The packaging industry is a massive contributor to the global economy. The global packaging market was valued around $976 billion in 2018 and is expected to top $1 trillion by 2028
As the industry grows, so does the need for educated packaging professionals. The Michigan State University School of Packaging
is one of the largest and oldest packaging degree programs in the country. The School of Packaging has graduated nearly 11,000 students in its seventy-year history—and many of them work at Smithers. Most of the team at the Smithers distribution testing laboratory in Lansing, Michigan are graduates of the School of Packaging.
The School of Packaging has made many changes to its curriculum over the decades. “Our program is very industry connected,” said Cimberly Weir, Specialist, Outreach Coordinator, and Instructor. “We listen to industry guidance from our industry advisory board, and many of us that teach core classes have ten or more years of industry experience.”
One of the most noteworthy recent changes to the program is an increased focus on sustainability. This is largely driven by industry and consumer demand. However, sustainability is also a big draw for prospective students. “Our students are very passionate about sustainability,” said Weir. “That’s one of the reasons why many of them choose to be part of our major: They want to contribute to the future of more environmentally friendly package design and interaction with the earth. They’re very environmentally conscious.”
Another area of increased focused is the relationship between analytics and decision-making. “Statistics are vital to all the hard sciences. Our students need to be able to look at large sums of data, from a marketing or substrate performance point of view, for example, and make better, informed decisions based on that data.”
However, analytical skills alone are not enough to create a truly excellent packaging professional. Product packaging can have a meaningful impact on consumers, and understanding that requires a more subjective approach. “That’s the secret weapon that our students have,” said Weir. “They have this mindset where they can easily connect design, art, and graphics to the technical performance of materials. They can balance both these inputs: The softer connection to the consumer and the more technical, science-based decision-making they have to do.”
The School of Packaging has also evolved its program to ensure that every student graduates with solid business skills. School of Packaging students are required to take PKG 102
, a course purely focused on soft and professional skills that will serve them throughout their careers. “My goal is to have my students thinking like future professionals when they’re done with this class,” said Weir, who is an instructor for PKG 102. “When they go through the rest of their classes, I want them to see the connection between what they learned in PKG 102 and how it supports the actions and decisions they’ll need to make throughout their careers.”
The class covers a wide range of topics, including professional etiquette, teamwork skills, and balancing different personalities and preferences on a single team. The students also undergo a Myers-Briggs assessment to learn more about their own working styles.
Part of the PKG 102 curriculum involves a six-week collaboration with a working industry professional. One such professional is Michael Kuebler, Technical Director of the Smithers distribution testing lab and a graduate of the School of Packaging. Kuebler has worked directly with students and appeared as a guest speaker and lecturer on many occasions.
Kuebler also hires interns from the School of Packaging nearly every year. “The internship component is so rich for our students,” said Weir. “It’s wonderful that our students can see a working laboratory without having to go too far away from campus. Having that guidance from our alumni helps them continue to make those connections between the classroom and real-world application. Plus, distribution is a real sweet spot for packaging professionals. It’s what sets us apart from materials scientists and supply chain experts. Distribution balances both of those disciplines, and that’s how we make a difference in the industry.”
Smithers supports School of Packaging alumni as well as current students. The company is a long-time sponsor of the School of Packaging Alumni Association
(PAA). PAA provides scholarships and professional development support for students, including mock interviews, resume review, and more.