Spotlight: Holly Holmes-Smith
Lamination and Finishing Process Engineer
Q: What are your job responsibilities?
As a process engineer, I build step-by-step instructions for current and future processes and equipment, participate in and execute lean management projects, and lead waste reduction projects to help make the company as safe and efficient as possible.
Q: What led you to where you are now?
As children, my older sisters and I were home schooled through eighth grade. When it was time to choose a path for high school, we had the option to continue in high school or skip straight to college. To us, college was the obvious choice. This meant starting at age 13.
My original dream was to become a veterinarian. Knowing how difficult it was to get in, I decided to pick the hardest degree out there. I chose to major in Chemical Engineering. After finishing my Associates Degree with a 4.0 GPA, I transferred to University of Arkansas to focus on learning Chemical Engineering and German Language. Little did I know how much I would enjoy chemical engineering. I fell in love with the problem solving and the knowledge that I could make a larger and more lasting impact on the world. Thus, I decided to stick with Engineering as a career goal.
Before turning 18, I wasn’t legally able to get a job or an internship in a factory setting. Instead, I conducted research at the University of Arkansas Chemical Hazard Research Facility for two years. My research was focused on building a wind tunnel to use for future experiments on the environmental impact of Chlorine Gas. When it was time to look for an internship, I visited a job fair and met an engineer from Bryce Corporation and we hit it off. At the time, they were looking for full-time employees, but they created a summer internship position for me. The three months of my summer internship at Bryce were fun and challenging, and after the internship, I was offered a full-time position upon graduation.
Q: What is your proudest accomplishment to date?
In 2012, I started volunteering with the Civil Air Patrol, which is a volunteer organization of the Air Force. They focus on leadership, aerospace education, and search and rescue for anyone age 12 and up. Very soon, I noticed that other squadrons of the organization had Color Guard teams, but my local area did not. I expressed interest in starting a team, but the local leadership said I couldn’t because there was no adult supervision (I was 15) and no one to teach us how to properly represent the U.S. and state flag at formal ceremonies. I ended up finding a supervisor, taught myself, and organized and taught a team to perform. After six months of training, our team represented the colors all over northwest Arkansas. We were recognized for staying completely in step without any verbal commands. To us, we overcame the impossible. I would encourage others “Do the impossible once in your life. Twice if you are an overachiever.”
Q: What is it like being a young professional in this field?
I get asked this question a lot because I started college so young. Growing up as a homeschooler, I was never surrounded by people solely my age. This gave me the opportunity, earlier than most, to learn social etiquette when speaking to different ages. In college, it did not feel any different than when I was homeschooled. Even to my classmates, they did not seem to care, as long as I could help them with their homework.
As a young professional in the workplace, I feel like it is more of an advantage than anything else. People get excited when young people come willing to learn, and they enjoy sharing everything they know. Perhaps one disadvantage is that now at 20 years old, I still feel like I have so much to learn in respect to the unspoken social etiquette of the professional environment. Luckily, I have awesome mentors that care about my social development just as much as my engineering advancements.
Q: Who is your mentor? What’s a lesson they’ve taught you that you’d want to pass on to others?
I have a lot of really wonderful mentors. Growing up through my teenage years without a father, I really needed good male mentors who could teach me lessons only a father could. One in particular was the father of my best friend. I spent a lot of time at their kitchen table talking about life. From our conversations, I learned one very important lesson, “We forget… that we are already world changers. One person’s world at a time.” For many young adults starting in the workforce, we desperately need to feel like we’re changing the world. Yet we quickly get frustrated when we cannot see the change immediately. I learned that while we may not be able to change the entire world today, we have the potential to change someone’s world every day, better or worse.
Q: What are your career aspirations?
I’d really like to work toward being an executive and managing people. If that doesn’t work, I’ll just become the President! Look out world!
Q: What motivates you at work?
I’m in a position where I can do a lot of good for the people I work with, especially the operators on the manufacturing floor. We run 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so whether our operators are working on the machines at three o’clock in the morning or any time of day, a well-designed process and clear instructions really makes a difference for them. Also, I’m having fun, so it doesn’t really feel like work to me.
Q: If you could give advice to other young professionals, or students in college right now, hoping to succeed in the paper, pulp and packaging industry, what would it be?
Your grades do not reflect your worth. In school, you’re told that your grades are the key to getting the job you want. But experience is important too, so try to get that if you can.
Q: What’s your favorite thing to do outside of work?
Outside of work, I like to swing dance. I started swing dancing in college, and now I’ve started teaching kids. I’m also a climbing and repelling instructor for boy scouts. When I am not busy doing those two things, I enjoy kayaking and other outdoor activities. I find it’s best to stay busy!
Q: What’s one thing you would like to get out of being involved in TAPPI?
I’m hoping to meet people and learn about the various companies in the industry. Everyone has their niche so there’s an opportunity to work together to solve problems.