Interview between NJPEC Vice President, Kristyn Shaner and 2020 Rutgers Graduate and NJPEC Scholarship winner Laura Kershaw.
KS: Introduce yourself. Where do you go to school? What was your major? What are you doing now?
LK: My name is Laura Kershaw and I’m a recent grad from Rutgers University in the Class of 2020. I double majored in Applied Sciences in Packaging Engineering & Psychology. I currently work at Plastipak Packaging in Michigan as Quality Analyst.
KS: How did you first hear about NJPEC and our scholarships opportunities?
LK: There was a pretty constant awareness of NJPEC from freshmen year when the packaging department head spoke to the honors program about scholarship opportunities should we choose packaging. I already knew I wanted to be a packaging engineer at that point, but it gave me a quick avenue to get involved. I also had the opportunity to attend the Scholarship Banquet held with NJPEC every year. I guess you could say NJPEC was always present for me; I’ve had pretty consistent interaction with you guys through various events at Rutgers.
KS: Can you tell us about the time in your life when you realized you wanted to be in packaging?
LK: The first time I became aware of packaging was through my aunt talking about her job at Johnson & Johnson. She graduated from Rutgers in the late 80’s in the packaging program and my cousin also recently graduated from RIT with a packaging degree. However, I’ve always been interested in consumer products and behavioral psychology, which I think packaging design has clear connections to. I also worked as a pharmacy technician during high school and my first year of college. During that time, I remember being fascinated by the standard pill bottle caps. They’re just really simply designed to have child lock on one side and you can flip them for easy open for seniors, which I thought was really cool. That was the first time I saw the value packaging can add to a product.
KS: What courses at Rutgers were your favorite? And what course(s) best prepared you for your current role?
LK: Wow, I took so many. I’d actually have to say my favorite course was through the future leaders program at Rutgers, when I started my MBA during my last year of undergrad. I took a marketing management course, and it was really project-based, so I could use my existing knowledge of consumer products and packaging while applying marketing concepts. It helped me see the links between marketing and packaging that I think is a little bit neglected by the current curriculum. I’m still working on completing my MBA with a concentration in marketing.
In terms of my job now, I’d definitely say either lab or manufacturing courses prepared me the best in terms of hands-on applications, particularly regarding technical knowledge and testing skills.
KS: Covid has been a challenging time for everyone. Tell us a little how your company adapted during this time?
LK: Plastipak is currently hybrid right now. I work from home, but in my role, I do need to go into the office when we have too many testing hours and the technicians cannot complete all the projects alone. I also spend some time at the manufacturing facilities when they need help. I feel they are going to try to go back to normal soon, but it probably will not be very successful with the new flexibility people have gotten used to.
KS: What do you think will be the most important aspect of packaging to consider as we start coming out of COVID? How do you think packaging has / will change as the world transitions?
LK: Probably the continuation of more tamper evidence in packaging. Consumer cleaning will also see a big boost from an economics perspective. I also think more people might start caring more about sustainability due to the sheer amount of “single use” packaging that’s been consumed over the past year. Kind of like a counterrevolution in that area.
KS: Now that you are on the other side…do you have any advice to students currently studying Package Engineering?
LK: Take advantage of all the opportunities you have and just apply to everything. You have no idea if you will get it or not. I also think schools don’t teach enough soft skills. Students need to know they can negotiate their initial offers. There is nothing wrong with asking for more vacation or a starting/relocation bonus. As long as you are respectful and reasonable in your asks, the worst that happens is they say no.
KS: Anything additional you would like to add?
KL: Remember that your first job does not have to be the perfect job. It is about building for your “dream job” later on. A lot of students coming out of school have unrealistic expectations of what they will be doing following graduation and I’ve seen a lot of my friends struggle with doubt in the workforce, but you need to build a solid foundation in order to get a great opportunity.