SPOTLIGHT: Stephanie Boyce, Ph.D.
Stephanie Boyce, Ph.D.
There is no product or industry like ours!
So declares Stephanie Petrina Boyce, Ph.D. research scientist for Georgia-Pacific (GP), TAPPI member only since 2013. This self-described industry “newbie” is unabashedly enthusiastic about the science, the products, and the future of paper.
“What I love about paper is that it is completely ubiquitous, but also totally unique,” she explains. “What other products which are used every day by people around the world come from natural, renewable resources and are completely recyclable and biodegradable?”
At Georgia-Pacific, Stephanie utilizes her degrees in Material Science and Engineering to research alternative fibers for towels and tissues. She develops methods to incorporate new fiber-based technologies into innovative consumer products, and also participates in mill optimization studies. The part she enjoys most is the perfect balance of scientific research, product development, and mill support. That, she says, makes for a challenging, well-rounded, and interesting career.
Yet, when Stephanie was pursuing her doctorate at Penn State, a career in paper wasn’t on her radar at all. Her research focused on ion conductive polymers at the core of hydrogen fuel cells and her doctoral thesis was titled: Water sorption, viscoelastic, and optical properties of thin Nafion® films. She humorously refers to it as “dabbling” in synthetic polymers. But now she says she understands why many people underestimate how important and technically profound paper products are.
“I often encounter looks of surprise when people find out I have a Ph.D. in Materials Science and that now I research towel and tissue products for a living,” she said. “But I like to think of my current job as studying the most abundant natural polymer there is: cellulose.”
Having just “aged out” of TAPPI’s Young Professionals (YP), Stephanie says she was honored to have been selected as one of the group’s “Top 20 under 30” in 2015. She calls YP a community within a community, and cites the excellent job the group does in connecting with newer, younger members by bringing them “into the fold.” This is especially important, she notes, as more and more seasoned professionals retire.
But, the future is looking brighter with professionals like Stephanie on board. Especially when they embrace, as she did, the challenges and complexities of their new careers by excitedly declaring, “I get to do it all!”
Q&A With Stephanie
Q. Why did you decide to join TAPPI?
A. The TAPPI PEERS conference was in my backyard in September 2013 and my manager thought it would be a good experience for me to attend. Mind you, this is less than one month into my new career in the paper industry. I had just finished my doctorate in Materials Science and engineering and paper was totally foreign to me. I really appreciated how friendly and welcoming the other TAPPI members were to this total newbie.
Q. How has TAPPI helped you in your career pursuits?
A. I’ve built nearly my entire professional network in the pulp and paper industry through TAPPI conferences. It’s a pretty small paper world, so I enjoy that after only two years I see familiar faces at any industry event I go to. It’s nice to feel like part of a community.
Q. Tell us about some of your interests outside of TAPPI and your professional life.
A. I just began tutoring children at a center that offers respite and counseling services as a means to prevent child abuse. We help kids with their homework and get ahead in their studies. I try to make learning fun, especially math and science. We need to spark more interest in young people pursuing STEM fields. Outside of work, I have a lot of varied interests: traveling (see photo at right of Stephanie hiking at Multnomah Falls), knitting, skiing, gardening, watching rugby, and now I’m pretty addicted to fantasy football.
Q. Can you share a unique or fun fact about yourself?
A. Fun fact: I used to have chickens. We had four hens, so it was only logical to name them after the Golden Girls. Naturally, the sassiest one was Blanche.
Q. TAPPI celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2015. Would you provide a few thoughts on what you believe have been the most significant contributions/breakthroughs in areas of our industry? Also, what is your favorite paper or packaging product?
A. Papermaking technology has come such a long way in the past 100 years! Industrial tissue machines continue to fascinate me. To think that these things roll up a “paper thin” sheet at several thousand feet per minute (without wrinkles!) is just mind boggling. I also really enjoy that nanocellulose is a hot new technology. We are only just beginning to unlock the potential of the tiniest building blocks of trees, these organisms that we have coexisted with for hundreds of thousands of years. Of course I’m going to be severely biased in choosing my favorite paper product, but it’s got to be toilet paper. Specifically Quilted Northern Ultra Plush®; that stuff is the best. Very soft but with low wet abrasion and pilling. Just think of the technical challenges that go into accomplishing that! I know way too much about toilet paper now, but it gives me a special appreciation for the good stuff. We take it for granted, but think of what life would be like without it.
Q. Closing sentiments?
A. TAPPI has truly been a boon to my professional career. But, beyond the professional aspect, TAPPI feels like a community, and I’ve very much enjoyed being a part of it. The Young Professionals organization does an excellent job of connecting with the newer generation of employees, and bringing them into the fold. That is extremely important in our industry where a third of the employees (i.e. the ones with all the experience!) will be retiring in the next 10 years. I would especially recommend TAPPI membership to students and young professionals because it’s been a great experience for me.
I also want to add that I was lucky enough to attend TAPPI’s 100th anniversary Centennial Celebration Gala this year and it was a fantastic evening. The live performances and historical perspectives illustrating the evolution of the paper industry were incredibly interesting and well-orchestrated. It made proud to be a part of the future of the pulp and paper industry.