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'Where There Is Paper, There Are Engineers'

2015 graduate returns to ESF for master's degree
9/16/2015

Autumn Elniski strikes a pose in front of the effluent treatment plant at Norampac.

Autumn Elniski figures that as long as there is paper, there will be engineers.

And she's confident paper is a permanent part of the world.

"As much as the media likes to promote 'going paperless,' paper products will always be around," she said. "Where there is paper, there are engineers who make it and others who clean up after the process."

Elniski, who earned her bachelor's degree in paper engineering in May 2015, is about to launch the next phase of her education as a master's student at ESF. Her decision to return to her alma mater as a graduate student was an easy one. "I was already in Syracuse, already had roommates and a house and all of my stuff here, and I had conquered most of the paper engineering courses they had to offer. So I figured, why waste this opportunity to branch out even further into my field?"

Her thesis focus is the digestion and biogas production of office paper through anaerobic digestion with partially digested cow manure. In simpler terms, Elniski put it this way: "I'm going to have microbes in cow waste eat paper and see how much burnable gas they make for energy purposes."

She said the paper engineering program at ESF offers students the flexibility to pursue a broad range of employment.

"It's a branch of chemical engineering, so you can go almost anywhere with your degree and excel in the spot you're placed in," she said. "Things that are unique to the paper engineering degree are, of course, learning all about paper. You learn how to make it, the history of it, and all the ins and outs, from the large scale - tons and tons of paper on rolls from machinery 1,000 times your size- to the miniscule - itty, bitty fibers under a microscope."

Her favorite aspect of the program was learning about wastewater management. "Every industry uses some form of water in its process, and most must expel at least some of it. Learning how to handle and treat that water before it enters the environment not only grants you the background to go even further than what a chemical engineering degree would allow, but it gives you a chance to make a difference for the environment."

During her undergraduate years, Elniski did internships at three paper mills: FiberMark, Rock-Tenn, and Norampac, where she has worked for the past three summers, training operators how to perform laboratory testing and writing operation manuals for the biogas scrubbing system. She said she was well-prepared for the internships through her laboratory experiences at ESF. "The requirement to have internships, I feel, is what truly benefited me the most and prepared me for the job I have today," she said.

But Elniski did more at ESF than study paper engineering. She was involved in an array of campus activities at both ESF and neighboring Syracuse University, the most significant of which was the co-ed service fraternity Alpha Phi Omega during her final year as an undergraduate.

"I can say that I truly enjoyed everything this organization had to offer me. I was able to meet people I never would have been able to before, from both ESF and Syracuse University, and participate in a boatload of service projects that give you an amazing perspective and helps round your character - which is always good for resumes!"