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Packaging scholarship recipient vows to ‘give back’

Packaging scholarship recipient vows to ‘give back’
Alexandra Slagle earns a packaging scholarship to help continue her studies at MSU's School of Packaging.

Passionate about using what she learns to help others in need, Alexandra Slagle got a recent boost herself. She received the 2015 Richard C. Ryan Packaging Education Scholarship and will use the $2,000 to continue her studies at Michigan State University’s School of Packaging.

The scholarship memorializes Richard Ryan, the former president and CEO of Dorner Mfg. Corp., who died unexpectedly in 2012. Ryan served on the PMMI board of directors and was committed to packaging education, encouraging lifelong learning. Funded by Dorner Mfg. Corp., the grant is awarded to an exceptional student enrolled in a two- or four-year program at any of PMMI’s partner schools.

“Every year there are more and more applicants for scholarships in the packaging industry,” says Maria Ferrante, vp of Education & Workforce Development at PMMI. “This year was no exception, and Alexandra certainly raised the bar for future applicants.”

Jim Barwick, director of human resources at Dorner Mfg., agrees. “This was a difficult decision because of the quality of all of our applicants, but we’re pleased to have selected Alexandra Slagle as the recipient of the Richard C. Ryan Scholarship for 2015,” he says. “She has a clear understanding of the field, has a plan, shows passion, and we were particularly impressed by her international perspective.”

Slagle is starting her junior year and expects to graduate in May 2017. In the last two years, she has augmented her formal packaging education with a hands-on internship at General Mills and participation in packaging mentorships at Kraft (now Kraft Heinz) and Nestle. Additionally, Slagle works as an office assistant for the School of Packaging.

In his nomination letter, Ronald Iwaszkiewicz II, placement coordinator and Slagle’s instructor at the School of Packaging, wrote: “In addition to being a dedicated and passionate student, Alexandra has been an excellent addition to the School of Packaging staff and through her diligent work and positive attitude, she demonstrates the qualities that exemplify what packaging professionals should be.”

Iwaszkiewicz also pointed out that Slagle is pursuing a minor in Food Processing Technology and has “completed more rigorous and technical math and science courses that correlate with the engineering curriculum as a way to strengthen her knowledge and help in her professional endeavors.”

Packaging Digest congratulates Slagle and digs a bit deeper into her motivation and expectations.

What does winning the 2015 Richard C. Ryan scholarship mean to you?

Slagle: Words cannot describe how much winning this scholarship means to me! It is an absolute honor, and I am incredibly grateful to be the recipient of the 2015 Richard C. Ryan Scholarship.

This award will allow me to continue my passion for learning and dive deeper into the world of packaging. It will also allow me to get closer to my goal of helping others in need around the world. It is an honor to receive a scholarship in the name of man who was so passionate about learning, and I look forward to continue that passion as I continue my education in packaging and look to improve the lives of others.

Why did you decide to pursue a career in packaging?

Slagle: I decided to pursue a career in packaging after an experience I had at an orphanage in Mexico. After spending a week volunteering and living at the orphanage, it became clear how much the orphanage and country struggled with food and providing nutrition to their people. After witnessing a young boy break down in tears after dropping his roll on the dirty cobblestone ground at dinner, I knew that I wanted to help, and I realized that help could be provided through packaging.

My end goal with packaging is to create a self-sustaining food package that will allow underdeveloped counties to get the nutrients they need by having a greater variety of food without the necessity of modern day conveniences that may be lacking in the area. The idea of knowing that one day I could help the children at the Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos orphanage is really what made me decide that packaging was the career path for me.

What areas of packaging interests you the most and why?

Slagle: Packaging is an exciting career because there are so many different types of industries and products to work on. There are many opportunities to continue learning and expanding your knowledge in different varieties of packaging.

The area that interests me the most is food packaging because of my goal of working with underdeveloped countries and their food solutions through packaging. I also am interested in the food industry because food is an essential part of life, and packaging is key in the interactions that consumers have with food.

What do you expect out of a packaging career?

Slagle: I anticipate a career in packaging to be a career that allows my passion to grow, but more importantly, is an opportunity to give back and impact lives. Giving back and volunteering has always been an important part of my life, and I would like that to continue into my career.

I see a career in packaging as an opportunity to provide solutions that can positively impact the daily lives of consumers, as well as provide life changing food solutions for those in need around the world.   

How has your internship at General Mills benefitted you?

Slagle: My experience at General Mills Inc. (GMI) has benefitted me immensely. My internship has allowed me to gain experience with different packaging materials, as well as the interactions between materials and food products.

GMI also provided me with insight on the business world and everything that must take place to enable a project to be successful.

GMI also allowed me to get one step closer to my goal through working with Partners in Food Solutions (PFS). PFS is an organization and corporate partnership that helps emerging food companies in underdeveloped African countries. PFS supports local companies by sharing knowledge and ideas to help companies grow and be successful.

I had the opportunity to volunteer for PFS this summer working on the packaging for a vitamin supplement project to decrease malnutrition in Ethiopia. This project demonstrated to me the ability to impact lives around the world through packaging and the sharing of knowledge.  

GMI allowed me to expand my technical depth, grow my business acumen, experience my goal of international partnership, and I am incredibly thankful for all that I was able to learn and experience during my time at General Mills.

Your grades have been outstanding [she’s on the Dean’s List with a 3.9 grade point average/GPA]. What’s your secret?

Slagle: Thank you! I have found that the most important things when it comes to courses are putting in the effort and being fully committed, as well as to focus on learning the most that you can. It can be easy to be focused on grades and points, but in the end the material that you learn in the course is the most important part.

I try to look for ways to dive deeper into the curriculum and learn more, whether it is completing additional assignment or staying longer in labs to make sure I fully understand the process and the applicability to current projects in the industry.  

How will the extra math, science and engineering classes that you’ve taken help your packaging career?

Slagle: The extra courses will allow me to gain a stronger technical base to further understand the details and science behind packaging. I also believe that these extra courses will open me to new problem-solving techniques that I will then be able to apply in industry and throughout my career.

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