Aug. 15, 2014 – Students who enroll in the Department of Sustainable Biomaterials’ newly approved packaging systems and design undergraduate degree won’t spend four years just learning to think outside the box — they’ll think about the box itself, as well as the entire packaging system. Upon graduation, these students will have opportunities in the diverse packaging industry, which by some measures is the third largest in the world.
Since 2004, packaging science had been available as an option under the wood science and forest products major. Elevating the option to degree status, which will first be offered in fall 2014, gives added clout to a program that has a long history of collaboration and support from industry.
The program teaches students how to design and manufacture the most economically, structurally, aesthetically, environmentally, and technically sound packaging systems for the goods we use. Virginia Tech is the only institution in the state and one of just a handful in the country to prepare undergraduates with expertise in packaging science and technology.
“The degree in packaging systems and design is crucially important because the growth of major packaging companies across the country depends upon a continuous supply of highly trained young packaging professionals,” said Assistant Professor of Practice Laszlo Horvath.
“The program is unduplicated in Virginia and the surrounding states,” emphasized Professor Robert Bush. “Students put what they learn into practice by using computer-aided design and manufacturing to develop and produce packaging systems to meet market and sustainability criteria.”
The packaging industry needs graduates with expertise in packaging design, marketing, warehousing, distribution, and an understanding of issues involved in the recycling and re-use of packaging materials, all of which are addressed in the program.
“Our system-based study of packaging is unique among U.S. universities,” explained Assistant Professor of Practice Young Kim. “We look at different sectors of the industry, production, and technology involved in packaging.
Packaging professionals are in such demand that 99 percent of students in the program have found a job within weeks of graduation, with salaries averaging from $50,000 to $60,000. Many students secure jobs well before receiving their diplomas.
Students take courses in computer-aided design, material properties, and packaging polymers and processing, among other offerings. The program has a strong focus on hands-on experience, with laboratory time incorporated into most courses. Collaborative team projects are a vital part of learning; small classes allow for extensive interaction among students and with faculty.
The Center for Packaging and Unit Load Design, an industry outreach center, offers students unique learning and research opportunities. The center, located in the Brooks Forest Products Center adjacent to campus, researches the design and performance of packaging systems.
The college’s Center for Packaging and Unit Load Design offers students unique learning and research opportunities. Here, Assistant Professor of Practice Laszlo Horvath (left), who directs the center, and students analyze the forces experienced by a unit load during vibration.
“Through the leadership of the faculty, our packaging program has grown substantially over the last few years,” said Department Head Bob Smith. “Faculty have partnered with industry to develop a challenging curriculum that will prepare students to meet society’s needs for sustainable packaging materials. Our goal is to produce the best students to meet the packaging industry’s needs and reduce our use of natural resources through innovative new products and designs.”
Students benefit from participation in the student chapters of the Institute of Packaging Professionals and TAPPI (Technical Association of the Pulp and Paper Industry), including package design competitions, attending trade shows, and networking with industry professionals. Virginia Tech students have won national awards in design competitions such as the 48-Hour Repack.
“Packaging has its roots in wood-based fiber materials, from pallets used to ship products to corrugated shipping containers and individual product packaging,” noted Dean Paul Winistorfer. “However, we recognize the growing volume of nonrenewable materials and other resources such as water and energy used by the packaging industry. This degree program reflects a significant strategic action by the college to address such challenges facing the planet. Our program will help prepare students to address these issues and advance the science of sustainability, which is the mission of our college.”