Did you ever stop to wonder what great minds came up with the ideas for those devilishly difficult packages children’s toys come in? Or who thought up the idea for department store boxes that pop into shape after a series of bends and folds only a student of origami could have designed?
Tamper proof, child resistant, recyclable, sturdy and attractive are some of many goals manufacturers impose on package designers. And it’s only when packaging somehow intrudes on enjoyment that most consumers even notice what might go into designing the seemingly impenetrable plastic clamshell sheltering a product.
It turns out that packaging is big business. According to the experts at Virginia Tech, packaging is the “third largest industry in the world” ($420 billion) and is growing at a rate of four percent per year.
And colleges are beginning to catch on. A pioneer in the industry, Michigan State University established one of the original programs in 1952—first as a discipline within the MSU Department of Forest Products and then in 1957 as an independent school within the university. Virginia Tech locates its program within the Department of Sustainable Biomaterials, while Rutgers claims to offer “the nation’s only packaging program in the nation housed in an engineering school.”
Other undergraduate programs are structured as minors or concentrations such as those found at Christian Brother University, University of Florida, or Cal Poly.
Although sustainability is one of the greatest driving factors in packaging, the field attracts students who are interested in design, materials science, food chemistry, nanotechnology, business and marketing, transportation and distribution.
Programs typically work very closely with the packaging industry and offer hands-on experiences through internships. Scholarships and competitions for packaging students are also available.
So as you tear into holiday packages or decide how to dispose of accumulated packaging, be aware that academics are working on greater efficiency and sustainability in the industry. And here (in alphabetical order) are eight colleges for degrees in packaging science or engineering (additional programs may be found on the Packaging World website):
Clemson University: “Packaging science majors first complete basic course work in science and math before delving into the intricacies of packaging design, materials, polymers and distribution.”
Indiana State University: “Coursework includes study in technology, business, the sciences, and mathematics—plus a cooperative work experience.”
Michigan State University: “More than half of all packaging graduates employed in the U.S. come from Michigan State. Our academic offerings include bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degree programs in packaging, as well as certificate programs and an on-line master’s degree aimed at mid-career professionals.”
Rochester Institute of Technology: “The packaging science major prepares students for employment in areas such as package development, sales, purchasing, structural design, production, research, and marketing.”
Rutgers University: “Packaging engineering is a multi-disciplinary field within the Applied Sciences in Engineering major at RU that draws on chemical, industrial, materials, and mechanical engineering in order to design and create boxes, cartons, bottles, and other packing materials that meet specific criteria.”
San Jose State University: “With this degree you are eligible to apply for career positions of Packaging Engineer, Packaging Technologist or any other positions requiring a BS in Packaging.”
University of Wisconsin-Stout: “Through laboratory and co-op work experiences, you will apply the principles of science, mathematics and communications skills.”
Virginia Tech: “We work with packaging companies to provide internship and permanent employment opportunities for our students. Internships opportunities are available with food packaging, corrugated packaging, packaging graphics, and various plastic packaging companies.”