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Predestined for a career in packaging

Predestined for a career in packaging
Rebecca Kisch is a senior in the packaging program at Cal Poly.

Certain people seemed destined for packaging from birth, like Rebecca Kisch, a senior in the packaging program at the California Polytechnic State University. This rising star at Cal Poly shares with us her packaging story past, present and future.

Tell us about yourself and your studies.

Kisch: I am a senior at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, working towards a major in Industrial Technology, with a concentration and minor in Packaging. I spent the first half of my life in Johannesburg, South Africa, where my parents owned a corrugated packaging plant. While exposed to the packaging industry at a very young age, I was intrigued by the packaging design and manufacturing processes.

The packaging related coursework at Cal Poly involves all major elements involved between conceptualization of a package to marketing it and includes design and prototyping, validating designs, converting processes for plastics and metal-based fabrication amongst others. The important tools that I use are design and prototyping software and dynamic testing machinery.

What led you to Cal Poly?

Kisch: Twelve years ago, my family moved to Paso Robles, CA, which is about 25 miles from Cal Poly. From a young age, I was musically inclined, so I naturally joined bands at school. Throughout middle school and high school, I participated in County and State Honor Bands, which were held at the Cal Poly Performing Arts Center. I remember stepping onto the campus and feeling an overwhelming sense of excitement; I knew then that Cal Poly would be the university I attended.

When I was in the 7th grade, I was invited to the Cal Poly Packaging Department to perform an Edge Crush test (ECT) comparative study for a school science project. At the time I didn’t know that I’d be pursuing a career in packaging, but looking back at my prior opportunities at the University, I feel like it was meant to be. In a way, I don’t feel like I chose Cal Poly, but that Cal Poly chose me.

How do your family and friends feel about your pursuit?

Kisch: It was no surprise to my family when they learned I was pursuing a career in packaging. I was having a difficult time deciding on what major I should pursue, and my mother asked me what I loved doing and what I wanted to achieve. I responded with science, design and chemistry and that my ultimate goal was to translate my ideas and creativity into something tangible in the physical world.

My Mom encouraged me to look into packaging because it offered opportunities to fulfill both my scientific interests and my creative bent. It didn’t take long for me to develop a passion for packaging!

When my friends found out I was pursuing a career in packaging, I received responses like “you’re making boxes?” or “oh, so you’re going to work for UPS?” When I hear such responses, I see it as an opportunity to enlighten people on the diversity and grand scale of the packaging industry.

My friends now laugh because it’s guaranteed that, when we hang out, I’ll be talking about the latest packaging class or project that I am doing at school. They all agree that packaging isn’t just a course of study for me, but an ever-growing passion.

What do you hope to gain from the packaging program?

Kisch: Since packaging encompasses design, prototyping, engineering, physics, chemistry and business, I hope to have a solid grounding in all aspects of packaging. Based on the classes that I have completed to date, I would like to pursue a career in distribution and logistics involving packaging design and dynamics testing. I have been lucky enough to be exposed to so much through the classes and research opportunities, that I know packaging is a continually evolving field. Ultimately, I know that the packaging program at Cal Poly will equip me with all the knowledge and tools to facilitate my creation of numerous innovative packages that will bring further advancement to the packaging industry.

What field trips have you taken?

Kisch: As an active member and vice president of Cal Poly’s Student Packaging club, I was fortunate enough to attend the 2013 Pack Expo event in Las Vegas. This was, by far, the most memorable field trip because it confirmed my inkling of the enormous size and diversity of the packaging industry.

It was also a great opportunity to network with major players in the industry and to help solidify the direction I wanted to pursue. As part of the Cal Poly group that will attend this year’s Pack Expo in Chicago, I am looking forward to another amazing experience.

The most valuable packaging field trip so far was a recent one to St. Louis, MO, with one of our packaging professors as a research assistant. On this trip, I was exposed to the exciting field of real-world packaging research. 

What have been the toughest and the most useful classes?  

Kisch: It’s the same class:  Packaging Dynamics. It was the toughest class because physics play a key role in dynamics testing. There were many varying equations and factors for each test that we had to do, so remembering all of them got to be a little challenging!

This class was also the most useful because we were faced with a design challenge to create a six-bottle display-ready wine box that could undergo the small-parcel distribution challenges from Paso Robles, CA, to Shanghai, China.

I further challenged myself for this task by creating a display-ready box that weighed less than 1.5 lbs. To achieve this and even though our original design fulfilled all the project requirements, I redesigned our package 11 times and went through the pre-shipment distribution testing cycle six times. Although my package got close, it failed to pass the distribution test—or should I say, it has not yet passed the distribution test!

The biggest takeaway I got from this class was that, in the real world, you’ll most likely be designing and redesigning a package until success is achieved. My group members didn’t understand why I kept testing and redesigning, but I told them that it wasn’t just for the grade; it was about setting a challenging goal and working creatively to achieving it.

What’s your favorite lab activity?

Kisch: I don’t have a favorite project or piece of equipment, but I do have a favorite lab: The Packaging Dynamics lab, which is considered one of the most comprehensive labs among all the U.S. packaging schools. It is one of my favorites because we are able to validate designs by simulating real-world distribution conditions.

In the Dynamics lab, my favorite piece of equipment would be the servo-hydraulic vibration table mountable vacuum chamber that was developed in-house by a former graduate student. It is fascinating to watch the effect of altitude on various types of produce packaging.

What’s been the most surprising thing you’ve learned about packaging?

Kisch: The most surprising thing I’ve learned is how large and important the industry is. When you think about it, every physical product needs to be packaged in some way or another, so it impacts virtually every industry segment. Although I was brought up in a “packaging family,” it wasn’t until I was exposed to Cal Poly’s Packaging Department course work that I realized how important packaging is to practically all industries in the world.

How much of your interest in packaging spills over into your real life?

Kisch: It’s almost embarrassing to admit how much; whether at home, serving tables or in a social setting, there isn’t a day that goes by where I am not talking about packaging. I’m the girl who shares her passion for packaging at every opportunity and tries to educate others to see how fascinating and interesting the industry is.

When I shop, I take pictures of different boxes and packages, so it is no surprise that I have more pictures of different packaging designs than anything else on my smartphone. I love packaging that is considered completely different form the “norm” and a wine bottle that was made out of pulp board with a plastic bladder inside instead of glass that I recently saw fits that description perfectly.

Anything else you’d care to mention about packaging?

Kisch: Packaging is an industry that will forever be evolving as new products come to market. I am very fortunate to be pursuing a career in packaging and I can only hope that one day I will design and launch a packaging product that will revolutionize the industry.

For more about the packaging program at Cal Poly, contact:

Jay Singh, Ph.D, professor and packaging program director

Orfalea College of Business, Cal Poly State University

San Luis Obispo, CA 93407

805-756-2129; Fax 805-756-6111

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