Undergrad Spotlight: Samantha Mendez

For someone about to graduate with an engineering degree, SEFS senior Samantha Mendez got hooked on her program through a surprisingly mundane product: a popcorn bag.

Sam grew up in Sacramento, Calif., until she was 13, when her family moved to Spokane, Wash. That’s where she attended part of middle and high school, and it’s also where she met Tom Wolford, executive director of the Washington Pulp and Paper Foundation (WPPF) at the time.

Tom was giving an info session on the Bioresource Science and Engineering (BSE) program at SEFS, and one of his demonstrations—involving that popcorn bag—struck Sam immediately. Tom spoke about how something as ordinary and overlooked as that bag was the product of a lot of people spending a great deal of time making it perfect. Sam liked the buzz about scholarships and internships and job opportunities, too, but she found the popcorn story particularly entrancing. “That was my first introduction to the industry, and I really liked it,” she says. “It was a turning point for me.”

Sam and her mom at the annual WPPF luncheon, where she was honored with the UW TAPPI Award.

Sam with her mom at the annual WPPF luncheon, where she was honored with the UW TAPPI Award.

Sam graduated high school in the spring of 2011 and enrolled at the University of Washington the next fall. The summer after her freshman year, she decided to take some classes at a community college back in Spokane. She wanted to catch up on a few prerequisites—including linear algebra, differential equations and organic chemistry—and she ended up extending at Spokane Falls Community College for the whole next year before returning to SEFS in 2013.

As soon as Sam settled into the BSE program, everything clicked. She felt at home with the small class sizes and close contact with professors, and she loved knowing all of her classmates by name. She got involved in the UW student chapter of the Technical Association of the Pulp and Paper Industry (TAPPI), including attending the 2015 TAPPI Student Summit in Savannah, Ga., and serving as chapter president this past year. She spent countless hours working with the paper machine in Bloedel Hall, attended PaperCon this past May in Cincinnati, Ohio, and also gained tremendous hands-on experience through several internships.

Her first was a three-month stint with the Ponderay Newsprint Company just north of Spokane in the small town of Usk, Wash. Sam worked as an engineering intern and got to assist with a range of projects, from statistical analysis and validation of testing equipment, to helping reallocate jobs for the workers. Her schedule involved four 10-hour days, Monday through Thursday, while she stayed at her aunt and uncle’s place along the Pend Oreille River. She’d come home after work, go for a run and then jump in the river to cool off. Then on Fridays, she’d head to her parents’ home in Spokane and work about 20 more hours over the weekend at an orchard. “It was really fun, and I learned a lot,” she says.

Sam, at work here in the paper lab, cites the small class sizes and accessibility of professors as huge reasons for her success. “Renata [Bura] is such a mom,” she says. “She’s fantastic.”

Sam, at work here in the paper lab, cites the small class sizes and accessibility of professors as huge reasons for her success. “Renata [Bura] is such a mom,” she says. “She’s fantastic.”

The next summer, she started what would become a 15-month internship with NORPAC in Longview, Wash. Working about 50 hours a week, Sam spent the first nine months on the paper machines, and then six months in the pulp mill.

Now, in a week she will head to Ashdown, Ark., for her third and final internship—this time with Domtar as a process engineering intern. WPPF had invited Domtar to campus earlier this year for an info session, and Sam scored two interviews and then a job offer in the same day.

She thoroughly enjoyed everyone she met with the company, and she’s looking forward to her first experience in the South. She’s also keen to work for a company that’s launching a new fluff pulp machine (used primarily for diapers). “It’s a rare opportunity to get to start up a new machine,” she says. “That’s what I’m most excited about.”

Perhaps the best part about this internship—like the two before it—is that it is fully paid. In fact, between her internships, the Del Rio Environmental Studies Scholarship she won her freshman year, and other WPPF support, Sam has been able to pay for most of her education. That’s a fairly remarkable achievement in today’s college environment, and Sam will head into her Domtar internship for what is essentially an extended interview process, with the potential to stay on permanently.

Before she leaves SEFS for good, though, Sam has one course to complete this fall with Professor Rick Gustafson. But first, she will be walking with the 17 members of her class at this Friday’s graduation as a worthy send-off for so many years of studying and working so closely together. “It’s such a great group of students,” she says, “and I’m proud and excited to be walking with them.”

Photos © SEFS.

Sam (back middle) and some of her BSE classmates.

Sam (back left) and some of her BSE classmates at the WPPF banquet on May 26.

 

New Staff Intro: Kurt Haunreiter

This fall, we were very pleased to welcome Kurt Haunreiter has the new manager of the Paper Science Center in Bloedel B-14! He arrived at the beginning of October, right when classes started, and he’s been scrambling to get the paper lab back in shape. “It’s been kind of a whirlwind,” he says.

2015_11_Kurt HaunreiterHaunreiter, who lives north of Everett, Wash., earned a bachelor’s in chemistry from the University of Washington, and then a master’s from the Georgia Tech Institute of Paper Science and Technology. He started in the industry as an analytical chemist for the James River Corporation in Camas, Wash., and then held positions as a process engineer, tissue operations manager and pulp manufacturing superintendent at Kimberly-Clark in Everett.

A big part of what attracted him to this position was the opportunity to work with students, and this quarter he’s been assisting Professor Anthony Dichiara with BSE 248: Paper Properties. He attends every class, making sure the lab is ready and writing simplified procedures for each instrument the students use for the course.

Fridays are papermaking days, as well, and Haunreiter has been working with a few BSE students to get the paper pilot machine fully operational in time for the senior papermaking class this winter (which will led by Shannon Ewanick and taught jointly with Professor Dichiara). His goal is to have the students more directly engaged in the process, and he’s been writing new procedures so they can eventually operate the paper machine independently.

If you haven’t had a chance to introduce yourself yet, we hope you’ll join us in welcoming Haunreiter to the SEFS community!

Photo of Kurt Haunreiter © Karl Wirsing/SEFS; photo of papermaking © Kurt Haunreiter.

BSE students at work in the paper lab last Friday, November 20.

BSE students at work in the paper lab last Friday, November 20.


New Faculty Intro: Anthony Dichiara

This fall, we were very excited to welcome Professor Anthony Dichiara as a new faculty member with our Bioresource Science and Engineering (BSE) program. Dichiara joins us after two years with the Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, N.Y., where he had been working as a postdoc with Professor Reginald Rogers. He brings an extensive background in materials science and engineering, and his research here will focus on the synthesis of carbon-based nanomaterials from biomass—with applications in multifunctional composites and environmental remediation, including the development of innovative ways to improve the sustainability of the biorefinery process.

“I’ve always been interested in nanomaterials,” says Dichiara, who grew up near Fontainebleau, France, about an hour outside of Paris. “From a very early age, you have those people who are interested in space and everything that’s huge. On the reverse end, I was always into everything that’s small. You look at planets, I look at atoms.”

Dichiara and his wife Emma are living in Bellevue, and they have a little boy, Ayden, who’s 16 months old.

Dichiara and his wife Emma are living in Bellevue with son Ayden, who is 16 months old.

Dichiara earned his bachelor’s and master’s in materials science and engineering, as well as a master’s in optics and nanotechnology, from the University of Technology in Troyes, France. He then earned his Ph.D. in materials science and engineering from École Centrale Paris in 2012.

As part of his master’s double degree program, Dichiara spent about a year on a fellowship doing research in optical applications of nanomaterials in Hsinchu, the Silicon Valley of Taiwan. It was a defining experience personally and professionally, he says, as he met his future wife Emma there and sharpened his career outlook. “When I was doing my research in Taiwan, that’s when I realized I wanted to work with nanomaterials for my career,” he says. “That’s where I decided I wanted to go into academia and have more freedom with my research.”

Dichiara’s research initially focused on synthesizing nanomaterials, which are comprised of incredibly tiny nanoparticles and have broad uses in industries from healthcare to electronics and aerospace. His pioneering work on hybrid structures contributed to record performances in multifunctional polymer composites and water purification.

His overall goals haven’t changed, he says, but at SEFS he’s shifting to a biomass perspective and no longer using synthetic materials. He’ll be starting from nature, trying to create carbon-based nanomaterials that mimic the natural world—and that have powerful applications in the production of biofuels and other bioproducts.

Working with his new BSE colleagues, he’s already collaborating on a project to increase the efficiency of water treatment at biorefineries. That’s one of the main costs of producing biofuels, and Dichiara is looking to improve methods of cleaning toxic pollutants from the water to make the biorefinery process more cost-effective and sustainable. A related project involves working with biomass that comes from waste management, and trying to transform those materials into high-value products to treat water at a biorefinery. It’s using waste from one industry to solve the challenges of another. The result would be a synergistic, highly sustainable waste management system that brings us closer to the long-term goal of a biorefinery that create zero emissions and zero waste.

As he jumps into these projects, Dichiara has been getting settled in his office in Bloedel 288, and his lab refurbishment should be complete by the end of November. He’s hoping to start advertising for grad students this spring, as well, and he already started teaching this quarter with BSE 248: Paper Properties. “It’s pretty exciting to meet the students from UW,” he says. “They are really bright and dynamic.”

It’s wonderful to have Dichiara’s energy and expertise at SEFS, and we hope you’ll join us in welcoming him to our community!

Photo © Anthony Dichiara.

TAPPI Holiday Paper Sale!

Every fall, using the pilot paper machine in Bloedel 014, students in the Bioresource Science and Engineering program roll up their sheaves—sorry, sleeves—to produce a few rolls of handcrafted paper. Organized by the student chapter of the Technical Association of the Pulp and Paper Industry (TAPPI), the annual papermaking fundraiser helps cover student conference fees and support other events.

TAPPI Holiday Paper SaleThe paper itself is 100 percent non-wood—specifically, this year’s is 70 percent Arundo donax and 30 percent wheat straw—and has holiday flourishes in it, such as ferns added to the slurry to provide festive accents when the paper is printed.

You have three options this year:

  • $10 for (3) sheets of 8×11 Holiday Paper, (5) Holiday Cards, and (10) Gift Tags
  • $5 for (5) Holiday Cards
  • $2 for (5) Gift Tags

Members of TAPPI will be selling the paper at the SEFS Holiday Party (Wednesday, December 3, 4-6 p.m., Anderson 207) and the Dead Elk Holiday Party (Friday, December 5, 5:30 p.m., Anderson 207), so make sure to take a look at these terrific gifts!

Student Panel Touts BSE Program

Every fall, students interested in the Bioresource Science and Engineering (BSE) program sign up for a seminar (BSE 150) to give them an overview of the degree. Led by Professor Rick Gustafson, the course provides current and prospective BSE students with an introduction to the science and technology of bioresources, and throughout the quarter various faculty, advisors and guest lecturers cover different dimensions of the program.

The class is generally a mixture of freshman and transfer students, and this past Tuesday, December 3, they got to hear from a panel of six current students who’ve already invested several years in the program.

BSE PanelThe students on the panel—Edward Berg, Ryan Binder, Breanna Huschka, Seth Jorgensen, Andre Smith and Monet Springmeyer—answered questions and talked about their experiences, ranging from the tremendous paid internship opportunities (getting recruited, traveling to positions in other states, hands-on training); setting up study groups and managing the course load; preparing for interviews; whether to opt for minors or a double major; considerations for grad school; and generally how to succeed in the major.

Even as the panel cautioned students to be prepared for some tough courses and serious studying ahead, the biggest takeaway was clear: BSE is worth the effort, as most of the students on the panel already have full-time job offers waiting for them after graduation!

Photo © SEFS.

Undergrad Writing Internship!

Are you itching to interview your classmates and professors, and eager to write about exciting research projects and events here at the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences (SEFS)? Do you love the challenge of exploring and translating complex scientific issues for a general audience, and helping spread the word about all of the incredible work going here with students, staff and faculty? Most importantly, are you keen to sharpen your composition skills and become a better communicator in your personal and professional writing?

We sure hope so, because this fall we’re looking for one (or possibly two) undergraduate writing interns to help our office cover and promote the SEFS community!  

This internship offers quite a bit of flexibility—in terms of hours, workload, issues covered and course credit earned—but there’s one central theme: There will be nothing hands-off about the projects you’ll tackle. You’ll dive right in with pitching, researching, writing and editing several stories, and also have the opportunity to photograph events and activities. Revision and fact-checking will be fundamental aspects of your work, and you’ll earn bylines for everything you produce.

If that strikes you as a fun side project this quarter, then check out the full advertisement below. And if you think you might be interested, please email Karl Wirsing, director of communications for SEFS, to explain your interest—and, if possible, please include one writing sample. 

ESRM/BSE 399: Undergraduate Writing Intern: Autumn 2013

Responsibilities:
* Research and write stories for the “Offshoots” blog and other SEFS publications/media, with potential stories ranging from short news items to longer features, and covering student and faculty profiles, research highlights, seminars, reports from the field, breaking news, etc.;
* Cover SEFS events on campus, such as poster sessions or other student activities, for the blog (including taking photos);
* Provide images and content for SEFS social media, including blogs, Facebook, Flickr and other platforms ;

Desired Qualifications:
* Strong interest in writing and editing, and a desire for more experience in covering scientific topics for a general audience;
* Willingness to edit and be edited;
* Available at least three hours per week;

The purpose of this internship is to gain experience with science writing and help promote the SEFS community. You will report to the Director of Communications, and your hours can be extremely flexible to suit your schedule. The goal is to produce three or more blog posts during the quarter, with special attention on writing and revision, as well as pitching ideas, research, interviewing, editing and fact checking. Upon completion of the internship, you will be required to submit a written report on your experiences and accomplishments.

Course credit is available, and registration for ESRM/BSE 399 requires a faculty code (contact Michelle Trudeau to inquire). This internship is restricted to ESRM and BSE minors and majors, and can also be tailored to satisfy up to 5 credits toward your writing requirement.

Faculty Advisor: SEFS Director Tom DeLuca,

Job Placement Paradise

For college graduates, the triumphant feeling of earning an undergraduate degree doesn’t seem to last too long these days—or at least not nearly long enough. You barely have time to pop the cork and celebrate before the stress of finding a job can turn high fives into handwringing and headaches. Headlines about the job market, after all, have been rather ominous. Hiring is sluggish. Budgets are pinched. Open positions are gobbled up by people with a dozen more years of work experience. In short, unpredictability reigns.

But not all graduates are feeling that sense of dread and uncertainty. In fact, commencement remains a season of opportunity for students earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Bioresource Science and Engineering (BSE) from the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences.

Papermaking Lab

Working in the paper lab at SEFS.

Graduating with a BSE degree has resulted in essentially 100 percent job placement—and with an average salary of roughly $66,000. So basically every BSE graduate who has sought a position in the field has found one. That’s an impressive success rate, and it speaks volumes about the value of the BSE program.

Formerly called Pulp and Paper Technology and then Paper Science and Engineering, BSE was established as an accredited engineering degree program at the University of Washington in 1965. It’s one of only eight programs in the country that offers a concentration involving paper science and bioresource conversion (and the only one west of the Mississippi River). The curriculum is possibly best described as applied chemical engineering with an emphasis on the conversion of forest and bioresources into paper, fuel and chemicals. Students enjoy a wide range of hands-on classes, ranging from actually making paper to producing biofuels, and they often land entry-level positions as process engineers, technical sales engineers, and research or production engineers.

The firms recruiting these graduates represent a wide range of industries, including pulp and paper manufacturers, chemical manufacturers, process and computer control companies, and engineering design companies. They come from communities across the Pacific Northwest and around the country, as well as from international locations.

BSE Students

BSE students work on their formulas for the next paper run.

Since 1968, the nonprofit Washington Pulp and Paper Foundation has worked to connect these firms with highly qualified technical graduates who understand and are dedicated to the industry. Housed within the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences, the Foundation is comprised of member companies, alumni and friends, and its work linking students with potential employers has been highly effective: Of the nearly 500 students who have graduated from the BSE program, about 80 percent have chosen careers in the pulp, paper and allied industries.

Mike Roberts, executive director of WPPF, grew up in Aberdeen, Wash., and graduated from UW. He’s watched the original pulp and paper focus expand and evolve to include biofuels and other applications, but the practical value of the degree has never changed.

“As students and employers have come to realize that our forest and bioresources are truly renewable, the support of our program and the desire to hire our graduates has steadily increased,” says Roberts. “We count on the support of Foundation members, BSE alumni and program friends to continue our scholarship and placement mission.”

For students concerned about what to do after graduation, that kind of job placement success can offer a real opportunity.

Photos © Karl Wirsing/SEFS.

Director’s Message: Summer 2013

Last December, Forbes magazine published an article on the 10 “worst” college degrees, and a sister article on the 15 “most valuable” college degrees. Even though I immediately disagreed with the reduction of “value” to a dollar figure—and noted that “most valuable” is not a direct antonym for “worst”—the message to readers was unmistakable: A college degree is valued by the employment potential and the starting wages for recent grads.

I sighed in relief as I paged through the article and didn’t find natural resource and forest management or environmental science among the ranks of their list. That said, I was surprised and dismayed to see anthropology (the study of humankind) at the top, and subjects like art, philosophy and history also considered “worst” among our college offerings.

Jennifer Perkins

Jennifer Perkins, a 2011 graduate from SEFS, now works at the UW Office of Environmental Stewardship & Sustainability.

Not long after I read the Forbes piece, a similar story on LinkedIn again pinned the value of a college degree squarely on employment and entry pay. Without question, a college education should lead to a marketable skillset and a living wage. But I couldn’t help thinking that lost in these calculations of “value” is that students might not just want to make a living—they might want to love their living.

When I think about our own programs at SEFS, it’s impossible to miss that during the last six years, our Environmental Science and Resources Management (ESRM) major and Bioresource Science and Engineering (BSE) degrees have seen steady growth. For the past few years, moreover, our BSE graduates have had a 100-percent success rate landing jobs as soon as they’re finished with school, and in many cases long before graduation.

Take Megan James, a senior BSE major who is about to graduate this June. She’s been actively involved in papermaking at SEFS, and last summer she completed an internship with Procter & Gamble. That experience led to a job offer to continue on full-time after graduation as a process engineer at a brand-new paper plant in Bear River City, Utah.

Or consider Jennifer Perkins, who graduated as an ESRM major in 2011. Shortly after she finished school, she landed a position just up the road as the program coordinator for the University of Washington Environmental Stewardship & Sustainability Office. She’s loving her job promoting sustainability projects around campus, and she credits much of her enthusiasm and environmental expertise with her time at SEFS.

I also think of Dr. Brian Kertson, a SEFS alumnus who now works with the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife. He came through all levels of our program, earning his B.S. in forest resources (wildlife science) in 2001, then an M.S. and then a Ph.D.—and now he has a dream job working with large carnivores, and especially cougars, in the state.

Megan James

Megan James, left, and other members of the student TAPPI chapter during their annual holiday papermaking project.

The list goes on and on, and the more I think about it, the more I see how flawed the metrics are in the Forbes and LinkedIn stories. Nowhere in these articles or analyses is there consideration of “quality of life,” or deep interest or devotion to the topic or craft that might become the focus of the majority of our waking hours. Reflecting on my own degrees in soil science, I know I didn’t enroll in the major for the employment opportunities or high salary potential. Rather, I pursued the natural resources because of my desire to work on something real and tangible, my love for the outdoors, love of science, my awe at the complexity of ecosystems and particularly soils, and for so many creative possibilities of study and exploration.

Passion will carry you a long way toward success, and that starts, in many cases, with enjoying the job in front of you. So as our undergraduate and graduate students head out into the world, I am confident we have not only improved their employability, but perhaps more important, we have enhanced their environmental and conservation literacy, sharpened their critical thinking skills, and prepared them for a lifetime of growth and career satisfaction. They’ll have to chance to do what they know, and in fields they love. I’m not convinced there’s a more “valuable” outcome you can hope to achieve from an education.

Photo of Jennifer Perkins © Jennifer Perkins; photo of Megan James © Megan James.