Inspiring Graduate: Sarah Webber (’22)
- Hometown: Rice Lake
- Degree: B.S. Packaging
- Emphasis: graphics and printing
Sarah Webber was offered her full-time dream job five months before graduation. She will be a sustainable packaging engineer at Plastic Ingenuity in Cross Plains, a custom thermoforming company that serves the health care, food and consumer packaging markets.
“I will be working to help customers meet and/or exceed their sustainability goals,” she said. “It is safe to say that my Stout education has prepared me for entering the workforce. My story epitomizes why Stout is so different from other universities. An experience like this simply would not have happened if I had gone somewhere else for my education.”
Webber graduated from UW-Stout with her bachelor’s in packaging on Dec. 17. She received the Cooperative Education and Internship Program Student of the Year award for her internship with Smiths Medical in 2021. She was offered the co-op during UW-Stout’s Career Conference, which she encourages other students to attend.
How did your Stout experience help you land your career?
The unique experience I had that changed the trajectory of my future as a packaging engineer was in my senior packaging research seminar class. The objective of this course was to conduct valuable research on an impactful packaging topic. My group chose to research new avenues for achieving sustainability in the health care packaging industry.
Our professor, Dr. Min DeGruson, facilitated guest speakers to come work with each group throughout the semester. The guest speakers for my project were Jenn Goff of Oliver Healthcare Packaging, Kiley Djupstrom of Plastic Ingenuity and Zach Muscato of Plastic Ingenuity.
Connecting with these industry professionals brought our research project to the next level.
We were able to conduct an in-depth survey of more than 100 health care packaging engineers and connect with industry groups such as the Healthcare Packaging Recycling Council, Kilmer Innovations in Packaging and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.
During that time, I began working for Jenn as an intern on her product strategy team at Oliver Healthcare Packaging, and also began assisting Jenn and Kiley as they created a new health care packaging conference called thePACKout. As a member of the sustainability agenda committee, I worked with some of the best and brightest in the industry to facilitate engaging sustainability sessions at the conference.
Because of my contributions to the agenda committee, I was awarded a sponsored trip to Austin, Texas, to attend thePACKout by Oliver Healthcare Packaging, where I learned about incredible innovations and met the most amazing people. A few months after thePACKout, Zach from Plastic Ingenuity reached out to me about a new sustainability role they are creating, and he thought I would be a good fit. This is literally my dream job.
After one trip down to Madison to interview with the team at Plastic Ingenuity, I accepted an offer to become their first sustainable packaging engineer. I truly believe one moment can change the trajectory of someone’s life. So, if I wasn’t given the opportunity to connect with Zach, Kiley and Jenn through my research seminar class, I would not be in the position I am in today.
How has Stout prepared you to work in your field?
The polytechnic advantage is one of the main reasons I chose UW-Stout. I knew my education would be built upon the core principles of applied learning, career focus and collaboration.
My internship and co-op experiences gave me the confidence I needed to succeed in my desired career. Landing my first co-op during my sophomore year impacted me greatly, but the ripple effect it caused for the remainder of my college career was even more profound. Since then, I gained over two years of experience in my field, built long lasting relationships with industry professionals, attended conferences across the country, received scholarships and secured my job.
How has your Stout education and experience changed you?
My Stout experience has also helped me develop strong character and my core values. This experience means more to me than just earning an education.
It was about becoming a valuable member of society, learning about how to make an impact and understanding the world around me.
While people assume the degrees at Stout are fixated on a single discipline due to its polytechnic nature, I learned about many things outside of the packaging realm.
My education was the perfect mixture of career focus and broad knowledge.
It was very important for me to find a university that fit my learning style but would also bring a wide variety of perspectives to my education. Stout exceeded my expectations and provided me with a well-rounded education.
I believe anyone can study hard and memorize content for a test. But Stout pushes its students to go beyond the bare minimum. I was challenged to develop skills and abilities to problem solve, embrace collaboration and be a leader. In my opinion, having the ability to learn new skills, problem solve and collaborate is way more important than memorizing and regurgitating information.
How did your involvement at Stout impact your experience?
My involvement at Stout has made all the difference for me as an individual. I was able to shine by connecting with others. The college experience is not just about passing classes, getting a diploma and moving on. Because of the steady commitment I held to my involvement while I Stout, I now have meaningful connections with the chancellor, the dean of students, the dean of the College of STEMM, the Alumni Association, my program director and many more individuals involved with Stout’s mission.
I was involved in many activities. I have been a campus tour guide with the Admissions Office since the spring semester of my first year. As a tour guide, I got to highlight all the amazing things our university has to offer. I could go on and on about our state-of-the-art labs, incredible student involvement and employment rates.
I was an active member my sorority, Alpha Phi, where I held the roles of chapter president, vice president of finance, director of academics, and panhellenic representative. I am an active member of the Stout Packaging Association, where I held the position of treasurer. I also had the pleasure of serving as a Stout Ambassador, where I held the role of campus relations officer. I was a Stout Scholar recipient and was awarded numerous scholarships from the Stout University Foundation and Institute of Packaging Professionals.
How did you overcome the challenges you faced in earning your degree?
The obvious challenge I faced while earning my degree was taking classes during COVID. I came to Stout for the polytechnic approach, and when we were sent home for the pandemic, I lost that level of instruction for a period. Luckily, we are resilient folk at Stout, and we found a way through the uncertainty.
What are you most proud of as you finish your degree?
Looking back on my time at Stout, I am most proud of the connections I made with people along the way. Stout is such a special place, and there are many people who work diligently to make it special for students.
As a student, I witnessed an incredible alumni base, who were always willing to help students throughout their journey at Stout. I am excited to become an active alum, so I can be the one to guide students along their journey at Stout.