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Feb. 5, 2020

Thinking beyond the box

MSU a leader in packaging science

When it comes to finding solutions for a better tomorrow, Michigan State University Spartans have been thinking beyond the box — and designing better boxes — for more than half a century.

The first higher education institution in the world to offer a bachelor of science degree in packaging, MSU is home to the top-ranked School of Packaging, whose graduates account for more than half of all packaging professionals in the nation. The pioneer of the packaging science discipline is at the forefront of creating smarter, more sustainable packaging options for myriad items that are part of our everyday lives.

While often unnoticed, Spartan packaging advances make life noticeably better — from engineering containers that keep food fresh longer and bottles that keep medications secure to exploring intelligent packages that can issue safety alerts and using cognitive psychology to indicate how people interact with information labels.

Pioneering a discipline with global impact

Established as an independent school in 1957, the School of Packaging was the first of its kind in the country. Today, it’s the only school in the nation to offer a Ph.D. program in packaging. The school also offers bachelor’s and master’s degree programs, plus certificate and online master’s programs aimed at mid-career professionals.

MSU packaging alumni can be found working in major industries across the globe, from automotive, food and agriculture to medical, pharmaceuticals, manufacturing and cosmetics. Among their notable employers are many of the Fortune 500 companies, including: Amazon, ConAgra Foods, Dow Chemical Company, Ford, General Motors, Johnson & Johnson, Kraft Heinz, Kellogg Company, Nestle, PepsiCo, Proctor & Gamble, Steelcase, Stryker, Tesla, Unilever and many more.

Collaborating with industry and academia

MSU’s School of Packaging collaborates with other U.S. universities and has become a model for many programs. MSU alumni lead and influence programs at universities across the country and around the world, including California Polytechnic State University, Rutgers University, San Jose State University, University of Wisconsin, Rochester Institute of Technology, Clemson University, Indiana State University and Kasetsart and Chiang Mai Universities in Thailand.

Researchers in the School of Packaging collaborate with a large number of groups across campus as well as other research universities, not-for-profit research centers and industry professionals, sharing valuable knowledge about food science and food safety, engineering, supply chain and many other areas.

Innovating for the future

MSU leads transformational research in the areas of bio-based polymers capable of replacing petroleum-based plastics, nanocomposites, active and intelligent packaging and medical packaging. Spartans also are known for developing innovative packaging solutions for improved food quality and safety.

The School of Packaging has produced research resulting in innovation and sustainable systems, making a positive impact on the environment and the global footprint of packaging and related systems across the supply chain.

Q&A with Matthew Daum, new director of the School of Packaging

MSU School of Packaging alumnus Matthew Daum, Ph.D., was named director of the School of Packaging in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, effective January 2, 2020. For the past 25 years, Daum has worked at HP Inc. (formerly Hewlett Packard) based in Boise, Idaho.

What are your top priorities for the School of Packaging in your first year?

First and foremost, my focus the first 90 days is to simply listen and learn. There is a great foundation already in place on which to build the future and it is important I understand where we are before driving where we should go.

In general, my priority areas fall into four categories:

  • First is recruitment and development of faculty and staff. They are the backbone of the school, and I want to ensure we continue investing in developing our faculty and staff and attracting new talent. We also need to ensure there is proper bandwidth for teaching, research and outreach.
  • Second is to make progress with our building renovation campaign. Our building and facilities should represent a leadership position, be a destination for the best global packaging talent, and inspire and embody innovation, collaboration and inclusion. We have some incredible initial gifts; the goal is to build on that momentum and demonstrate to our supporters and the university we can follow through on a major project like this.
  • Third is to evaluate our curriculum in a global context, and strategize where and how to continue to be the premier packaging education offering for both packaging and non-packaging students and professionals.
  • Fourth is to think creatively how to increase the school’s influence by developing a plan for outreach and MSU Extension.

What excites you most about being a faculty member in the school?

I love being around new ideas, I love the energy on campus, and I love collaborating with smart colleagues inside and outside of the school to make a difference in the world of packaging. The fact that I can be a member of the school “inside the building” is very exciting.

What do you see as opportunities in education, research and outreach?

Our great opportunities include focusing on a global context relevant for today’s societal concerns, which is in line with future demographic trends. If we are going to maintain our thought-leadership position, we need to continually scan the horizon, listen intently to partners and stakeholders and work hard to make the right adjustments to be leaders in a global society.

What is your favorite thing or memory about MSU?

I had a great college experience at MSU. I came from a small town, the first person on my dad’s immediate side of the family to finish a college degree. Like many who come to a big university, I matured as a person by interacting with many interesting and diverse people. I made lifelong friends, married my wife, and found a profession that has been very good to me. The best memory was when my dad attended my Ph.D. defense. He was so proud. That was a meaningful experience for me.

Read Q&As from current student Emma Albrecht and alumni Tracy Nameth and Dwight Schmidt.