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Quietly Making Noise

By AICC Staff

June 1, 2018

width=300More than 25 years ago, the International Corrugated Packaging Foundation (ICPF) placed a Kongsberg cutting table and ArtiosCAD software at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo (SLO). This donation was a bet on the university’s quest to evolve into one of the strongest packaging schools. The choices then were pretty slim. They were San José State or Cal Poly SLO, the latter being somewhat in the middle of the state between San Francisco and Los Angeles. One of the conditions we had to insist upon was the installation of a corrugated curriculum. The ICPF worked with Dwight Schmidt of then Inland Container Corp. and other industry leaders to create this curriculum. This became, and is still today, one of the most comprehensive tutorials for the paper and corrugated industry, which Cal Poly adopted and plugged into its packaging minor.

The installation was met with much fanfare. Then-ICPF president Robin Jackson, and Cindy Flinn Baker, then Chair of AICC, participated in the ribbon-cutting of the new placement. This was also celebrated with what is called Poly Pack, one of the most informative expos of packaging held over several days. Not only was this an extremely informative celebration of packaging, it was one heck of a great time. One of the highlights of Poly Pack is the egg drop competition, which is held downtown during the farmers market. This competition is open to individuals, students, and corporations that can demonstrate their ability to take an envelope of the same set of packaging materials, place an egg in it, and drop it from higher and higher elevations from a scissors lift until the losers fail and the winner succeeds.

The program was led by Dr. Larry Gay back then. Dr. Gay was a student’s teacher. These bright kids would do just about anything for Dr. Gay. He practiced “learn by doing” in a huge way. The Poly Pack event was created, managed, and celebrated by a student panel directed by the student president of Poly Pack year after year. The event allowed for packaging education with industry leaders demonstrating the newest trends in packaging, a career fair that exposed the best packaging students available for hire or internships, a golf tournament, a wine tasting from Central Coast wineries, a banquet, and of course the famous egg drop. Prior to the advent of the banquet in the old days, the packaging alumni, friends of the program, and the advisory board would gather in an Italian restaurant and sponsor dinner for the students in the packaging program. These students were engaged in learning about packaging while building relationships with industry leaders and alumni, with a goal of getting hired by the best companies available.

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Dr. Larry Gay (left) and Dr. Jay Singh are the energy behind the successful Cal Poly packaging science program.

This energy was passed on to an underling by the name of Jay Singh. Everyone wondered whether Jay could keep the enthusiasm and interest Dr. Gay had delivered to the students. Jay had to garnish the relationships that Dr. Gay had set with the students and execute his vision for the program while continuing the “learn-by-doing” process with the program.

Jay’s vision was extremely wide. He wanted to develop Cal Poly SLO into the mecca of packaging in North America by introducing research for the industry, utilization of the foremost testing lab, creation of a stand-alone packaging degree, the building of a Master of Science degree in packaging value chain, creation of a research consortium, and lastly, the building of the Packaging Value Chain Center. Much of this would be funded and supported in many ways. The lab would bring in revenue from industry and serve its need for unbiased testing. The research consortium would drive dollars by solving industry’s packaging problems. Solicitations of grants would play into the plan. Gifts from individuals, foundations, alumni, and trusts would be sought after; and all of this had to be accomplished by keeping Dr. Gay’s vision of student involvement intact.

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Students at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, work on a project on the Kongsberg cutting table.

So, what happened? Jay hit the ball out of the park. The program went from a minor to a packaging major. He developed the lab further through donations and gifts, and built one of the most comprehensive packaging testing labs in the country. He put the university on the global map by hosting the 18th IAPRI World Packaging Conference in 2012, which is held in a different country each year and for which he applied during his initial years at Cal Poly. Jay gathered the Packaging Research Consortium, currently in its ninth year of successful operation, together with 13 corporations and is setting his sights on 25 members. He built his consumer packaging concentration degree. He hired his first staff member, Dr. Keith Vorst. Then things began to snowball. He hired Dr. Koushik Saha, who enhanced “learn by doing,” involving students while building enthusiasm for the program in 2010. Then Ray Kisch came on to run the labs. In 10 years Jay added eight highly trained staff members to the program.

More importantly, Jay and his team drove from 100 student undergrads to more than 350 undergrads. In 2017, the program developed the packaging technology concentration and the master’s degree in packaging value chain, and at the same time, the Packaging Value Chain Center was formed. The center was solidified with industry veteran Brent Moore as the director. This program went from five major undergraduate packaging courses to 12 major undergraduate courses. The master’s program added another 14 graduate courses, as well as an additional seven instructors outside of the core group of Cal Poly packaging program instructors.

Now that Cal Poly SLO has become one of the most valued packaging schools in the U.S., outpacing all other leading packaging programs in North America, the program has moved on to launch the master’s in packaging value chain. This Master of Science degree and the professional certificates in packaging value chain are offered by “the undisputed leader in experiential packaging education and technology that provides the global packaging value chain with premier talent and applied research.” This is a 100 percent online program that brings together real-world disciplines of data analytics, design, marketing, finance, supply chain, operations, and quantitative analysis, all centered around packaging education. This degree can be accomplished inside of a year and is extremely affordable.

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Cal Poly packaging science students are assigned paperboard and corrugated packaging projects. Here, students “examine” their initial designs.

The university also offers online professional certificates within a few of the master’s program subsets of marketability, design, analytics, and logistics and supply chain. It’s now an accomplished packaging program complete with a thriving minor, two undergraduate concentrations, and a Master of Science degree and professional certificates program in packaging value chain at Cal Poly. The university is actively seeking the naming sponsor for the Packaging Value Chain Center, headed by Moore, and donations for its development from corporations, individuals, foundations, and alumni are needed. The program is looking for research projects with specific packaging problems from corporations and other avenues. Mostly, Cal Poly is looking for believers who understand that the success of those companies is attributable to the value of investing in education for their employees. This investment in education is also what makes this industry strong.

Jay and his staff have been quietly making noise in the packaging world. They need support for the things that they have accomplished. This is the foundation of the corrugated packaging world. From the very first investment of a prototyping table and software at Cal Poly SLO, our industry enjoys the opportunity to gain knowledge from the best packaging program in America. Knowledge is power! Invest in your children and your employees at the strongest program in North America.

I constantly hear, “Why is the ICPF investing in universities that end up placing designers in our companies?” I cringe when I hear that. I quietly walk away and say nothing. However, we invested some seeds into a university that was beginning to build a packaging program, and we won. We now have invested in a powerhouse that can train our employees to be better competitors or leaders in our businesses. These seeds have helped bring forward a multidisciplined approach to packaging that, if utilized, will propel any of our companies into the leadership of our industry due to the bright bench strength we can acquire by investing in this program. The mind is a terrible thing to waste!

For more information regarding the Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, packaging program, contact Jay Singh at jasingh@calpoly.edu. For more information regarding the Center for Value Chain Packaging, contact Brent Moore at bmoore24@calpoly.edu.


width=150Greg Tucker is Chair and CEO of Bay Cities and a past AICC Chair. He can be reached at gregt@bay-cities.com.