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Student Spotlight: Sophia Louden of Western Michigan

Sophia Louden

KALAMAZOO, Michigan -- The Western Michigan University Paper Technology Foundation is a 501(c)(3) corporation founded by industry leaders in 1958.

The mission of the corporation has been and continues to be to support the Department of Chemical and Paper Engineering at Western Michigan University. The Paper Technology Foundation's primary roles have been to recruit students for the paper and allied industries and support those students with competitive scholarships. In the last 10 years, the foundation has awarded more than $2 million in scholarships.

Paperitalo Publications was able to catch up with Sophia Louden, a junior in the program. We asked her a few questions about her experiences at Western Michigan.

What attracted you to the Department of Chemical and Paper Engineering program?

I liked Western's program specifically because of the Pilot Plant that's right on campus, and the wonderful support from the PTF. They're awesome with resume help, networking events, and I liked the flexibility of what I could do with my paper degree. There's also a scholarship program that I was interested in, which is a nice bonus. I was really drawn to the idea that there would be so many people supporting me throughout my career, and it's proven to be a great decision.

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

I knew when looking for college that I wanted to be a Chemical Engineer, so I was looking into the things that I could do with a Chemical Engineering degree. I was really drawn to the paper industry because of the environmental and sustainability initiatives and focus in the recent years. Sustainability is a topic that's important to me, and it seemed like a way to use my love for chemistry in a way that could help people. That's how I ended up looking a paper program while I was in high school.

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

I've had two industry experiences so far, and I have another on the horizon for Summer 2022. My first was a classic mill experience at a specialty mill, where I worked in the quality department. I was doing a lot of paper testing for customer complaint analysis. It was a real cool first experience, because it was a specialty mill, so I was able to get a huge overview of all the types of applications paper can be used for. It also was an integrated mill, so I was able to get a close-up look at the Kraft pulp process, which was very interesting. My second experience was in an R&D position, where I was working with tissue. This was completely different than my last experience, and tissue isn't really a big focus on what we learned at school. I really liked getting to know all the new technology and process for tissue making, which is such a big part of the industry. My next experience is at a tissue mill, and I'm excited to learn about everything that makes a tissue mill run!

What does this program mean to you?

This program means a lot to me because I think it's something special. There isn't another program like it, and I can tell when I'm in it. Every time I think about something I want to look in to, or I'm struggling with something, there's so many people who have the perfect thing or knowledge to help me out. The professors are great, and it's so fun having my friends in the same classes together. There's a lot of great things happening here, and I'm just happy to be a part of it.

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

In five to ten years, I'll be out of school and I'm hoping to be in an R&D position. I feel like that's the area I'm most drawn to, and the place I will best be able to apply my talents. For my long-time career I hope to help develop new technology, or a least be a part of that process. The science and chemistry behind paper is what interests me the most, and I'm really excited to start being at the front of all the new things coming to the industry.

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

I would recommend just jumping right into it! If it even vaguely sounds interesting, start talking to people and learning about it. Everyone I've met in the industry is happy to answer and of your questions, and they love talking about paper. There are so many different things to do in the paper industry, the likelihood of you not finding anything that draws you in is almost impossible. There's definitely a place for you here, and so many people who are happy to help you get there!

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

In our paper fraternity Ts'ai Lun, we had a summer scavenger hunt to mark the end of the year, and I remember it being so fun. We were running around a park looking for rubber ducks, and it was a great way to get a break from heavy engineering math. While all the hard work is very rewarding, I find that it's important to take a break occasionally!

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

I am currently a junior in the program, looking at graduating in Fall 2023. I am from East Lansing, MI and something I do in my free time is I do the dance choreography for local high school musicals. I really like dancing, and I love getting able to share that with the kids!


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