Packaging students think outside the box

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A. Sue Weisler

Tim Dehm and Bethany Wong, both third-year packaging science students, were among the attendees at PackExpo, the national conference and tradeshow for industry professionals. As part of PackExpo, student teams from universities across the country compete in a design challenge. This year’s theme commemorated Earth Day.

CJ Allessio, Bethany Wong and Tim Dehm are part of a new generation of RIT packaging science students who are thinking—and designing—outside of the box.

At the 2010 PackExpo in Chicago last month, the students displayed their creations alongside some of the best designers in corporate consumer packaging. They are learning in classes, and seeing firsthand in corporations, that packaging is more than assembling a box with a lid. It is about creating a container that has visual impact along with multiple uses. It is about balancing a durable structure with sustainability. 

“PackExpo is the most valuable event we support for our students. It gives them a look at the real-world application of what we learn in the classrooms,” says Allessio, a fourth-year packaging student in the College of Applied Science and Technology. She has attended PackExpo for the past three years. It is one of the industry’s largest national conferences and trade shows, bringing together professionals in all areas related to packaging, including those teaching its newest members of the profession. 

As part of the expo, collegiate teams participate in a design challenge sponsored by the national Paperboard Packaging Alliance. This year’s competition focused on the 40th anniversary of Earth Day. Teams were required to design packaging for a small, paper-mache globe commemorating the worldwide event. 

Teams provided a working prototype, as well as a detailed project overview, justifications for the resources used, a marketing plan, cost estimates and strategies for point-of-sale positioning of the product. 

“I like the multidisciplinary aspect of packaging,” says Dehm, a third-year student from Geneseo, Livingston County. “The ability to utilize your entire brain when designing a package is exciting because you have to know about material sciences, marketing, economics and structural design.”

Industry and academic leaders judged nearly 50 prototypes from a dozen colleges. Designs ranged from simple boxes to elaborate pear-shaped containers. Wong and Dehm, along with classmate Emalee Shea, designed a white, open-faced container with drawings of flowers, bees and trees “to emphasize the symbiotic relationship with all things on earth,” Wong explains.

Besides the design challenge, students compete in other events and interact with participating companies. Allessio was part of a four-member student team that evaluated the current production line of a national tea company and provided recommendations for improvements. 

“This was a great way for us to get out on the floor and interact with companies. They had great fun and relevant tasks for all the students,” says Allessio, who also serves as president of the RIT student chapter of the Institute of Packaging Professionals. 

For Wong, this was her first trip to Pack- Expo. “Researching the machines and reading about what they do is very different from actually seeing what the machine can do in person,” says the third-year packaging student from Clifton Park, N.Y. “I love how much of an impact packaging has on the environment and the relationship that it has with the general consumer,” Wong adds.