Rutgers University selects a trio of Rising Stars of Packaging who graduate this month, including Janina Pirela. Pirela, who is also president of Rutgers’ Packaging Engineering Club, shares her story.
Our ongoing Rising Stars of Packaging series usually begins with contacting an institution’s appropriate department head or similar who is asked to recommend a single student for selection, a request that typically brings about a surprisingly quick response. However, our contact at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, New Brunswick, found it impossible to choose from among three worthy finalists, all of whom are co-eds graduating this month. The tie-breaking solution? A series of interviews, beginning with Janina Pirela, graduating May 15 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Applied Sciences Engineering with a concentration in Packaging Engineering. Pirela is also president of Rutgers’ Packaging Engineering Club.
Tell us a little about yourself and what sparked your interest in packaging.
Pirela: I was always good at math and science, but engineering didn’t become an interest of mine until late in high school.
Going into college I started with Industrial Engineering, but my freshman year I was one of many who were captivated by the packaging engineering lecture given to all engineers starting at Rutgers.
My dad was also a huge influence in me getting into packaging engineering. He is an engineer and has been involved in packaging for several years; I have long been exposed to packaging through him.
I have completed internships and co-ops at Shiseido America Inc. and Church and Dwight; both were fantastic experiences towards my career.
In addition to engineering, I am very interested in traveling and learning new languages. I was born in Venezuela; I am fluent in Spanish and proficient in French and Portuguese.
Why did you choose Rutgers?
Pirela: Originally I chose Rutgers because it has a great engineering reputation, is close to home, and has a large and diverse community of students. Now looking back, I feel like it was fate that I chose Rutgers. Had I gone to school somewhere else, I probably would not have found packaging engineering. Choosing Rutgers has also given me amazing opportunities that I don’t think any other school could have given me: its location in the East Coast packaging hub. This has opened a number of doors to internship/co-op opportunities throughout my four years at Rutgers.
What’s been your most beneficial course?
Pirela: That has definitely been Packaging CAD. In this class we focused on using SolidWorks to design new packages and create physical samples of new packaging design ideas. This class was beneficial because it allowed me to tap into my design interests without forcing me to sketch anything on paper. I could be creative and come up with ideas while also keeping the engineering and manufacturing aspects in mind, as well as using simulations to test how a package will react to different stresses. SolidWorks has also been great to have for both my school and work projects – it’s an essential skill to have when entering the packaging world.
What’s been the most surprising thing you learned about packaging in your time there?
Pirela: The most surprising thing that I’ve learned is that there are a small handful of companies that are the parent companies to all the brands we know. While at first I thought that this would be limiting, I now think that it is very beneficial to anyone who enjoys working on various types of packaging and industries. Most companies offer their employees many opportunities to move around within their departments and encourage them to change positions and learn new skills. Having many industries to work in is exciting because I know that I’ll never be stuck in the same style of packaging forever—especially with how innovative packaging becomes every day. It’s surprising that packaging has been the major in which I can perfectly combine my interests for engineering, design and business seamlessly.
What market segment interests you the most?
Pirela: I am primarily interested in consumer packaged goods, focused in the cosmetic and consumer products/food industries. These types of industries interest me the most because they each target different consumers and all have a completely different goal when it comes to the package design, innovation and pricing. I believe there is nothing more satisfying than working hard on a specific project and then seeing it in stores. As a packaging engineer, I know how much work went into my packages; it will be great to see consumers using them.
What’s the reaction when you tell people you are going into packaging?
Pirela: When I tell people that I am a packaging engineer, the first thing that they all say is one of the following: “What is packaging engineering?” or my favorite, “So you make boxes...?”
At the beginning of my career it bothered me, but now I love it. These responses give me the opportunity to open people’s eyes and make them realize that they are surrounded by packaging. It is fun to explain that there is an entire industry that no one thinks about and that the job opportunities are endless because things will always need a package.
What are your post-graduation plans?
Pirela: My plans after graduation are to start working for a major consumer-packaged goods company, preferably in the Chicago area as it is my plan to move there after I graduate. Initially, I hope to begin as a packaging engineer and then eventually move up to higher and more challenging positions in the organization. I want to work for a company that goes to great lengths to innovate and be original. Packaging is all about the consumer and what grabs their attention and being able to be part of a team that works hard to make their brand look and function the best is something for which I strive.
Click here for more information about the packaging engineering program at Rutgers University.
Read about last year’s Rising Star from the university, Damen Soriente, in Engineered for packaging by Rutgers University.
And read our virtual reunion, Rising Stars shine a light on packaging education, which features our first six Rising Stars.
Interested in continuing your professional education in packaging? Join like-minded professionals at EastPack in New York City June 14 to 16 in New York City.