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In Their Words

By AICC Staff

September 21, 2021

Throughout the years, we repeatedly have heard from executives who have attended ICPF’s dialogue dinners, teleconferences, and other events that after meeting the participating students, they are very excited about the bright future for the industry. The following is the first part of an article on the corrugated packaging industry from the perspective of a recent graduate. This two-part article is the first in a series of articles written by new hires who express the passion that we hear daily from the latest generation of students and upcoming graduates. We hope these periodic articles will remind and encourage ICPF Corporate Partners to use ICPF’s student intern and new graduate recruiting resources for their needs in 2022 and beyond.

Kelsea Potthast

width=332My name is Kelsea Potthast, and I recently graduated from the University of Florida (UF) with a bachelor’s degree in business administration, majoring in marketing and minoring in packaging science. I am pleased to share with you a brief history on the beginning of my ongoing success story with the corrugated packaging and displays industry.

As a result of my sewing hobby interest, I first connected with packaging in high school while taking an international baccalaureate class in design technology. When I entered UF, I quickly became even more enamored by packaging science. My first and favorite packaging class at UF was Principals of Packaging, taught by Dr. William Pelletier. Despite my being one of two students who was not an engineer, Dr. Pelletier encouraged my interest and participation in the subject. I then discovered the UF Packaging Club. I joined immediately and pursued any type of club competition, event, or leadership opportunity.

It was around this time, during my junior year, that I realized all my friends already had accepted internship positions. Due to my late realization of this requirement, I began trying to get interviews and attend career fairs in search of an internship opportunity. I tried to demonstrate my passion for combining the business principles of marketing with the engineering sciences of packaging in my elevator speech to anyone who would listen. However, company HR representatives would repeatedly respond with, “So, do you want to be on the technical or business side? We don’t have a need for that type of blend.”

Despite the challenge to find this fit in the packaging industry, the Packaging Club continued offering support by encouraging me to take on other leadership positions and to participate in packaging-related events. I was informed of an opportunity to apply for an ICPF travel grant to Michigan to attend ICPF’s 2020 Student Dialogue Dinner and its Teleconference on the Business of Corrugated Packaging & Displays. Although I was struggling to redesign my future career plans, I applied on a whim. Once more, I wrote in my application to ICPF about my dreams of combining marketing or business with packaging. After sending in this application, I decided I’d better also start applying to established internship programs, even if they weren’t exactly what I wanted to do.

Within a week or so of applying to the ICPF travel grant, I received a phone call from Richard Flaherty, saying that he had reviewed my travel grant application. Although I was preparing myself for him to explain that my unique passion of blending my marketing interests with packaging was not what the industry is seeking, he sounded excited and optimistic. He continued to say that what I believed to be my unique passion in combining marketing and sales with packaging is precisely what the corrugated packaging industry is often seeking for packaging sales representatives and future managers. For once, someone not only reciprocated my enthusiasm but validated what I had been seeking. I had a purpose, and it began with this one phone call.

I was awarded the ICPF travel grant, and a month later, in February, I was flying to Michigan on my way to the Dialogue Dinner and Teleconference. On the way there, I received a call from a consulting firm, which had earlier interviewed me, offering a summer 2020 internship. I was thrilled. It might not have been my dream internship, but it was the required internship needed on my résumé and transcript.

I arrived in East Lansing and excitedly joined the 35 talented students from across the country, as well as the dozen industry executives who were participating in ICPF’s Dialogue Dinner. After introductions, I sat at one of the half-dozen or so roundtables with about seven students and two corrugated packaging executives. At first, the students, who reintroduced themselves, seemed a bit nervous and quiet. Due to my confidence from the consulting internship offer, I convinced myself that I had nothing to lose by jumping into the dialogue. The room’s atmosphere quickly shifted as I learned that the students and executives were genuinely intrigued and supportive of not only my own packaging interests and questions, but of each other’s. From design to business, to packaging and chemical engineering, everyone’s background and perspective was vastly different. But all collided in an inspirational way around our shared interest in corrugated packaging. This nurturing and expressive environment was the opposite of the many career fairs and interrogation-like interviews from my past.

The next day we all attended ICPF’s Teleconference, broadcasted live from WKAR public television studios that included an additional 500 students from across the nation. A panel of executives, which included Bryan Hollenbach of Green Bay Packaging and Rich Ford of Packaging Corp. of America, spoke and answered questions to help students learn about the business side of corrugated, its unique sustainability, new developments, and its career opportunities. I learned that over 90% of products in North America are delivered or displayed in corrugated packaging at some point in their life cycle. It is the most frequently used shipping material because it is cost-effective, lightweight, functional, innovative, versatile, and sustainable. With over 1,153 corrugated manufacturing and design facilities worldwide, there are endless locations to pursue a career. I felt like these people, this industry, was exactly where I was supposed to be. It was like I found a career path that seemed to be a no-brainer.

This is just the first part of Potthast’s story. Be on the lookout for part two in the November/December issue of BoxScore, in which you’ll read about Kelsea’s journey from intern to ICPF’s Student Advisory Board and beyond. Stay tuned!