KALAMAZOO, Michigan -- The Western Michigan University Paper Technology Foundation is a 501(c)(3) corporation founded by industry leaders in 1958.
The mission of the corporation has been and continues to be to support the Department of Chemical and Paper Engineering at Western Michigan University. The Paper Technology Foundation's primary roles have been to recruit students for the paper and allied industries and support those students with competitive scholarships. In the last 10 years, the foundation has awarded more than $2 million in scholarships.
Paperitalo Publications was able to catch up with Elisha Ewing, who is in her third year in the program. We asked her a few questions about her experiences at Western Michigan.
What attracted you to the Department of Chemical and Paper Engineering program?
When I came to WMU, I knew I wanted to go into engineering, but didn't know which area to study. After looking into each of the departments, I came to realize chemical engineering was the area of study that best aligned with my interests and skills. As I was learning about chemical engineering, I made many friends who were studying paper engineering. I saw the professional development and network opportunities the paper program offered along with the active social environment and knew that it was a program I wanted to be a part of!
Were you looking into pulp and paper when you were in high school?
I knew nothing about the pulp and paper industry coming out of high school! The first time I heard of it was during my first semester at WMU.
Tell us about the internships and/or co-ops you have had.
I have had two internships so far! After my first year, I worked with Graphic Packaging International at their Battle Creek mill where I was able to learn what the daily life of a process engineer looked like. This experience taught me the importance of standard work and event documentation. It gave me a great introduction to the paper industry and a very holistic view of the process. I was fortunate to build upon this introduction during my second internship following my second year at WMU where I worked with WestRock in Battle Creek right down the street. This experience taught me more about capital project work and what goes into the process of making large changes at a paper mill. I was able to be a part of these projects along with smaller projects that looked towards optimizing daily operations at the mill. Through both experiences, I learned what life is like in the industry and was able to be integrated into the daily process to gain hands on experience in process engineering. I am headed to Evadale, Texas this summer with WestRock for my third internship and excited for another summer of learning!
What does this program mean to you?
The paper engineering program at WMU has played a huge role in my college career so far. Through the program, I have been able to make valuable contacts in the industry and learn the importance of networking (and how much fun it can be!) I also attribute my industry experiences to this program. Without its dedication to developing students both personally and professionally, I don't think I would have gotten the opportunities I have in my first 3 years at WMU. Another example of these opportunities is the leadership development I've experienced. This year was my second year on the paper engineering student organization's executive board. In this experience, I have learned so much about myself, my peers, and have developed a passion for creating opportunities for people to get involved in the industry and learn as much as they can before entering the workforce full time.
Where do you see yourself in five to 10 years, and what are your career aspirations?
Looking towards the future, I am excited to graduate and become a full-time process engineer in 2 years. I currently plan to spend at least a few years as a process engineer, learning the specific process for the mill that I'm working at. In both five and ten years, I hope that I'm contributing to continuous improvement efforts regardless of my position at the company. I think the process of working with people to figure out the best practices for a specific process is very interesting. It's an aspect of the industry that will always be relevant because there will always be growth to achieve and more perspectives to understand.
What would you recommend to anyone who might be interested in getting into pulp and paper?
To anyone interested in the pulp and paper industry, I would recommend getting involved as soon as possible. It's really easy to make connections quickly and make a name for yourself in this industry and the best part is that you get to decide what that looks like. By being involved, connecting with people, and showing everyone that you're ready to learn, you will find huge amounts of support and resources to help you become a valuable contributor to the industry.
Please let us know of anything else of interest about your experiences in the program.
I think my experience in the paper engineering program has been set apart by the massive amounts of support I've found from the people involved. The paper engineering staff and students have always been ready and willing to provide advice, perspective, and insight no matter what I'm working on from resume development to choosing my summer internship. In the people involved in this program, there is a huge database of experience and information about the industry that is so easy to tap into!
Please tell us what year you are in the program, your hometown, and anything interesting you might do in your free time.
I joined the paper engineering program after my first semester at WMU so this is my third year and fifth semester in the program.
I grew up in Royal Oak, MI on the east side of the state in metro-Detroit.
Outside of school, my interests meet in a desire to grow in service to others along with development of my own leadership and mentorship skills. I am highly involved with the student government at WMU (Western Student Association) and currently serve as their Chief of Staff. In this position, I get to directly oversee 7 student leaders who work with students and administrators daily to better student life at WMU and advocate for student voices all over campus. I am also a student leader with Cru Campus Ministries and lead a small group Bible Study for first-year students living in the Western Heights. I have loved this experience this year and am looking forward to continuing this mentorship to students exploring their relationships with God! Finally, I serve as the paper engineering student organization, Ts'ai Lun's, Secretary. In this position, I get to contribute to planning meetings, employer nights, and social events for the paper engineering students at WMU!