The following article appeared in The Daily Orange, the student newspaper covering the Syracuse University and SUNY-ESF campuses.
ESF feeds into papermaking industry
By Bethany Bump
Tor Goettsche wanted to be a professional golfer. But he ended up making paper instead.
After speaking to a fellow high school student's father, who worked in the paper industry, he chose to study paper engineering. This was four to five months before he started freshman year.
Now, in his final year in the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry's program, his tuition has been paid for, he has held three internships, has a job lined up for after graduation, and has run the college's papermaking machine.
The semi-commercial paper mill occupies an entire floor of Walters Hall at ESF. It's the largest papermaking unit at any school in the country.
The 100- to 120-foot-long mill can make a sheet about 48 inches wide and can produce 500 pounds of paper per hour.
"Running the machines is fun and gives the opportunity for real hands-on learning," Goettsche said.
The machine is the centerpiece of ESF's paper science program, the first of its kind in the United States. Since 1920, it has led the way in papermaking, a 2,000 year-old industry. ESF was the first educational institution to have an on-campus paper plant, and the first to develop a de-inking process that enables recycling of newsprint, said Gary Scott, professor and faculty chair in the paper and bioprocess engineering program.
The department of paper and bioprocess engineering, formerly the faculty of paper science and engineering, offers three majors - paper engineering, paper science and bioprocess engineering - with 70 students divided among them. There are only 10 schools in the United States that offer paper science schooling.
"It's a relatively small program, but our graduates are in high demand," Scott said.
And with a 100 percent job-placement rate, graduates are highly coveted. Scott said this year's graduates' starting salaries will be around $68,000. Last year's graduates made $62,000 a year.
"A lot of our students eventually work their way into management," Scott said. "We have a number of our graduates from 20 years ago that are now vice presidents and presidents of companies."
After graduation, many students become paper engineers, process engineers, mill superintendents, paper mill supervisors and plant engineering team leaders.
The paper engineering program received accreditation from the Accreditation Board of Engineering and Technology in 2002, Scott said.
Courses offered within the degree program include the art and early history of papermaking, wood-water relationships, papermaking processes, principles of pulping and bleaching, and papermaking wet end chemistry, among others.
Scott said that despite the variety of courses, understanding the properties of paper runs high on the program's list of priorities.
"A piece of writing paper and a facial tissue are made out of the same material, but what they're used for is completely different," Scott said. "You wouldn't want to use one in place of the other."
With two paper pilot machines on campus - a 12-inch and 48-inch - students are able to use them in their labs, usually four students to a machine, Scott said.
These students get to contribute to the way paper makes its way from tree form to newsprint or stationary.
The first step involves pulping, Scott said. Most paper is made from wood. Wood is made of fibers, or pulp, and depending on the type of tree, these fibers can be two to five millimeters long. Pulping is taking these fibers apart and flattening them into sheet form.
Pulp is then set in water with chemical additives to make it strong, Scott said. These wet paper sheets run through the paper mill.
After the pulping process, the chemical process of bleaching decreases the color of pulp so that it becomes whiter. Paper will look much like a brown paper grocery bag, Scott said. That brown is the natural color of paper, he said, because no one cares about bleaching a grocery bag. Bleaching is what it takes to make paper white, convenient for writing on.
The Syracuse Pulp and Paper Foundation offers scholarships to students enrolled in paper science and paper engineering their first semester at ESF. Scholarships in 2008 were $3,000 a semester for New York State residents and $3,750 for out-of-state residents. After the first year, scholarships are awarded on a semester grade point average basis.
Students need to complete a 12-week full-time internship in their field approved by the department between their junior and senior years, Scott said. He said quite often, it's the program's internships that lead to early job offers.
"They come into their senior year having already accepted a job offer for when they graduate one year later," he said.
Goettsche said the three internships he has held since starting the program have been vastly different. He said he's ready to enter the job market with a job lined up after he graduates.
"During these internships I was able to gain practical experience and gauge what is expected for engineers entering the industry."