As Clemson Packaging and Graphics Programs Adapt to COVID-19 Hurdles, Students Prepare to Enter the Workforce
Distance learning has proven to be a challenge neither too small nor too great for Clemson University’s packaging and graphics programs amid educational shifts brought on by COVID-19.
Despite losing access to Clemson’s packaging and graphics labs, and certain software applications that are licensed only for Clemson computers, Packaging Science and Graphic Communications students have adapted to the online transition. With their curriculum adjusted, faculty will see students through to the end of the semester and will continue to provide virtual instruction for summer classes.
“I had to make many adjustments to my sophomore-level package design course, which typically utilizes the computer and prototyping labs at the Sonoco Institute for hands-on coursework,” Haley Appleby, packaging lecturer, said. “But we are doing extremely well despite everything.”
The switch to online has also impacted Clemson’s capstone packaging course, where teams of seniors design real-world solutions for companies sponsoring industry projects, such as Newell, ZF Transmission and S&D Coffee. Now the teams will complete their projects by documenting their designs and outlining plans for design testing and prototyping. Once campus reopens, instructors will consider offering industry partners the ability to test and prototype the student designs at the Sonoco Institute. Another change to the capstone packaging course is the final presentation. Student teams will present their design plans to sponsors in group video conferences, as opposed to in person.
Over the course of their undergraduate degree, packaging and graphics students are required to complete two industry co-ops to graduate. Although this semester has been very fluid for co-op students in general, the situation has remained stable for packaging students. Currently, among packaging students, 14 are working remotely, 10 are working on-site each day and three are doing a combination of both.
“It looks like packing companies are busier than ever," Dr. Andrew Hurley, Clemson packaging professor, said. "I don't believe many companies will make it through this situation unscathed, but packaging is an industry that continues to have demand and job growth across the country.”
It still remains to be seen how things will pan out for graphics students in 2020. The change in workforce needs will have an impact on co-ops, but the packaging and graphics programs at Clemson are doing all they can to ensure opportunities for students to receive real-world experience.
Companies that could benefit from the help of an intern during the summer or fall are encouraged to contact Carol Jones in graphics at firstname.lastname@example.org, or Paula Beecher in packaging at email@example.com to advertise any openings to Clemson studients.
From Clemson, 30 packaging students and 47 graphics students are set to graduate this May and enter the job market.
Lately, many Clemson students have taken to LinkedIn to share projects they started earlier in the semester and are now seeking feedback from industry professionals through the professional networking platform. The shift to online has also meant that several events which were planned to bring students together with the industry are now being held virtually. The TAGA annual conference and NextPack are two such events that students were planning to attend to receive feedback on recent competitions they participated in, including the 48HOUR REPACK and Helmut Kipphan Student Chapter Competition.
“It's disappointing not to be able to attend NextPack this year after we put in so much work (and time!) on our Minute Maid ‘Rip-and-Sip’ strawless juice packs, which made the 48HOUR REPACK top 10,” packaging student Ray Cummings, said. “But we're grateful to have had the opportunity to complete the challenge!”
Likewise, graphics students are awaiting results of the TAGA student chapter competition, for the technical journal they designed and produced using innovative technologies at the Sonoco Institute.
“We miss seeing students around our building,” Bobby Congdon, assistant director of the Sonoco Institute of Packaging Design and Graphics at Clemson, said. “They are a big reason why we go to work every day. However, working remotely has provided unique focus to our staff on some projects we’ve had on the back burner.”
Sonoco Institute staff are currently transitioning their most popular package printing industry course, the Intro to Flexo Workshop, to an online format for continued learning. It incorporates elements of another big project they have been working on for the past year or more, STRIPE VR, which has been aptly renamed STRIPE Online. The course offers 11 modules on the flexographic printing process, in which trainees will utilize STRIPE Online to interact with a life-like simulation of the institute’s own narrow-web press.
“We are very excited about this project and think it will offer a unique educational opportunity for those in the flexographic market looking for remote learning during this time,” Congdon said. Interested parties can stay up-to-date on the progress of Intro to Flexo Online at sonocoinstitute.com or by following the institute on LinkedIn.
Despite the closure of the building, a small group of faculty and staff have been granted limited access to the Sonoco Institute to help the Clemson Apparel Research (CAR) laboratory produce face masks to meet local needs in response to COVID-19. The small team is utilizing the Esko Kongsberg cutting table in the institute’s prototyping lab to more efficiently cut masks, which were previously being cut by hand. These will serve several hundred individuals.
Face-to-face package printing training at the institute has been suspended until further notice. Keep abreast of canceled and rescheduled events by visiting sonocoinstitute.com/events. Flexographic experts at the institute are also still working through the planning phase of various press trials with companies, to be prepared when things reopen. Interested parties can email firstname.lastname@example.org.
“All in all, we are extremely proud of how everyone has come together to make learning a success for our students during this unprecedented time,” Chip Tonkin, chair of Graphic Communications and director of the Sonoco Institute, said.
Dr. Keith Bertrand, interim chair of Food, Nutrition and Packaging Sciences, added, "I am proud of how well the faculty and the students adapted to the abrupt shift to online teaching and learning due to COVID-19; however, I am not surprised because the Clemson Packaging Sciences program is one of the best in the world."