Wahkiakum students explore the Wauna mill

The trip was an opportunity for students to learn about careers in the paper industry

 

February 8, 2024

Juniors and seniors from Wahkiakum High School toured Georgia Pacific across the river. Bradley Park offered an overall view of the mill. Photo by Jessica Vik.

Submitted by Jessica Vik

On Jan. 31, a group of nine juniors and seniors from Wahkiakum High School visited the Georgia Pacific (GP) Mill across the river at Wauna, Oregon. Their Career and Technical Education teacher, Kyle Hurley, accompanied them along with Jessica Vik, the school district's 4-H Liaison who organized the trip.

The tour started off with a slideshow of the history of the mill in the meeting room. The students received safety guidelines and everyone put on neon yellow hats (which participants got to keep) and vests. Participants also received safety glasses, earplugs, and a radio headset so the group could hear the audio from our guides Kristi Ward, Paul Lyon, and Brandon Clark as we toured the facility single file.

Trekking around the mill in the liquid sunshine, the group learned about the cooking and bleaching of wood chips. Students toured the paper maker. The technicians who are surrounded by several computer screens explained to the kids how the paper maker machine works. Here the watery pulp mixture comes out. Four-and-a-half seconds later it is rolled into a "parent roll" of made paper. This roll is moved around by forklift with a rotating grabber system to help it load the roll on the machine into our next stop, the converting building.

Students experienced the converting buildings for both paper towels and for toilet paper. The machines in this building take the parent rolls of paper and marry them together into two-ply, cut them to size, emboss them, and package them.

Imagine a building full of machines and conveyor systems to make this happen. This particular branch of GP makes Brawny Paper Towels, Angel Soft toilet paper, and their own brand of napkins called Vanity Fair. Each product has its own recipe. Large robots take jobs that are too heavy for humans, very mundane, repetitive, or dangerous. Laser guided vehicles are programmed to take four pallets at a time from the end of the line in converting to the barges where they are shipped out for delivery all over this side of the Rockies.

Operators and engineers work together to keep the mill running smoothly. Everyone's job is important. Kids heard from several of the workers along the tour that if you show up on time, work hard and are reliable, you can move up in the company. It is up to the employee; they have to earn it. Mr. Hurley pointed out to the students that if they are not sure what they want to do after high school, this is a good starting place that offers opportunities for growth. Entry level workers make between $40,000 and $70,000 with no college debt and you can be trained through their internship programs. The engineers that work here talk about their jobs with enthusiasm, which stood out to students.

"Brandon Clark. He is so happy. That made my day!" senior Makayla wrote on her feedback form.

Living across the river, community members often wonder what the mill looks like inside. These students were given the chance not only to see the workings inside but to hear directly from the human resources department on what it takes to be hired over a pizza lunch provided by the mill.

One environmental science student was excited to hear GP's regional environmental manager talk with them over lunch. Another senior plans to be a millwright after graduation. This was a great opportunity for him to see the inside workings of a mill and hear directly about the hiring process. Helping students make connections before they graduate high school is a goal of the Career Connect Washington work that WSU Wahkiakum County Extension and 4-H Liaisons. Hearing these comments from and about the students is a win in the career exploration work they are doing in Wahkiakum County and Naselle.

For more information on this program, contact Jessica Vik at jessica.vik@wsu.edu, 360-560-4668, or P.O. Box 278 Cathlamet, WA, 98612.

 

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