ORONO, Maine -- The University of Maine Pulp and Paper Foundation was incorporated in 1952 by 12 UMaine graduates financially supporting and preparing well-educated engineering students for careers in the pulp and paper and allied industries.
The foundation is supported by annual gifts from more than 70 companies in 50 states, as well as individual gifts from more than 250 alumni and friends.
The Maine Pulp & Paper Foundation currently supports more than 100 engineering and forestry students with merit based scholarships and boasts having the most alumni in the paper industry.
Paperitalo Publications was able to catch up with Chelsea Pelletier, in her third year of a Chemical Engineering degree at the University of Maine, taking this semester off to complete her second term of co-op at Westrock's mill in West Point, Virginia. We asked her a few questions about her experiences at UMaine.
What attracted you to Chemical Engineering and the UMaine PPF?
Throughout high school, I always loved math, science, and problem solving, but I wasn't sure exactly how I wanted that to translate into my future career path. As I learned more about engineering and the pulp and paper industry, I realized that it could be a good fit for me. I really like the variety that engineering offers, even just in the paper industry there are so many different career paths. I know that I will never be stuck in a job where I'm doing the same mundane tasks every day. I love to learn new things so its comforting to know that in this line of work, there will always be new problems to solve and new opportunities to expand my knowledge.
Were you looking into pulp and paper when you were in high school?
I grew up in a small town that only kept afloat because of the local paper mill, so I have been aware of the pulp and paper industry for my entire life, but I never realized the depth and scope of it until high school. Growing up knowing many people who worked at the mill, I only saw it from the perspective of an hourly worker, I was completely oblivious to the engineering and science that went on behind the scenes. In my junior year of high school, I had the opportunity to go on a tour of the local mill and learn more about the engineering side of things, and I was immediately drawn in by the complexity of the process and how much there was to learn. From there, I knew that I wanted to study engineering in college and learn more about the pulp and paper industry.
Tell us about the internships and co-ops you have had.
The summer after my freshman year of college, I had the opportunity to work for Solenis at the paper mill in my hometown. This was a great introduction to the paper industry for me, as I got to get my foot in the door while still being in a familiar place. I wasn't sure how I was going to like working in a mill environment, but I absolutely loved it and was hooked from the first day. Having only completed one year of college, I had a lot to learn, but everyone was so welcoming and willing to lend me their knowledge, so in the end I was pleased with the projects that I was able to complete. I primarily worked with the paper machines and waste water treatment, completing several projects, including optimizing influent water clarification, reducing paper machine entrained air, and updating process diagrams. After completing my second year of college, I packed up and moved to West Point, Virginia to work for WestRock. During my first term of co-op I worked in the paper mill, and though my experience was greatly affected due to COVID, I tried to make the most of my short time in the mill, and learned as much as I possibly could. I was limited to about six weeks of work, with a majority of my time spent working from home. Still, I was able to earn my lean six sigma yellow belt for a paper mill housekeeping project, implemented tools for refiner plate tracking, and completed a steam line insulation audit, among other smaller tasks. Currently, I am completing my second term of co-op at the West Point Mill, this time working in the Power & Recovery Area. This term of co-op has certainly not been "normal" either, but I am loving seeing a different part of the mill rather than just the paper machines, there is so much to learn. I'm currently working on several projects, including standardizing black liquor testing procedures, labeling of various lines around the mill, and implementing a new way for operators to complete their equipment care rounds.
What does this program mean to you?
On the surface, this program has allowed me to learn so many new things and has challenged me academically like never before, but more than that it has given me a new sense of community that I don't think I could have found anywhere else. I have made so many great connections at school and in the industry that I would never have had the chance to make if it were not for this program. Some of these connections will likely last a lifetime and that is something that I will forever be thankful for. Every professor I've ever had, every classmate I've studied with, and every individual that I've worked with has positively impacted my experience in their own way. Additionally, this program has allowed me to get my foot in the door to the pulp and paper industry while still being in school, and I feel lucky that I won't be blindly entering an industry that I don't know much about after I graduate.
Where do you see yourself in five and ten years, and what are your career aspirations?
Truly, I do not know exactly where I see myself in five or even ten years. Generally speaking, short term, my plan is to work as a process engineer in the pulp and paper industry after graduation and see where that takes me. Long term, I just hope to be in a job that allows me to do something different day to day. I hope to work in a role that allows me to use problem solving and critical thinking in order to make an impact on the process and improve the company. I want to be challenged day to day and be able to continually expand my knowledge on the industry. I love the puzzle that is engineering; being able to find all of the pieces and make them fit together is satisfying like nothing else, so I hope I can continue to work on this puzzle for the duration of my career.
What would you recommend to anyone who might be interested in getting into pulp and paper?
I would say that if you are considering getting into pulp and paper but are not sure if it's a correct fit for you, give it a shot and keep an open mind! Before my first internship, I wasn't sure if I could ever see myself working in a paper mill, but I quickly learned to love the fast-paced work environment that brings something new to the table with each day that passes. It's very rewarding work, and I think that everybody should at least consider it.
Please let us know of anything else of interest about your experiences in the program.
One of my favorite things about this program is all of the things I've been able to participate in! I am a member of TAPPI, AIChE, and am involved with the University of Maine Pulp and Paper Foundation, including being a student representative on their executive board. All of these organizations have given me great networking opportunities, and the chance to see and do some really interesting things. Being able to get involved with organizations like these has truly enriched my college experience, and I cannot say enough good things about all of the people I've met along the way. This program has so much to offer besides the basic four-year degree-- it's just up to you to immerse yourself, and I am so glad that I did!!
Please tell us what year you are in the program, your hometown, and anything interesting you might do in your free time.
I am originally from Madawaska, ME--home to Twin Rivers Paper Company. Currently, I am in my third year of a Chemical Engineering degree at the University of Maine, taking this semester off to complete my second term of co-op at WestRock's mill in West Point, Virginia. In my free time, I love to get outside; you can find me skiing or snowshoeing in the winter, and in the summer, I'm usually hiking or hanging out by the nearest body of water!