Jacob Vrooman has taken a professional journey that looks a lot like our company’s path in recent years. Turning his experience in pulp and paper production to innovation in absorbent hygiene products, Vrooman has crossed both our business divisions and the Atlantic Ocean as he contributes to Domtar’s success.
As an engineering student in 2009, Vrooman interned at Domtar’s Ashdown Mill in Arkansas. Less than a decade later, he’s a product commercialization manager in Madrid, who holds a patent for his contributions to absorbent hygiene technology in our Personal Care business.
The Internship That Launched a Career
Curiosity brought Jacob Vrooman to where he is today. As a high school student in Virginia, he planned to study chemical engineering in college. Unexpectedly, he was invited to compete for a scholarship in the highly specialized Paper Science & Engineering program at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. The uniqueness of the program — along with the program’s smaller class sizes and nearly 100 percent job placement — appealed to him, and the scholarship sealed the deal.
Domtar actively recruits students and new graduates for internships and full-time positions from this program. After just one semester, Vrooman began a five-month placement in quality assurance at the Ashdown Mill.
“I hadn’t taken any classes yet in paper science,” he says, “but I received helpful on-the-job training and dedicated supervision. The investment enabled me to complete meaningful projects.”
During his final semester in college, Vrooman was looking for an opportunity to expand his horizons. He landed a part-time job in the lab at Domtar’s newly opened Personal Care headquarters in Raleigh.
Senior scientist Harry Chmielewski noticed right away that Jacob Vrooman “had the curiosity that good technical people always have.”
“From day one, he had the creativity to make meaningful contributions to R&D initiatives,” Chmielewski says.
Working alongside industry experts, Vrooman contributed to research that eventually led to a material patent. The innovation gives Domtar a high-performing absorbent core that can be used in multiple applications.
As soon as he graduated, Vrooman jumped at the chance to take a full-time position at the company’s manufacturing plant in Greenville, North Carolina, about 90 miles east of Raleigh.
“Because the absorbent hygiene market is evolving quite rapidly, there’s a high demand for new and more effective product solutions. Domtar Personal Care’s dedication to meeting this challenge aligned perfectly with my desire to solve problems,” Vrooman says.
At Greenville, Vrooman managed the maintenance and new product development for absorbent underpads, which are widely used in acute- and extended-care facilities. He was soon promoted to product development engineer, and he expanded his skillset to include other absorbent hygiene products, raw materials and technologies.
Finding New Challenges in Spain
As the next step in his career, Vrooman recently accepted a position at our European headquarters in Madrid, where he’s welcoming the challenge of living in another culture and learning a new language. “The late meal times have been one of the most challenging adjustments. We eat lunch at 2 pm! But it is always worth the wait, Spanish cuisine is fantastic,” he says.
In Madrid, he works with the product development team to strengthen Personal Care’s partner-brand offerings. He’s also passionate about innovation. “I’m particularly excited about partnering with EAM (Engineered Absorbent Materials). We are designing products that leverage EAM innovations, such as NovaZorb® to dramatically improve product performance,” says Vrooman.
What advice does Jacob Vrooman have for someone starting a career in this industry? “Reach a little outside of your responsibilities, without going rogue,” he says. “Try to foresee the next step or connect what you are doing to the big picture. Staying curious is key.”
Main photo: During his internship with Domtar Personal Care, Vrooman contributed to an innovation that ultimately received a patent. He collaborated with senior scientist Harry Chmielewski, Paul Ducker, manager of research and development at EAM, and Tom Kaiser, a senior research engineer, on the research. “Never underestimate the impact your work can have,” Vrooman said.