Ann Cierpial, a senior in the Rutgers School of Engineering in New Brunswick, NJ, studying packaging engineering, was selected by the university as a Rising Star in Packaging. She joins Rising Star classmates and friends Janina Pirela, who was featured last week (see Rising Star speaks packaging, engineering and 4 languages) and Erica Wysocki, who will be profiled next. Cierpal graduates May 15 with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Applied Sciences in Engineering with a concentration in Packaging Engineering. Cierpal discusses the role of packaging in her past, present and future.
Tell us about what sparked your interest in packaging.
Cierpial: When I was younger, I always changed my mind about what I wanted to do later in life with my career. I started with wanting to be an animator before realizing my love of math and science while in school, which were both subjects I excelled in. This led me to change my idea of a career path towards architecture and engineering. I had never really thought about packaging as a career until I saw a flyer during my junior year of high school detailing the packaging engineering program offered at Rutgers. After doing more research on it, I realized it was a fantastic opportunity to combine both the creative and technical sides of my brain and it was a field I could get excited to work in.
Why did you choose Rutgers?
Cierpial: I chose Rutgers because it is one of the few schools in the nation that offers a packaging program as an engineering discipline. I appreciate being able to get the engineering foundations to help develop critical thinking skills that I will need in the workplace.
It doesn’t hurt that both my mom and older brother are also alumni of Rutgers, so it’s been a part of my family. After going to football games and campus events while growing up, I was definitely hooked.
What’s the reaction when you tell people you are going into packaging?
Cierpial: Every time I tell somebody that I’m majoring in packaging engineering, I usually first get a blank stare, followed quickly by “I’ve never heard of that.” It usually takes some explaining for people to understand that, no, I don’t just make boxes for a living. But by the end of my explaining my course work and the things that go into the design of a package and the types of jobs I could have in different industries, they’re usually just as excited as I am about it! I’ve even managed to persuade a few engineers to switch majors to packaging by talking to them about it! Just like I did before I began to study packaging, I think most people take packaging for granted or see it purely as waste. But once people see how intricate the design work can be and understand the impact it has on their favorite products getting to market, they see that there’s a lot more to packaging than just the boxes.
What’s been the most beneficial course and why?
Cierpial: My general engineering electives have all been beneficial in giving me critical thinking skills to provide a solid foundation for packaging knowledge. This is something unique to the Rutgers packaging program as we take classes such as Differential Equations, Engineering Dynamics and Organic Chemistry.
However, I think the most beneficial course for my future in packaging has been Senior Design Project, which I am taking this semester. This course has been a true test of our knowledge of packaging and everything that we have learned over the past four years. We’ve spent the entire semester developing a new package to solve common packaging problems from beginning to end. We created timelines, conducted market surveys and research on available technology, brainstormed for solutions and created designs in SolidWorks and 3D-printed functioning prototypes of our designs. It was such a comprehensive project that took us from beginning to end of the Package Development process and we were in complete control of the specifics of our project solution.
It was an added bonus that [fellow Rising Stars] Janina Pirela, Erica Wysocki and I were able to work on this project together as a team; it’s always enjoyable being able to work on something so innovative and exciting with your friends.
Ann Cierpial (left) is joined in the Rutgers University packaging lab by her friends and Rising Stars in Packaging Janina Pirela (middle) and Erica Wysocki.
What’s been the most surprising thing you learned about packaging?
Cierpial: When comparing majors and coursework with other students, I’ve realized that packaging is a hybrid of so many disciplines. You need to have knowledge from all different types of engineering, such as materials engineering, mechanical engineering, chemical engineering and industrial engineering. You also need background knowledge from so many other disciplines, such as supply chain, manufacturing and sustainability.
While we have our department-specific coursework, we also take classes in other engineering departments because we draw upon each and every type of engineering. Packaging is so interrelated with different departments and disciplines; we are the ones who bring everything together and make it possible for a product to reach the shelf. Before starting to study packaging, I took it for granted and didn’t stop to think about how much work was involved to bring a product to market. But now, I know what’s involved in the process and I’m thoroughly impressed.
What market interests you most?
Cierpial: The cosmetics industry of packaging is definitely the most fascinating to me. There’s just so many aspects that come into play—the creativity and brand image, the functionality, the prestige and, most definitely, the fast-paced environment. The environment is one where you can never be bored and there’s also something new in the pipeline. I think it’s also a perfect industry for a girl like myself; I always have loved dressing up and putting on makeup!
On the other hand, I’m also highly interested in the pharmaceutical packaging industry. Both my parents work for pharmaceutical companies and I’ve always been intrigued by the medical field. While I could never be on the front lines of medicine, I like the idea of working on a product that can completely change a person’s life. It can have such an impact on one’s quality of life and wellbeing; that must be an extremely gratifying position.
What are your plans after graduation?
Cierpial: I will immediately begin a full-time position as an engineer at L’Oreal in its Technical Package Development department. I have interned there for almost a year now in the Skincare/Fragrance department. I am joining the L’Oreal team as part of their Management Development Program, a rotational program, in the packaging track. This gives me the opportunity to rotate around several positions both in and related to packaging and develop a range of skills in a condensed period of time.
As far as long-term goals, I hope to stay in the packaging field and possibly pursue graduate work in a technical area or obtain an MBA.
Click here for more information on the packaging engineering program at Rutgers University.
Read about last year’s Rising Star from Rutgers 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.