome work ethic, teamwork, and a great education that will prepare any dedicated student for a great career in the pulp and paper industry or related fields. Throughout my time in this program I have gained self-confidence, networking and communication skills, mill and lab experience, and life-long relationships with my classmates and industry members that I've met along the way through our three student organizations, conferences, and banquets. Going to UWSP for paper science and engineering is one of the best decisions I have made for myself. The program, along with all the great professors and lab employees, has helped me grow into someone I'm proud to be.

Paperitalo: Where do you see yourself in five and ten years, and what are your career aspirations?

Elbelt: In five years I hope to see myself in a process engineering role at a pulp or paper mill. I'd like to stay technical instead of going into only management, although ultimate career aspirations would probably involve a combination of both, such as a machine superintendent or production manager. I am also interested in research and development and would love to work on product development for either paper used in the medical field or in developing countries as inexpensive alternatives to other materials. In addition, I aspire to work towards replacing more plastic products with paper.

Paperitalo: What would you recommend to anyone who might be interested in getting into pulp and paper?

Elbelt: I would highly recommend studying paper science and engineering at UWSP and/or pursuing a career in the pulp and paper industry. If you are interested in studying paper science, I know one thing that helped me to decide paper was a good fit was to tour the pilot paper machine at UWSP and meet with the professors to talk about what is all involved with the paper industry. If you don't know much about the paper industry I would highly suggest looking into it further if math and chemistry are things that you are interested in. It's truly a unique process and there is something new to learn every day; I've even had several bosses tell me the exact same thing. Aside from there always being something new to learn, there are also so many parts to the process and sectors of the industry that you can move around from different positions and find new interests. There's virgin pulp, recycled pulp, fine paper, tissue, specialty, corrugated, product development, sales, chemical, water treatment, and many more.

And for students who do attend UWSP, doing a full eight or nine month co-op is something I strongly recommend. The length of time allows you to be fully immersed in the papermaking process and get the experience you need to help you in your future classes.

I would recommend attending conferences, outings, and banquets when possible to meet industry professionals and learn from them what your future holds. I've networked with many people and hearing about their positivity and faith in papermaking makes me excited to reach high and achieve my goals.

Paperitalo: Please let us know of anything else of interest about your experiences in the program.

Elbelt: Besides the course load, our program offers opportunities to be members of three engineering related student organizations: TAPPI, AIChE, and SWE. We do a lot of team-building, networking, national conferences, golf outings, engineering challenges, paper mill tours, guest speakers, fundraising, picnics, etc. I am currently the senior treasurer for the organization and we have typically five to ten officers which gives students opportunity to be a leader and be involved. AIChE is the American Institute of Chemical Engineers. We have had this organization on campus for a couple years now and some activities involve chemical plant tours, ChemE car team, and guest speakers. This is a great club for paper science students to be involved with because the parent organization offers free memberships and online trainings that can be useful in our future careers, and also since chemicals are heavily involved with papermaking the topics that are covered are interesting and relatable. Our last and newest organization is SWE which is the Society of Women Engineers, which I am currently the president of. A small group of the girls in the program started this organization last year and it is growing. It is unique from the other two in that it not only supports engineering but it also encourages more women to become involved in engineering. Some of the things we have done so far are go to regional conferences, host dinners with industry professionals, and make paper crafts to get our name out there and decorate the classrooms. Being involved in the student organizations has been a truly fulfilling experience because you really get exposure to the industry, in the form of tours, speakers and networking and learning at conferences and career fairs. I would highly recommend any and all students to be involved in these organizations to get the most out of their time in the paper science program. Being an officer in these clubs has also given me responsibility and taught me how to work with money and organize events.

Lastly, one of my favorite things about the program is that the school has a pilot paper machine and both a wet lab and paper properties testing lab. The hands-on labs are not only exceedingly educational but they are also fun and teach you how to work in teams. They teach you right away as freshman how to work as teams and create lab reports as a group. This helps the students work with everyone's strengths and weaknesses to obtain an end goal that is better than one person could do alone. And if you really enjoy working on the machine and in the lab, WIST (Wisconsin Institute for Sustainable Technology) sometimes hires students to do that and more. Doing the dirty work on the machine is one of the best learning experiences for how the pilot paper machine functions.

About Katie Elbelt...

I am from Manitowoc, WI where I have lived my whole life. I went to Roncalli High School and was involved in music, dance, church, volunteering, and girl scouts. I was a clarinetist and played in several bands including the high school state honors band. I also did competitions and auditions which helped me grow as a dedicated musician. I was principle clarinetist my freshmen year of college as well and was sad that I had to give that up due to schedule conflictions. I also play the piano however, and it is one of my favorite hobbies. Another one of my hobbies is dance. I was on the dance team in high school all four years and head captain my last two years. Dancing was one of my greatest passions in high school, it helped me grow as a person in so many ways. I gain self-confidence from the performances and competitions, learned how to work as a team with my teammates, and also learned responsibility for a group of people. It was truly a great experience.

Currently I am a fifth year senior at UWSP and it is my last year. School keeps me very busy so I do not have time to be on the college dance team or in band. However, I still play piano and dance for fun any chance I get. With being in an engineering program and being so immersed in studying, math, and technical information, music and dance are a great emotional outlet for me to escape and rejuvenate. Some other things I am involved with at UWSP include four clubs: SWE, TAPPI, AIChE, and Pointers for Life. I am an officer in the first two clubs so I spend a lot of time organizing things for them. In Pointers for Life (pro-life club) I attend conferences and group get-togethers, as well as do volunteer work such as 40 days for life. My roommate is an art student and we go to art events and performances for fun such as Arts Bash, plays, and gallery events.



 


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