Student Essay: 15 months at the Sappi co-op

August 14, 2023
Alex Hilde has gelled brown hair and smiles as he stands in front of a waterfall wearing a gray hoodie.

Written by Alexander Hilde

I started my co-op at Sappi last June, so I am wrapping up my 15th and final month working there. Almost two years ago, a few Sappi employees visited BBE and held an info session on the company and the openings they had for students. I was intrigued by the opportunity for many reasons. Mainly, I liked that it was for 15 months. Working for that long at one company allowed me to contribute to them significantly more than a typical internship or co-op. I was only starting to get familiar with their process by the end of last summer and I would have left unsatisfied had I been going back to school at that point. I feel like I truly know what it is like to work as an engineer now, and that experience is golden to me as I begin to search for a job after graduating. I was very eager to know what it was like to work full time and not be in school, and I feel much more prepared for that transition now. 

I think that Sappi is a great place to work for people in the BBE program. The forest products industry is one of the oldest and largest bioproducts industries and it’s not going anywhere. As we divest from petroleum-based products, forest products will fill many of those gaps. I am very happy to be a part of a mill that has been around for 125 years and help them as they continue to evolve. Many of us chose BBE because we want to feel good about the work we are doing. Reflecting on my experience, I feel great about the work that I have done for them. The major projects I worked on have all been focused on reducing waste. Not only do I feel good about the work I’ve done, but I generally feel good about the larger goals that my work has contributed to. This is key to staying sane/happy at a job.

There are many things that I learned that can’t be taught in school. School has a relatively simple dynamic where there is a professor teaching and assigning work to the students in the class. Similarly, in industry, different people will ask engineers to do various tasks, but there are also times when the task is very abstract. It is up to the engineer to identify and act on opportunities. Because of the complexity of manufacturing processes, projects will often require balancing the wants and needs of various stakeholders. These requirements aren’t necessarily known either, so communication becomes very important. Also, much of school is focused on theory and how things should work, but in the real world there can be many limitations and it is not so easy to achieve and maintain an ideal working state.

 I would recommend taking the time to do a co-op to anyone considering it. As with anything, there are a few hoops to jump through, but it’s worth it. I was able to save enough money to pay for my tuition this year. I also feel very prepared to adjust back to school life; working full time has taught me to use my time more wisely. It was hard to see many of my peers graduate in the Spring knowing that I still have a year left, but I’m in no rush. I will especially savor this year of school, and I’m relieved that there’s only a few more late nights of homework and finals to take.