Packaging education: Are we engineers, scientists, technologists, or artists?

What do we mean when we speak of "packaging professionals?" Are they engineers, scientists, technicians, or artists?

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Packaging career opportunities are so broad it's difficult to say that one is more important than the others.

However, these distinctions are critical to college students who need to select a major. There is an expectation that engineering will lead to applied problem solving where a solution is first envisioned. Science majors expect to learn how to methodically pursue answers to open-ended questions. Technicians will learn a trade and artists will develop natural talents.

There appears to be a chasm between what packaging education is producing and what industry is seeking. So many job descriptions posted by employers have the title "Packaging Engineer." Do these companies really want engineers? If so, which school produces engineers? Does packaging science also apply? What about packaging technicians and artists?

At UF, we decided that we would align our packaging curriculum with engineering. This was easy since UF's packaging program lives in UF's Agricultural & Biological Engineering (ABE) Department and all ABE faculty are engineers. Summer 2010 marked UF's third major curriculum change to "hard-core" engineering, including all fundamental math and engineering requirements of an engineering student.

One outstanding issue regarding packaging engineering is that of accreditation. Most accredited engineering majors are accredited through the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). ABET accreditation is a peer-review process that assures the quality of postsecondary education. Educational institutions or programs volunteer to undergo periodic reviews to determine if criteria specified by the profession are being met. Professional societies such as AiChE, ASME, ASABE, etc. work through ABET to provide accreditation standards and peer reviews for their respective majors. Perhaps it is time for one or more packaging related professional societies to take the charge of accreditation of post-secondary packaging education?

Bruce Welt is Associate Professor and Coordinator of the Packaging Science Program at the University of Florida. He can be reached at bwelt@ufl.edu.
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