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College Internship Leads to Biomaterials Career at Domtar


In a class during her final semester studying for a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, Catherine Summerell’s watched a video about Domtar’s work in biomaterials. Her professor encouraged students to apply for an internship that would explore what a biomaterials career could offer.

The job — as a research scientist on our Biomaterials Innovation team — wasn’t what Summerell had imagined as a career, and she wasn’t familiar with Domtar. But not only did she land the internship, she also became a full-time employee afterward. Today, she’s eager to tell people about her biomaterials career and why she thinks Domtar is a great place to work.

Internship Shines Light on Biomaterials Career

Summerell admits that her idea of what it would be like to work for a big company did not match reality. “I thought that Domtar would be very corporate and impersonal, and it was quite the opposite,” she says. “Everyone was really welcoming and genuinely cared about my experience.” In fact, our company culture was one of the factors that led her to decide to pursue full-time employment with us.

Summerell was part of the internship program at our corporate office in Fort Mill, South Carolina, which offers hands-on experience in a range of fields, such as sustainability, biomaterials, paper science, and marketing and communications. We also offer internships in our manufacturing facilities that are generally focused on engineering roles.

By doing real work, rather than just token assignments, Summerell found the biomaterials internship to be a meaningful learning experience. It was also a lot of fun. Interns learned about Domtar’s values and culture, toured a pulp-and-paper mill and helped clean a local river as a service to the community.

Biomaterials and Sustainability Go Hand in Hand

Since starting her biomaterials career with Domtar, Summerell has taken on additional responsibilities and learned more about the business outside of her department. Our commitment to sustainability is what impresses her the most. “We do so many things to reduce our impact on the environment. I wish more companies were like Domtar,” she says.

For Summerell, one of the clearest proofs of this commitment to long-term, holistic thinking is the very existence of the Biomaterials group. The team’s goal is to develop and commercialize materials derived from our most abundant resource: trees. Starting with cellulose, lignin and other components of tree fiber, Domtar’s plant-based innovations offer renewable alternatives to petroleum-based plastics and fossil fuels. Formed in 2016, our Biomaterials group already has 20 significant opportunities in its portfolio.

As a research scientist, Summerell plays an important role in determining which ideas hold the most promise, helping the company chart an incremental path to the future.

“I design lab experiments and run analyses to test our theories. For example, is there a biofuel or biochemical we could produce using existing infrastructure at a pulp mill? Will the process work? How much would it cost? We have to think out of the box, yet within our limits,” she says.

Summerell’s supervisor, Naren Narendranath, says that he appreciates what she brings to the team: “She’s technically very capable, and she also has a natural curiosity. Both of these attributes are necessary for our success.”

Looking back on when she first learned about the internship opportunity and what a biomaterials career could look like at Domtar, Summerell is grateful she took the leap of faith: “I could never have imagined what was waiting for me. And I like to think I can’t imagine what’s next!”