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Student Spotlight: Nino Panetta of Georgia Tech

Nino Panetta

ATLANTA, Georgia -- At Georgia Tech's College of Engineering, an endowment currently supports the engineering students who choose to enhance their degree with a certificate in pulp and paper.

Georgia Tech boasts some of the top minds in the fields of chemical and biomolecular engineering, mechanical engineering and materials science and engineering covering a wide range of research areas in both bioproducts and bioprocessing.

An undergraduate student who is studying any engineering discipline at GT may obtain the certificate by taking twelve credit hours as electives. Some students initially intend to obtain this certificate, but many learn about our industry and get hooked.

The program was founded in 1984, recognizing the need for strong pulp and paper engineers for Georgia- and southeast US-based companies. The Director of this program for many years was Dr. Jeff Hsieh. After his retirement in 2015, the reigns were handed to Dr. Chris Luettgen. The education of these fine students and watching them blossom in our industry has been a gratifying experience to be a part, Dr. Luettgen said.

Paperitalo Publications was able to interview Nino Panetta, and we asked him a few questions about his experiences at Georgia Tech.

What attracted you to the Pulp and Paper program?

As a chemical engineering student at Georgia Tech, I started, like most students, by trying to probe around different topics and see exactly what I was interested in and what I wasn't. I come from a family of electrical engineers in the electro-plating industry, and I continued to work in that industry for my first internship where I remember working in the lab for countless hours working mainly with physical and inorganic chemistry. It came to me that as I started to find ways of killing bad bacteria on coatings, I found the organic side of chemistry a lot more interesting. This combined with my family having a crop-growing farm made me realize that there are a lot of possibilities that come out of the plant life that surrounds us whether it be in biorefining or the tissues I so diligently wipe my nose with while I'm at the barn due to my severe hay allergy. After completing my first exhilarating co-op in the industry with Kimberly-Clark I realized that there are a lot of turning cogs that go unmentioned in pulp and paper and I would like to be one of the people that helps grease them.

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

Short answer: No. I was still struggling to figure out exactly what degree I wanted to pursue with my top ones being theoretical physics and chemical/electrical engineering. When senior year hit, I decided to go with chemical engineering because I really wanted to be at the forefront of sustainability work whether it be in a lab or a mill. Even though in high school I didn't know it yet, pulp and paper is one of the most sustainability-related fields which is why it makes such a good fit for me. In the classwork I'm doing right now, I learn so much about how a bio-based economy is really on the tip of our fingers, and in the field, I learn how much decreasing just a slight amount of fuel use can save money and exhaust. High school me looking at me in pulp and paper would be wishing I thought of it sooner.

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

I have had two main internships/co-ops and have another planned for this summer. As stated before, my first internship was in electro-plating where most of my work was in quality control and complex problem solving with multiple variables to turn in order for the product to come out right. While I was there, I created my own quality testing procedures that are still used today, built and implemented new process units that helped to sustain current operating parameters with the use of fewer chemistries, and grew a network between the operators and customers. My second co-op was with Kimberly-Clark which exposed me to all niches of being a process engineer due to me being the only intern in an entire mill. Three of my main projects there consisted of reprogramming and installing entirely new logic for a disperser to pre-refine fiber to certain parameters that would benefit both machines which led to around two hundred thousand dollars in annual savings, troubleshooting and restandardizing running conditions of a DAF (dissolved air flotation) unit that lead to an increase in 10% efficiency, and fine-tuned predictive operating parameters for strength chemistry usage on a towel machine using a newly acquired APC (advanced process control). Where a lot of my time in between projects was filled up by leading chemical and equipment trials or programming PiVision displays (process parameter monitoring software). Lastly, I liked my co-op with Kimberly Clark so much I'm going back for round two in their nonwovens area this summer as well!

What does this program mean to you?

The pulp and paper program means a lot of things to me. The program means there is a large group of people who are committed to working towards a more sustainable planet. The program means that there is a group of people who want to take the hard route of founding a bio-based economy instead of settling for the current one we are in. The program means to me that there is always someone who will answer my questions about research or industry as long as I or someone else musters the courage to ask. The program means that there is support and a community for faculty and students like me who may be a little bit too interested in trees and cellulose (there's no such thing). Lastly, this program means to me that there will always be a growing desire in the current and next generation to propel understanding and development of cellulose products and I hope to be one who learns much and teaches it to others. Overall, I am so grateful I am a part of this program.

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

In five years, I hope to see myself still in a process engineering role at a paper mill still finding ways to reduce the amount of emissions and make the process run more stable. I really enjoy solving puzzles and using the knowledge I've gained through my experiences to do it. I hope to see myself within a great community of other paper-loving people who share not only knowledge and company goals with one another but also generally have a good/enjoyable time. In ten years, I hope to see myself with a bit of a change of pace. I would not like to be a process engineer anymore but rather in either a technical leader role or an R&D role. I would preferably be in an R&D role working to use nonwoven materials or biodegradable nanocellulose to create new sustainable materials for energy storage devices and reinforced building materials since both fields heavily interest me. Overall, my career aspirations are to work in pulp and paper for a large majority of my life starting as a standard engineer and then moving into a more academic and research role using my experiences to my enrichment. I'd like to then move into a more dedicated teaching role as my age starts to outweigh me so I can pass on my information to people who can move further with it.

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

I would tell them that if they were to get into pulp and paper, they would not regret it even if it does get daunting. I would recommend that they pursue either a research or internship in the field to see whether it is really for them or to simply find areas of the extensive field that they are the most interested in. I'd encourage them to research any companies they plan to join since the company culture between them can be a deal breaker for most. In addition to this, I'd recommend they also see what a recruiter or current employee thinks about different mill/research locations since the culture between mills even in the same company can be extremely different. After they find what area of the industry they'd like to be in and where they'd like to work, I would reassure them that their learning should never end since there is a reason an engineering degree is only four years long. Most of the learning I've had was on-site and I'd encourage them that even though it may seem overwhelming at first, they'll get the hang of it as long as they stay interested and driven. Lastly, I'd recommend that even if they are planning to stay on the industry route they should get involved with some form of research since the field is always changing, and staying up to date can help in an R&D or R&E role. Oh! Also, if they do end up in a woodchip cooking mill that an investment in nose plugs may not be such a bad idea.

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

Another thing I cannot express enough about this program is that the community and experiences provided in it are unparalleled to other programs. While taking the coursework, not only is it centered around present-day research that can enrich even someone who has been in the field for a while, but also the coursework allows for touring and networking with other paper companies throughout the entire year for those who are still trying to figure out where they could fit. Not once has it seemed like someone does not want you to succeed or be unhappy and If you are struggling not only does the faculty have open arms to help you but your peers as well. This community goes beyond the classroom as well. Even in research, you can see multiple labs working together by sharing resources and space even if their topics are not evenly remotely related. Overall, I am very pleased with the program and sometimes even compare it to a university within a university due to the sheer number of opportunities within it.

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

I am Nino Panetta, a third-year student in the chemical and biomolecular engineering program and only a first year in the pulp and paper program. I am from Springboro, Ohio which is about thirty minutes north of Cincinnati. In my free time at school, I've been involved in sludge research, Engineers Without Borders, ultimate frisbee, esports, and woodworking. I play a mean game of cribbage and I am still trying to compile the best list of restaurants in one of the most food-diverse cities in the country with Mexican and Thai food vying for my favorite genre. Other than all of that, I bake a different type of cookie every Sunday which seems to leave my roommates on withdrawal whenever I leave for longer than a week :).



 


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