For packaging students like University of Wisconsin-Stout’s Anna Kent, attending the recent four-day, international Pack Expo conference in Chicago was a chance to size up their careers.
“A lot of what we saw was new machinery, advanced processing systems and new and innovating packaging forms. It was an extremely valuable learning experience,” said Kent, a senior from Eau Claire who will graduate in May.
Fellow student Greyson Hammer and Kent reaped another reward. They were on teams that took first and third place, winning $1,000 and $250 respectively, during the Amazing Race collegiate competition at Pack Expo.
Twenty-five teams of three to five students, a mix from different universities, worked together to solve various packaging-related challenges at corporate booths around the 1.2-million-square-foot McCormick Place exhibition hall.
“I liked the aspect of being on a team with students from other packaging programs. My team had students from Virginia Tech, Michigan State, Clemson and Cal Poly. Not only was I able to make new friends, I was able to learn what their packaging programs and educations were like,” Kent said.
Exposure to the industry through UW-Stout’s hands-on, lab-based packaging program isn’t new for Kent. She has received two national scholarships from the Institute of Packaging Professionals and numerous other scholarships. She had an internship at Boston Scientific in Maple Grove, Minn., and currently has one at Kimberly Clark in Neenah.
Hammer’s team, which included students from Virginia Tech and Michigan State, was the only one to complete all of its tasks on time.
“The competition itself was interesting because it gave us an opportunity to really work with packaging students from other universities, and I was able to learn more about the machinery and products being sold because the exhibitors who participated allowed us to work machinery and interact with their products,” said Hammer, a senior from Milton.
“Pack Expo gave me an opportunity to see how large of a community the packaging world is and how many different industries there are for jobs,” said Hammer, who had a co-op program experience at Ecolab in the Twin Cities and has another coming up at Boston Scientific.
A total of 32 UW-Stout packaging majors from the student Stout Packaging Association attended. They received financial support from several companies to help pay for travel and lodging. Some students also attended a women’s leadership network event at the expo.
Associate Professor Min DeGruson attended Pack Expo along with colleagues Gary Borges, Robert Meisner and Kate Liu. UW-Stout had a booth at the event. Funding for their travel was paid through Stout University Foundation.
“We made connections with our Stout packaging alumni, other packaging universities and industrial partners,” DeGruson said. “As faculty, we learned what’s new in the industry and how we can bring new technologies or materials back to the classroom.”
Along with students and faculty from 16 universities and colleges attending, the show had nearly 2,200 exhibits and more than 44,000 attendees.
UW-Stout is one of only a few schools in the U.S., and the only school in the UW System, that offers a bachelor’s degree in packaging. Recent graduates, 98% of whom were employed within one year of earning their degree, have an average starting salary of $66,000. There are more than 28 packaging scholarships available through the University Foundation.