A senior in Rutgers University’s packaging engineering program, Damen Soriente was selected as a Rising Star in Packaging by the school. You’ll know why after reading what he has to say about his experiences both within the program and without.
To say that Damen Soriente is used to being involved and part of the action is an understatement. It started with his upbringing where he was one of six children before his mom adopted five more. Now a senior at Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, Soriente is working towards a major in packaging balanced with extracurricular activities that include many intramural sports at Rutgers. He is also a member of the West Caldwell (NJ) Fire Department. Soriente takes a short breather to bring us up to speed on where he’s been, where he’s at and what’s next.
However, before you learn more about Soriente, you should know that Rutgers University itself has quite a storied path in packaging, starting with the fact that it became the first university to offer packaging within the School of Engineering back in 1965. You’ll find a link to the university’s extensive packaging engineering program at the end of this article.
Tell us how you ended up at Rutgers and what your coursework involves.
Soriente: Growing up in New Jersey I had always seen Rutgers as the big school in the state. My grandfather was an engineer so I knew that I wanted to take some form of engineering. I also knew that Rutgers had a large engineering program that would offer me a huge selection of resources toward making a career. After weighing my options, I had concluded that it was overall the best choice for me.
The packaging-related coursework at Rutgers University involves the entire spectrum of the packaging field. I have taken classes that involve the more creative aspects of packaging design as well as classes that deal with the machining and processing of packaging. The department also offers courses that cover packaging materials, pharmaceutical and cosmetic packaging, computer aided design, prototyping, and package testing.
When did you first realize you wanted to get into packaging?
Soriente: The first experience I ever had in packaging was in high school. I worked on a project that dealt with decreasing the amount of PET used in water bottles and how that affected the environment.
During an engineering orientation class my freshman year, the director of packaging gave a presentation on the packaging industry. I had a meeting with the director after the lecture and was really turned onto the idea of packaging. After researching the field of packaging, I switched from civil engineering to packaging engineering.
What required and elective courses have been the most valuable?
Soriente: The required course that was the most valuable for me was packaging evaluation methods where I learned how to analyze a package using different test methods. This stems also into different aspects of packaging in which analytical thinking is required.
My most valuable elective was supply-chain management. In this class I was able to learn the entire process that a package must go through from the procurement of raw materials to the manufacturing and distribution of the package and the product.
What do you see as most unique about Rutgers’ packaging program?
Soriente: Rutgers’ is the only packaging program in the country that is within an engineering school. I think this gives students a strong analytical background.
What field trip or industry event has been memorable?
Soriente: That was attending the 2014 Pack Expo in Chicago. During this trip I was able to get a full view of all that the packaging industry had to offer. It was also a great opportunity to see the new technology that was being designed for the future of packaging.
What was your most challenging experience?
Soriente: That was founding the Rutgers Packaging Club. I started working on founding the club at the beginning of my sophomore year and it spanned into the middle of my junior year. After more than a year of meetings and constitution updates, Rutgers finally has a recognized packaging club with funding.
What is the most valuable thing that you have learned?
Soriente: One of the most valuable skills that I have learned is the software Solidworks. I think that being able to use a CAD program in engineering is a necessary tool. The skill allows you not only to draw up designs, but also to reference proofs as well as to analyze other designs and functionality. This tool is also very useful when it comes to rapid prototyping, which is very useful in sectors of the packaging industry.
What have you learned at Rutgers that surprised you?
Soriente: The biggest surprise was how important it is to almost every industry. I had never realized that by pursuing a career in packaging, I would have the option to work in so many different areas.
What can say about your Laboratory Technician experience at Rutgers?
Soriente: During my third year at Rutgers, I worked in the Center for Packaging Engineering as a lab technician where I tested various packages for external pharmaceutical companies followed by evaluation and analysis of test results. From the results, I wrote up a lab report and communicated the information to the partner company.
You have also worked part-time work at Actavis, a “global, integrated specialty pharmaceutical company.” Can you comment on that experience?
Soriente: Actavis was the best experience that I have had since I chose packaging because it reinforced the reason why I chose to go into packaging in the first place. While at Actavis I was able to share my technical knowledge on new products with all internal sites as well as 3rd party contractors. I participated in a consolidated view of necessary activities to ensure cost savings, cost avoidance, and material reduction. I also participated and managed the facilitation of standardized testing, such as child-resistance testing, USP testing and shipping studies.
What do you see as your strengths?
Soriente: I think my greatest strengths are my interpersonal and leadership skills, which I have refined through being a member of groups both professional and non-professional. I am able to communicate my ideas very well in both a written and verbal manner. I also have the ability to take the lead on projects and events, ensuring tasks are completed in a timely manner, while retaining the respect of my colleagues.
What excites you most about packaging?
Soriente: It is a field that is always evolving. The use of packaging has been around since before recordable history and the changes since have lead the way toward packaging technologies we have today. By going to different events and to Pack Expo, I have been able to see the type of technology that packaging will be moving toward in the future, which is very exciting.
What advice do you have for someone considering entering the packaging field?
Soriente: Packaging is a field that gives you the opportunity to work in many different industries, while giving you the ability to utilize talents that you have. Due to the new technologies and breakthroughs that are being made in packaging there will always be jobs available. Packaging is also a field that is highly supplier and customer oriented, which will allow you to network with other professionals and can lead to other opportunities that another field may not.
What’s next for you?
Soriente: I graduate this May, though I have not accepted any offers at this point. There are several areas that interest me more than others, which include pharmaceutical, food, and consumer good packaging. I believe that when I find a company that is a good fit for me, I will know it.
Click here for more information on the packaging engineering program at Rutgers University.