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Catching up with N.C. State Paper Science and Engineering Senior Kat Santoro

Kat Santoro

RALEIGH, N.C. - The Paper Science and Engineering program at North Carolina State University will be celebrating more than six decades of success at its Annual Meeting & Celebration Banquet in less than a month.

The event is Thursday, Sept. 6, 2018, and anyone who would like to register can sign up here.

In 1954, the paper industry established a pulp and paper program at N.C. State in part to help man a pulp and paper industry boom in the southern United States. Students in this program were able to receive a B.S. degree in Pulp and Paper Technology (PPT). The students could also stay for one additional semester and receive a second B.S. in Chemical Engineering, a program feature then not available at any of the other schools offering paper science degrees. With strong regional support, an outstanding scholarship endowment, and this unique dual degree program, the NC State program began to establish itself as a dominant program in the United States. In 2004, this program became jointly administered by the College of Natural Resources and the College of Engineering, and its name was changed to Paper Science and Engineering. In 2005, the program became ABET accredited.

"Our Paper Science and Engineering program is thriving, and I am privileged to say it is one of the best in the country," said Dr. Mary C. Watzin, Dean of the College of Natural Resources. "With a strong hands-on education, our students continue to advance our college's mission of providing cutting edge solutions for the sustainable use of natural resources. The Paper Science and Engineering program continues to boast 100 percent job placement and some of the highest starting salaries on campus - in no small part because our students graduate with extensive experiential learning opportunities not found in the classroom. All of our students gain in-depth industry knowledge through internships, co-ops and study abroad, and enjoy both personal and professional growth through their experiences. I am so proud of our Paper Science and Engineering students, alumni, faculty, staff, volunteers and supporters. "

Close to 200 students are enrolled in the N.C. State Paper Science and Engineering program, and Paperitalo Publications was able to catch up with Kat Santoro, a senior in the program who is also pursuing the Process Control certificate. Miss Santoro is from Tucson, Arizona, and we asked her a few questions about her experiences at N.C. State.

Paperitalo: What attracted you to the Paper Science and Engineering program?

Santoro: There were a few different qualities that attracted me to the PSE program. The first, and most important, quality that made PSE stand out to me was the overwhelming sense of family present within the department. All of the faculty, staff, and students are greatly invested in each other, on both a personal and professional level. The professors truly take the time to get to know you and help you with whatever you need (academic or not). Additionally, everyone in the program is very close with one another, which adds to the sense of family. Having a great support system both in and out of the classroom is absolutely invaluable in college, and knowing that people in the PSE program are truly invested in you as an individual is one of the main reasons the program is so successful. The second reason that attracted me to the PSE program was the amount of opportunity the program provides its students. From various internships and co-ops to professional development resources to study abroad trips, PSE is always trying to ensure that the experience we as students have is very unique. The third reason I became interested in the PSE program was the scholarships that were available. Most students in the program are on some form of scholarship/financial aid, and I think that level of generosity speaks volumes for the department. Alumni, professors, and industry professionals are very invested in maintaining our program's success, and scholarships are just one of the ways that is shown.

Paperitalo: Were you looking into pulp and paper when you were in high school?

Santoro: No, I was not looking into the pulp and paper industry during high school. I am from southern Arizona, so we don't have very many trees there... needless to say I didn't even know paper mills existed until I came out to learn more about the PSE program.

Paperitalo: Tell us a little bit about the internships and co-ops you have had.

Santoro: I have had 3 different industry experiences so far: After my freshmen year, I spent a summer in Brewton, AL working for Georgia-Pacific. At the Brewton Mill, I was working as a process engineering intern on their two paper machines. I spent my time working on the optimization of the new Save-All machines that had just been started, as well as reducing the amount of holes occurring in the sheet.

During the spring semester of my sophomore year, I took a co-op working for Georgia-Pacific in Lynchburg, VA. I worked there from January 2017-August 2017. During my time at Big Island (the mill is called Big Island Mill), I was a process engineering intern over the two medium mill machines, the semi-chemical pulp mill (part of the medium mill section), and the chemical recovery area. A lot of my projects in the medium mill were focused around optimizing refiners in order to improve fiber quality and sheet strength. My responsibilities in the chemical recovery area involved assessing evaporator performance in order to increase evaporator efficiency between each cleaning cycle.

I spent this summer as a technical sales intern with BASF in Niagara Falls, NY. The main focus of my summer has been conducting various studies assessing different chemicals' impact on sheet drainage. The goal of these studies are to be able to propose chemical trials to be run at the mill, as well as determine optimal dosage of chemicals added.

Paperitalo: What does this program mean to you?

Santoro: This program means the world to me. Undoubtedly, my college experience would be vastly different if I was not in the PSE program. This program has allowed me to find a degree and career about which I am very passionate. The people that I have met through the program have been so helpful, supportive, and friendly, and this has allowed me to feel at home while away at college. I have grown so much as a young professional and young engineer because of this program, and I extremely appreciative for that.

Paperitalo: Where do you see yourself in five or 10 years, and what are your career aspirations?

Santoro: I cannot say exactly where I'll be in five or 10 years from now, but I see myself as an engineer who has learned a great deal from the experiences I have had and the people I have met. I think the pulp and paper industry is an absolutely innovative and challenging industry, so I see myself having a lifetime career in this industry. My career aspirations are currently very generalized, but I am very interested in the artificial intelligence (AI) and process control parts of the industry, so I would like to pursue a career in this area. Being able to optimize a massive industrial process in a way that saves companies time and money is an excellent thing, and I would like to participate in this.

Paperitalo: What would you recommend to anyone who might be interested in getting into pulp and paper?

Santoro: I would recommend that anyone interested come in with a very open mind and willingness to try new things. The paper industry is not a widely talked-about industry, so it may seem 'weird' or 'bland' to many, but I can promise you that it is very challenging and innovative. Each day in this industry provides a new problem to be solved and the work is truly fulfilling. I would also recommend that anyone interested in pulp and paper be willing to learn as much as they can. Working different internships exposes you to a plethora of people and scenarios, so (not to be cliche) try to be a sponge and absorb as much as possible; the willingness to learn as much as you can will make you a much better engineer.


Jim Thompson is back again...with a book on a taboo subject: the personalities in the pulp & paper industry. Jim has written in the past on many subjects based on his four plus decades in the worldwide pulp and paper industry. This new book is packed full of information valuable to the senior member of the industry as well as the recent entrant. A must for every pulp and paper library.


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