October is Manufacturing Month, giving a spotlight to career opportunities for young engineers and others who are the next generation of the manufacturing workforce. Sophie Justinak and Tracy Wawrzyniec, employees at our Nekoosa Mill, recently made the transition from successful interns to full-time engineers, thanks to Domtar’s support for interns and emphasis on job readiness. Their journeys demonstrate the exciting future that’s in store for young engineers working in the pulp and paper industry.
Experience for Young Engineers
Wawrzyniec and Justinak began their careers at Domtar as environmental interns after earning science degrees. Wawrzyniec joined the mill in the summer of 2015. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin, where she studied water resources with an emphasis on chemistry. Her internship prepared her well for a full-time position handling the mill’s wastewater permitting. In June 2018, she was promoted to process engineer in the pulp mill’s wood room.
Justinak came to Nekoosa the following summer, having studied bioproducts engineering at the University of Minnesota. She was hired as an environmental intern before moving into an entry-level engineer position in the pulp mill. In November 2017, she was promoted to process engineer in the pulp mill.
Because they were included on valuable projects from the beginning of their internships, both women were ready for the transition to full-time engineer.
“Transitioning from an intern to a process engineer, I picked up a lot more responsibility for projects in an entire area — not just individual tasks,” Justinak says. “You have to be a bit more focused on time management and not allow the different things that can pop up day to day prevent you from getting your job done.”
In addition to enjoying the work, both Wawrzyniec and Justinak say their colleagues at the mill enhanced their experience and encouraged them to stay in the industry.
“I really enjoy working with the people here,” Wawrzyniec says. “From the first day, they gave me valuable projects and helped me along the way.”
“You can’t really ask for better bosses,” Justinak says. “They gave me a lot of independence working on important projects that also allowed me to familiarize myself with the entire mill.”
Dave Ulrich, environmental manager at the mill, supervised both women in their internships.
“I was impressed from day one about how excited they were to be here and learn as fast as they could,” he says. “They both have a passion for life and it shows in their attitude at work.”
Enjoying the Environment
Small-town settings are sometimes a hurdle in recruiting young engineers to pulp and paper manufacturing, but Wawrzyniec and Justinak say they enjoy life in Central Wisconsin.
For Wawrzyniec, living in the Nekoosa area is a good fit in several ways. She’s familiar with the industry, having had relatives work in pulp and paper mills in the area. She also grew up less than an hour away, so she’s beginning her career not far from her family and in an area where she can enjoy her favorite outdoor activities, especially hunting and fishing.
Justinak came from a suburb of Minnesota’s Twin Cities. While she misses the city, she also loves the many outdoor activities and local breweries in the region. The hardest part, she says, is the football. “I’m a [Minnesota] Vikings fan in [Green Bay] ‘Packerland’ and a [University of Minnesota] Gopher in [University of Wisconsin] ‘Badgerland.’ But it’s a fun rivalry.”
Both women are proud to be a part of the Nekoosa team. “Working on continuous improvement projects and being able to see the results come through in terms of production or other tangible results is really rewarding,” Justinak says.
Advice to Future Young Engineers
Wawrzyniec and Justinak offer wise advice to other young engineers beginning their careers.
“At first, listen more than you speak,” Justinak says. “There are a lot of people who have a lot of great knowledge and experience you can benefit from. The more you listen, the quicker you’re going to learn and the quicker you’re going to earn their trust.”
“Just go for it,” Wawrzyniec adds. “Be confident and don’t second-guess yourself. Go for what you want. Don’t wait around and miss out on opportunities.”
Read more about a day in the life of another one of Domtar’s young engineers at our Kingsport Mill.