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Converter is priceless gem at RIT's packaging school

Diamond structural designer Scott Sylvester, left, and RIT graduate Bethany Aubry teach at RIT.

While the traditional symbol for a 30th-anniversary celebration is the pearl, the Rochester Institute of Technology's (RIT) School of Packaging Science is marking its three-decade history this year with a diamond–Diamond Packaging, that is. Since 1973 when the packaging program was introduced at Rochester, NY-based RIT, which offers a broad range of technical education opportunities, one of its greatest supporters has been local paperboard converter, Diamond.

Says Lisa V. Palvino, Diamond's director of marketing, "Diamond's owners, Harry and Gretchen Voss, could see that their company could tap into high-level, educated students, located less than a mile from their facility, for both printing and packaging design, while giving back to the community by employing RIT graduates."

Throughout its 30-year relationship with RIT, Diamond has proven itself to be as valuable to the school and its students as the gem for which the company is named.

Diamond offers hands-on experience
In 1973, RIT established its School of Packaging Science, under the direction of Dr. Harold "Pete" Raephel and Dr. David Olsson, to address the need for more packaging professionals in the U.S. In that same year, Diamond Paper Box Co. employee Harry Voss bought controlling interest in the privately owned converting company, which at the time had 13 employees and sales of $750,000/yr.

"In the 1970s, Diamond was growing rapidly and needed qualified employees to help the small company meet customer needs," explains Palvino. "One of the most cost-effective and efficient resources was RIT. Both internship and co-op programs proved beneficial because Diamond could establish a trial relationship with potential employees before employing them on a full-time basis." The first student-turned-employee began with Diamond on a co-op basis, working part-time in the company's accounting department. He was later hired as Diamond's controller and spent the next 12 years with the company.

Since then, many more RIT students have worked at Diamond in co-op positions, while others have participated in internships, where they have worked part-time for class credit. Shadow programs, where a student with an interest in a particular career will work alongside, or "shadow," a professional at Diamond for several days to get a feel for the job, are also regularly offered to RIT students, as well as to local high-school students.

Programs such as these are a win-win proposition for both Diamond and RIT. According to Palvino, working closely with the students allows Diamond to tap into one of its most valuable resources–"qualified people who can help Diamond to be as successful as possible." She adds, "Just having access to the students when they're graduating and knowing many of them personally is a huge advantage."

It is estimated that more than 50 students have been employed with Diamond during the past 30 years in a range of job areas within the company, including package design, graphic design, accounting, quality, printing, prepress, technical services, sales, customer service, marketing and management. Today, the converting company employs 250 people.

For RIT students, working part-time at Diamond gives them exposure to a real-life example of what they are learning in the classroom. It also provides them with the opportunity to gain business experience that can make them more marketable after graduation.

Contributions grow
Today, Diamond's involvement in educating future technical professionals at RIT extends beyond the School of Packaging Science and includes collaboration with the schools of printing, photography and hotel management, among others. And, Diamond's contributions consist of far more than just employment opportunities, as well. Among its other contributions are:

Diamond hosted the Spring 2003 Independent Carton Group meeting, which included a tour led by Karen Proctor, far right, of the RIT testing labs and packaging and printing schools.

• Materials and converting services. Notes Karen Proctor, chair/professor of RIT's Packaging Science Program, "Diamond supplies paperboard and other materials to our labs, when needed." On occasion, the company will also donate materials and converting services for student projects. For one such project recently done by RIT's School of Photographic Arts and Sciences, Diamond helped produce a CD holder and picture frame, which were used to distribute background materials during the school's "What Matters?" photography exhibition.

Diamond also recently donated paperboard and production services for a project done by packaging science students, which won first place in a competition held by the Technical Association of the Graphic Arts.

• Faculty. "Our structural and graphic designers teach on a regular basis at RIT," notes Palvino. The course, "Computer Applications," includes training on ArtiosCAD and Adobe Illustrator, as well as on RIT's Data Technology sample cutter and plotter. RIT graduates Lesley Bates, (1989) and Bethany Aubry (2002), and Diamond employees Scott Sylvester and Mark McOmber, presently teach the course.

• Tours of its facility, in which Palvino estimates more than 500 RIT students have participated throughout the years.

• Professional feedback. Not long ago, a graphic designer employed by Diamond volunteered his expertise in reviewing an RIT student's portfolio.

• Financial sponsorship of its employees' children/grandchildren to attend programs such as RIT's Summer Graphic Arts Experience, a career exploration program for high-school students.

• Guest lectures by Diamond staff at RIT. One example is Patty Holzgartner, Diamond's director of human resources, who is a frequent speaker at RIT, discussing a multitude of issues relating to human resources.

• Patronage. Diamond holds its annual Christmas party at a local hotel run by RIT students majoring in hotel and resort management.

• Professional involvement. Diamond president and CEO Harry Voss has served as an advisor to the college of Applied Science and Technology.

Diamond sees rewards
For Diamond, its relationship with RIT has also resulted in more benefits than just having first crack at hiring some of the packaging industry's most talented newcomers. In addition, it has provided the converter with a network of potential customers. Palvino relates that some examples of Diamond customers that currently employ RIT graduates include The Gillette Co., Braun, Bausch & Lomb, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Motts, Beiersdorf, Johnson & Johnson, Nabisco and others.

On occasion, Diamond donates materials and its converting services to RIT student projects. Examples include the 'Destinations' TAGA award-winning briefcase job, right, and the 'What Matters?' CD holder and picture frame, above.

Having access to RIT's testing laboratories and equipment is also a boon to Diamond. "RIT has received donated equipment that complements our in-house technology," says Palvino, "and we appreciate their willingness to share their resources."

RIT has reciprocated on the educational front, as well, conducting technical seminars for Diamond customers at the converter's facility. "They have been a valuable resource for the latest insights within the packaging and printing industries," notes Palvino.

The contribution of RIT student talent to Diamond's enterprise is also an advantage. This year, Diamond employed the skills of one of RIT's industrial design students to help create its 2004 calendar, which will be used to demonstrate its range of converting capabilities to current and potential customers. Because of the student's open mind and unique industrial design perspective, Diamond says the tri-fold calendar is a more innovative piece than is usually produced.

Collaboration to continue
Looking ahead, Diamond is eager to maintain its support of RIT and its programs. "We continue to expand and look for ways to develop our relationship," says Palvino. "As Diamond Packaging grows and changes along with RIT, we continue to enhance our relationship. This helps both of us to be more competitive and unique in our respective markets.

"The owners of Diamond Packaging have always valued corporate citizenship and believe in community involvement," she adds. "As a leader in creativity and innovation within the industry, the company strongly believes that it is its duty to share its knowledge with the future industry leaders of the packaging industry and to help bridge the gap between education and the 'real world.'"

More information is available:

Paperboard converter: Diamond Packaging, 585/334-8038. Circle No. 206.

Technical school: Rochester Institute of Technology, School of Packaging Science, 585/475-6174. Circle No. 207

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