Three teams named as national competition winners, receive real-world experiences in sustainable packaging solutions

Professional associations offer design challenge, scholarships to help prepare students for careers
Abbey Goers | July 11, 2022

For the second year in a row, UW-Stout teams won first and second place in the annual Flexible Packaging Association Student Design Challenge.

Packaging students worked to find flexible packaging solutions by improving a current package, developing a new package, providing easier options for storage or shipping, reducing waste and creating a better consumer experience.

Student Design Challenge winners are:

  • First, Pistachio Pal Package: Ben Boie, Thorp; Aria Elfering, Kenosha; Payton Klaslo, Gurnee, Ill.; Aaron Kurschner, Sun Prairie; and Connor Walechka, Minnesota City, Minn.
  • Second, Microwavable Ramen Pouch: Ethan Myers, Pleasant Prairie; Riley Runnels, Cushing; Hayden Zachgo, Fort Atkinson; and Hannah Zastrow, Spencer.

Myers, Runnels, Zachgo and Zastrow also received an honorable mention for their “Vetchables” Flexible Veggie Tray.

The first-place team received $1,000, and the second-place team $500. FPA received 39 concept outlines from some of the top packaging programs across the nation.

Finding sustainable snacking solutions

Pistachio Pal Package / Aria Elfering

For the Pistachio Pal Package, Elfering was inspired when snacking on the go. “After cracking open the pistachio, you have nowhere to discard the unwanted shells. I wanted to solve that problem,” she said. 

“We started by brainstorming a list of concepts and narrowed it down to the ones we felt like would have the biggest impact on consumers' lives. We wanted to improve the packaging to make the consumers' experience better,” Elfering said.

After their initial design, the team made a few prototypes, decided what materials and design they liked best and developed a final prototype.  

The Pistachio Pal Package features a divider, separating the pouch into two spaces, creating a convenient space for discarded shells. The package is made of a recyclable linear low-density polyethylene – or LLDPE material – a more sustainable plastic, explained Kirschner in a product video submitted to FPA.

Their graphics are based on current marketing so the product is easily recognizable to consumers. And the dimensions are the same as the current design to add to ease of manufacturing. The package could also be used for other nut products, candy or other small, wrapped food products.

The team that designed the Microwavable Ramen Pouch wanted to find a safer, more convenient, sustainable packaging option. An issue with the current packaging is that it’s not microwavable as it’s packaged in Styrofoam.


Packaging student Ethan Myers
Ethan Myers / UW-Stout

“A lot of our team’s ideas started as unique things we could do with a package, and then we found an item we could put inside to make a coherent idea,” Myers said of the second and honorable mention designs.

The team’s microwavable safe pouch – made of flexible polypropylene – reduces shipping costs and material waste. The bottom of the pouch expands, functioning as a bowl to hold broth. The package can be displayed upright for in-store displays. The team wants to make the pouch fully recyclable, Zachgo explained in the product video.

The Flexible Veggie Tray is a unique take on the typical six-sided sealed package. The tray holds two compartments – a larger space for vegetables and a small central cup for dip, which features an accordion fold to make the cup taller than the package when opened, allowing for more dip to be served. The accordion fold is a first of its kind in vegetable tray packaging, Myers explained.

Both of the team’s packages fold flat for shipping, helping companies financially. They are also more environmentally friendly, and the designs allow for more printing space for marketing.

The FPA believes it is important to encourage students who are working to become the next generation of packaging designers. Its national contest recognizes students for innovative flexible packaging.

A strong, diverse program

Gary Borges, lecturer in the engineering and technology department, incorporated the challenge into the lab for the Consumer Packaging Systems course to encourage team development and ideation skills. They studied design from concept through production, including flexible packaging materials, processes and uses.

Elfering thinks the fact that the top teams were UW-Stout students displays the strength of the packaging program.  

“It felt incredible to be awarded the first-place honors for our design,” she said. “Stout’s packaging program is filled with so many smart and talented students, so I was pleasantly surprised when I found out we won.”


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The amount of diversity within packaging is what interests Elfering the most. “There are always new ideas for designs and materials to improve packaging for items on the market, and new products are being invented every day that need packaging. There’s always something new,” she said.

Myers agreed. He loves the broadness of the packaging field. “You can never really get bored because there is always a new idea, a new company, a new product. And everything needs a package,” he said.

“As cool as it is to have packages I helped create be awarded, I'm more excited that there are three Stout teams being awarded,” Myers added.

Stepping toward a packaging career

Another packaging student was recently awarded by a national organization – Anna Kent received $5,000 for the 2022 Institute of Packaging Professionals’ PepsiCo R&D Scholarship. In 2021, she received the $2,500 IoPP Packaging Education Scholarship.

The fund raises awareness of packaging as a career choice and supports students in the field. It connects scholarship winners with partnering companies to foster industry growth.

Anna Kent received a Co-op Student of the Year award
Anna Kent received a Co-op Student of the Year award / UW-Stout

Kent, of Eau Claire, is honored to receive the scholarship, which will allow her to focus more on coursework and extracurriculars, rather than having a part-time job unrelated to packaging, she said.

“Beyond the financial support, this scholarship represents the hard work I have put into my studies and professional career in packaging thus far,” she said. “IoPP has been extremely supportive of my education.”

Associate Professor Min DeGruson knows Kent is passionate about the packaging industry. “Anna is always anxious to learn more. She is actively involved in the student organization and shows great communication and leadership skills.”

Kent is on the executive board of the UW-Stout Packaging Association, a club that provides students with educational and professional development opportunities. She is a lab assistant in the Packaging Lab, helping students with projects on the Kongsberg digital cutting table and other equipment or offering advice for design competitions.

Kent, who will graduate in May 2023, also received a UW-Stout Outstanding Cooperative Education and Internship Program 2022 Student of the Year Award. She completed her co-op as a packaging engineer intern with Boston Scientific, in Maple Grove, Minn., assisting with the testing and development of medical device packaging.

“I learned about the high regulation and standards within the medical device industry, which are put in place to ensure devices are contained and protected through shipment, storage and use all around the world,” Kent said. “My co-op experience prepared me for my career and allowed me to learn about myself, my field and the company I worked for. It truly gave me a foot in the door towards my professional career.”

The co-op award was given to 21 students. More than 950 students participated in co-ops and internships in the past year through Career Services, which partnered with 635 employer sites in 33 states and four international sites.


Associate Professor Min DeGruson with students in the Packaging Materials course.
Associate Professor Min DeGruson with students in the Packaging Materials course. / UW-Stout

In May, Kent was one of three UW-Stout sponsored student attendees at the inaugural medical device packaging conference, the[PACK]out. Other honorees were Kayla Chamberlain, of Maple Grove, Minn., and Sarah Webber, of Rice Lake.

The three-day conference, held in Austin, Texas, highlighted design, sustainability and usability, developed for and by the medical packaging community.

DeGruson knows the founders of the conference and believes the Medical Packaging course within the packaging program “plays a great role in students’ knowledge of health care packaging and makes our students stand out among others. Company partners of our course were part of the conference. They are very happy and proud to see Stout students attend,” she said.

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. There are more than 28 packaging scholarships available through the University Foundation.


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