ALO engineering students visit Sonoco's biomass boiler

Putting classroom activity into real-world experience

Seven Hartsville High School students in PULSE Accelerated Learning Opportunities (ALO) engineering and AP Calculus classes finished the 2014-15 school year with a visit to Sonoco's biomass boiler facility. The $75 million boiler was part of a $100 million investment in the company's Hartsville, S.C., complex.  

Sonoco engineer David Rhodes, who was one of 15 guest speakers to visit the ALO engineering class, organized the trip and gave the students an inside look at the boiler, which is fueled mostly by woody material from regional logging, but can also run on natural gas. Touted as a technological advancement that helps business grow and succeed, the boiler can produce 16 megawatts of green energy and steam, both of which are used at the Hartsville complex.

ALO instructor, Dr. Jerome Reyes, explained that the trip to Sonoco allowed students to reflect on what they learned about engineering throughout the year, and see it in action firsthand. "Touring Sonoco's facility and conversing with multiple engineers about high level concepts like design and construction, to engineering details such as power efficiency ratings and dimensional analysis suddenly made everything we've done all year real for our students."

Engineering student Christopher Rhodes noted, “The trip was invaluable. It allowed me to experience real applications of an engineering degree. I was able to see what an engineering job setting could look like, and it gave me a new respect for everything we discussed in class.”

Similarly impressed was engineering student Rubaiya Anika. She was suprised to learn that such sophisticated engineering facilities and related job opportunities were available in the small town of Hartsville. "I really enjoyed the opportunity to meet engineers and ask them questions," she said. "I now have a newfound desire to embrace our community more.”

After the tour, Sarah Smith, a freshman engineering student, commented, “Seeing the company, and talking to the engineers that work there, has made an impact on the career path I’ll likely take.” She was decidedly impressed by the design and operation of the biomass machinery. Smith added that she wants to pursue future opportunities for an internship at Sonoco based on her experiences at the company.

Dr. Reyes said one of the most rewarding aspects of the field trip was listening to the engineering students have intelligent conversations with the engineers on site. "This is what the PULSE ALO program is all about. We are offering students the opportunity to enhance regular academic requirements with challenging, thought-provoking course work. Their reaction after the trip to the biomass boiler clearly illustrated how far the students had come since the start of class in August."

Reyes added that the trip left the students with one resounding message: as much as they learned about engineering this year, they realize they have only scratched the surface. "Opportunities like these combined with a genuine thirst for knowledge will catapult these students to successful careers in engineering," he said.