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Student's passion for sustainability leads her to packaging

Student's passion for sustainability leads her to packaging
Catherine Jucha is currently enrolled at Virginia Tech.

Not everyone knows what they want to do at an early age, especially when in college. However, this is not the case for Catherine Jucha who is working on obtaining a degree in Packaging Systems and Design from Virginia Tech.

This month’s rising star shares with us how she takes an active approach to sustainability in and out of the classroom.

Tell us about yourself.

Jucha: As a student attending Virginia Tech I am very lucky to have solidified my interests and passions at an early age. My primary focus involves developing and promoting future packaging that is friendlier to the environment than its predecessors such as the polystyrene foam peanut. I want to ensure that future generations of consumers can enjoy current luxuries such as having access to numerous materials, products and services right at one’s fingertips; packaging is the medium that ensures people have immediate access to these goods and amenities. This concept is what provides me with a sense of direction and drives my desire to be involved with the field of packaging.

Furthermore, I am able to do so by obtaining a degree in Packaging Systems and Design from Virginia Tech, participating in major packaging events and groups such as the Institute of Packaging Professionals, which I am a member of, and volunteering at summits such as the Global Food and Beverage Packaging Summit along with Pack Expo. I am very appreciative to know what matters most to me, what I want for the future and the necessary steps to ensure that my aspirations of a more sustainable world become realities.  

What was it about Virginia Tech and packaging that made you want to embark down this path?

Jucha: Virginia Tech’s interests and ideals have always aligned with mine, which was something that initially attracted me towards attending the university. Specifically, my interests focus around the sustainable initiative and creating products and services for consumers that promote an ecological life cycle. Within that discipline, I discovered my passion was to create a more sustainable form of technology that is distributed to individuals directly at every level, whether it is producers creating a product to the consumers using that product in their homes.

The technology that facilitated my ability to do so was packaging. After establishing my direction, I took action to ensure that I participated in promoting sustainability in the industry as a college student. For example, being an ambassador to the department of Sustainable Biomaterials at Virginia Tech I was able to bring awareness to the Hokie community about ecological packaging, along with interning at Printpack in product development I directly participated in the forefront of developing greener food containers.

Finally, by volunteering at the Global Food and Beverage Packaging Summit I was educated on the current action being taken by major packaging corporations such as PepsiCo and Tetra Pak to ensure they lead the way in supporting a packaging world that is friendly to the biosphere and the living things in it.

What are some of your favorite classes so far?

Jucha: That is an excellent question. My three favorite classes thus far are Donna Wertalik’s Marketing Management course, History and Theory of Industrial Design and Principles of Packaging. All three of these classes teach material that is entirely relevant to the culture and trends of the packaging industry. I have been able to apply the lessons learned from these courses as an ambassador of Sustainable Biomaterials and as an intern at Printpack, and I am sure I will continue to use them further as a future professional.

What are some aspects of the packaging process that excites you? Surprises you?

Jucha: I am so thrilled to be in time period where sustainability and ecologically sound packages are the essence within the industry and are highly demanded by consumers. However, I still remain surprised by how long it has taken this field to make sustainability and environmentally friendly packages a concentration and priority to ensure that consumers can continue to consume packaged products at today’s current rate. Furthermore, I am always astounded at how many goods and amenities are packaged globally and the reliance consumers have on packages to aid daily responsibilities.

What do you envision your dream job being when you graduate?

Jucha: I would relish in the opportunity to hold a position of a packaging executive (within the marketing sector more so then the technical region) major corporation such as Dow Chemical and PepsiCo to name a few…

Is there a particular area/industry you’d like to focus on?

Jucha: Within the packaging industry I would like to focus on the marketing discipline more so than the technical side because I truly enjoy communicating with internal employees, external employers and society at large in regards to propositions, recent inventions and concepts that reach individual’s at the most basic level. 

After hearing Denise Lefebvre (PepsiCo) and Elisabeth Comere (Tetrapak) talk about the importance of sustainable action at the Global Food and Beverage Packaging Summit it inspired me to ensure that in the future I aspire to promote and enforce environmental initiatives and technologies to target consumer markets.

Any advice for other prospective students who are considering an education in packaging engineering?

Jucha: The first piece of advice is really to strive to get experience within the packaging industry, because the responses and events that are required of packaging employees cannot be learned sitting in a classroom. Also, it is essential for students to develop experience in the broad regions of packaging to determine which discipline he or she will most enjoy and then stick to that career path.

Furthermore, it is imperative to develop strong connections and networks within the packaging field because it is such as diverse industry that having friends in various regions can always help to better understand the entire umbrella that is packaging.

How do you see packaging technology evolving over the next few years?

Jucha: In the future, I see packages becoming more functional and accommodating for aging generations, particularly baby boomers. As the health of many members within this generation decline and begin to develop health problems such as arthritis it is essential that packaging products, whether it be the physical design or the chemical composition of the product’s materials be more convenient and practical for that target consumer population.

Additionally, I expect to see a rise in popularity of travel-sized packages that are due to the trending fast paced environment individuals are experiencing. These smaller allocated packages will be more convenient for consumer’s everyday routines because they will lack the time and hassle required of portioning family sized containers and products used throughout the day.  

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