The Fiber Wire

Plugged in and turned on. All paper. All the time.

I Recycled – Now What? Why We Do It. Why It Matters.

The next time you get an ‘F’ on an exam, don’t be bummed out – you can help a tree out!

This Spring Semester, the last semester of my graduate program, I lead the undergraduate seminar in our department. The seminar meets six times for two hours at a time, focusing on a different soft-skills theme each semester (e.g. business concepts, teamwork). It was my first time leading a class and two hours is a long time to hold anyone’s attention, let alone 60+ sophomore, juniors, and seniors, at dinner time, on Wednesdays.

The theme this semester was ‘Communication.’ The main thing I wanted for the seminar students was to work on communicating their passions and positions to people outside of their field of study. This is a skill that I’m constantly trying to improve myself. We surround ourselves with our peers in class, in work, in social activities and they oftentimes hold the same beliefs and attitudes. We use the same language, care about the same things, and get our news from the same places. It is easy to forget that our insular world is only a slice of the big wide world out there; that there are people who do not believe that climate change is ‘a thing’, that paper production is evil, that there is no need to develop alternatives to petroleum-based fuels or plastics, etc. Some times we take for granted that we care about the issues we care about and can’t imagine that someone else might need convincing. It’s also good practice to try succinctly explaining your research or ‘what you do’ without using field-specific jargon. I recently attended a science communication conference where we had to stand up and explain, without technical jargon, what we were studying in school – in one minute! The timer went off and shocked me like a 5AM alarm. It felt like I had just started talking. So, yes. We can all benefit from practice!

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The culminating seminar assignment was to produce Pecha Kucha presentations. If you’ve never heard of this format, it consists of twenty slides displayed for twenty seconds each. They are self-advancing and when they are done, you are done – sit down. That’s 6 minutes and 40 seconds to get your point across. The format was the brainchild of two Tokyo based architects, Mark Dytham and Astrid Klein, who used it to host showcase nights for designers and architects to present their work. The format is more conversational (Pecha Kucha is Japanese for chit-chat or chatter) and the beat-the-clock timing allows for more presentations in a night. The students split into groups and created presentations with two stipulations – the theme should be relevant to paper or bioprocess engineering, and the presentations had to communicate to people outside of their field of study.

The students wowed me with the variety of topics they covered, the work they put into their scripts and the practice they put into ensuring their delivery was well-timed. There was one presentation that stood out as interest to readers of The Fiber Wire. The theme concerns addressing misconceptions of the paper industry. Full of solid information with a humorous slant, the presentation starts with a student getting an ‘F’ on an organic chemistry exam. Discouraged, the student throws the exam in the recycling bin on the way out of the chemistry building. Join sophomores Janelle Tallents, Christopher Campbell, Erika Sykes, Jared Hackley, and Erik Nelson as they follow the exam through the recycling process and piece together the answer to the question ‘why is recycling paper beneficial to the environment?’ It is a good starting point to learning about fiber, water and energy use in the paper industry.

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