2019 Annual report of the Center for Products Business

2019 Annual report of the Center for Products Business

Dear Colleagues:

Hello from your Center,

It is hard to believe that another year has passed and we will soon be welcoming 175 students back to our department.  Many of you have hired them for summer internships and I want to thank you for helping us with their education.  The department remains committed to have our students prepared to “hit the road running” when they graduate, and your internships are vital for them getting experience in the forest products industry.  We currently have one of the largest undergraduate enrollment in the department’s 40 year history.  We graduated over 50 students last May, with most of them finding employment within the industry. 

Cochran Fellows during their visit to Chips Inc. sawmill in June.

As you are probably aware, the new generation of student (and future employee) is somewhat different than when I started in the industry in 1974.  While the baby boomer generation was interested in finding a long-term career and moving up the ladder, students today have different goals (and maybe better).  They are more concerned about social responsibility, sustainability, serving society, and participating in decision making, than the bottom line on the balance sheet.  They tend to stay with companies for less time and are more mobile than my generation.  To help meet this changing need, the department hired a new faculty in the area of the circular economy that started this August.  She will be focusing on the life-cycle analysis and recycling as it applies to the biomaterials’ industry.  I share this with you to let you know we are adjusting our departments’ instructional techniques and classes to meet this new student.  Our classes focus on hands-on learning techniques and team building skills so they know how to effectively work with others in a job environment.  Repeatedly, when we ask employers what do students need to be successful, it is their social, leadership, communication, and organizational skills that rate higher than their technical skills to be successful in your organizations.

On a personal note, in preparation for my retirement in 2021, I am stepping down at Department Head the end of this year.  There is currently a job search being conducted to find my replacement. We hope to have someone in place by January. It has been an honor to serve in this role for seven years, and now I must plan for my next adventure in life.  I want to thank you for your continued support of our programs.  I hope you will contact us with your needs for employees or summer interns.  Many of our classes have projects and if you need a short specific project investigated, please contact me and I will see if we can work it into a class.  Please feel free to contact me with any comments or suggestions to improve the program (rsmith4@vt.edu).  Again, thanks for your support of our students and I wish you a successful year.

To access the full report, please follow this link.


Bob Smith