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Interview with University of Maine senior Olivia Gervais

Olivia Gervais

ORONO, Maine -- The University of Maine Pulp and Paper Foundation was incorporated in 1952 by 12 UMaine graduates financially supporting and preparing well-educated engineering students for careers in the pulp and paper and allied industries.

The foundation is supported by annual gifts from more than 70 companies in 50 states, as well as individual gifts from more than 250 alumni and friends.

The Maine Pulp & Paper Foundation currently supports more than 100 engineering and forestry students with merit based scholarships and boasts having the most alumni in the paper industry.

Paperitalo Publications was able to catch up with senior Olivia Gervais. We asked her a few questions about her experiences at UMaine.

What attracted you to Chemical Engineering and the UMaine PPF?

A: I always had a natural ability for math in middle and high school, and when I took chemistry as a junior, I really liked that too. I was looking for something that would challenge me and be a rewarding career, which is how I found engineering. I was undecided on a specific field until I attended the Pulp and Paper Foundation's Consider Engineering program right before my senior year of high school, which really solidified my interest in chemical engineering. They do such an amazing job exposing you to all disciplines of engineering in four days, all while keeping you going after only 6 hours of sleep the night before. The experience I had during this week encouraged me to apply for the scholarship and apply to UMaine. The Foundation supports incoming first year students so well and that just continues well into your undergraduate studies.

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

A: I grew up in a region of Maine that was influenced by pulp and paper and my teachers supported my exploration into different careers. We toured the local paper mill a few times in high school because that was our only exposure to what engineers did in such a rural area. A lot of people would ask me: "why would you go into a dying industry like paper?" but after my first year here, I knew that was not the full story. There are over 30 paper companies brought in to hire students for internships, co-ops, and full-time employment all over the country each year, which sounds like the opposite of a dying industry, at least in my opinion.

Tell us about the internships and/or co-ops you have had.

A: I did two semesters with WestRock at their West Point, Virginia facility as a process engineering co-op. My first term was during a time where most facilities had their operations teams working from home, at least part of the time. My main goals during that term were just learn and see as much as I could. My second term was all about building upon that information and contributing to an impactful project for the mill. I headed a project that involved the installation of motor shields across the power and recovery area. The shields prevent process debris like fines and liquor from clogging motor cooling fins, which aimed to reduce the cost of maintaining motors and increase lifespan. I also was the lead person for an energy efficiency light upgrade project, which was not initially one of my strengths. I was able to get out of my comfort zone, which was great to do, and learn a lot about electrical transformers and breakers.

What does this program mean to you?

A: I honestly don't know if I would have continued with this path if it weren't for Jen and Carrie. They are so supportive of their students, are great voices of reason, and shoulders to cry on too, because some days engineering is hard. Whatever we need, they are there for us. I look forward to staying involved with the Foundation after graduation because I know how much I benefitted from this support system; I want that to continue for generations of students to come. I also really appreciate the support from donors and their families, and I hope they see the difference they make in our lives. I'm glad I went in the direction I did with the Foundation because I've met some of my closest friends and had some amazing opportunities.

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

A: To be frank, I haven't planned anything specific that far out yet. I plan to be in the industry, but I'm too focused on graduation, which is my light at the end of the tunnel. I start full-time with AstenJohnson in July of this year, which I'm super excited about! My co-op was as a process engineer, so it will be a change for sure, but I'm ready for the challenge!

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

A: Honestly, you won't know if you don't like something if you've never tried it. So why not? There is so much positive change happening, the job market is looking great right now, and skilled engineers are in such high demand. I can't think of a good reason not to give it a shot.

Please let us know of anything else of interest about your experiences in the program.

A: My absolute favorite thing about the Pulp and Paper Foundation is how Jen and Carrie always make students feel welcome in their office. Sometimes it can difficult transitioning from a small high school to a place like UMaine but having a home away from home helps so much, which for me was there. They are such great role models which I think is super important, especially as a young woman in a male dominated field. I worked closely with Jen and Carrie during my tenure as TAPPI Student Chapter President, and they were so helpful to our chapter. The work they do is so important for young engineers to thrive.

Please tell us what year you are in the program, your hometown, and anything interesting you might do in your free time.

A: I am a senior in chemical engineering and am originally from Frenchville, ME where I attended Wisdom High School (Class of 2018).


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