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Paper Engineering Boosts Student through Semester Abroad

Graduate-level classes and travel highlight trip to Germany

When he attended a college fair during his senior year of high school, Erik Nelson told an ESF representative he wanted to be an environmental engineer.

"He was like, 'Well you could do that, or you could do paper engineering,'" Nelson recalled. "Thank goodness he said that … If I didn't meet with him, my life would probably be very different."

Nelson took the ESF admission rep's advice and is now a senior paper engineering major at ESF.

"It's something that once you do go into it, you fall in love," he said of the paper engineering program. "I would never leave."

Through the program, Nelson heard about the opportunity to spend a semester at the Munich University of Applied Sciences in Munich, Germany. He studied in Germany last March through July and was able to earn 24 credits - all of which transferred to ESF.

Because of the education he received his first several semesters at ESF, Nelson was well-prepared to study abroad and was able to take seven master's-level courses at the university in Germany, despite being in the process of obtaining his bachelor's degree.

"I got called up to the board to do a basic dimensional analysis problem because no one in the class knew how to do it. They didn't have those math skills," he said. "I was prepared well from my program (at ESF)."

Nelson said that a lot of what he learned at ESF was calculation-based, but a more conceptual approach was taken in Germany. There, he took advantage of specialized courses on paper-making minerals, coatings and packaging design - subjects Nelson said broadened his horizons.

"It has rounded me out so well … the best thing was to branch out," he said.

In addition to learning about paper engineering, Nelson said he learned what it means to be independent. He said one of the greatest elements about his semester abroad was how easy it was to travel. He spent weekends roaming through Europe, which meant planning trips, booking airplane tickets, finding hotels and leading friends through foreign cities.

"Mom and Dad aren't there to do that for you anymore, you know, you do it on your own," he said. "The biggest thing is having that independence."

Nelson said his travels during his semester abroad led him to 11 countries - Austria, Switzerland, Croatia and the Czech Republic to name a few.

Although he enjoyed his time in Germany, Nelson said he enjoys campus life at ESF. After graduating in the spring of 2017, he said, he plans to return to ESF to pursue a master's degree in sustainable engineering management.

"It's a small campus, you know your teachers. I've had classes where it's just eight people," Nelson said. "I love that small-scale community. Even if I didn't like my major, I would find a way to stay here (at ESF) regardless, just because I'm so happy here."

- By Taylor Watson, SU '19