by Kadence Baker
Clemson Packaging Science students are required to participate in two co-op internships before they graduate. Packaging Senior, Ray Cummings, is interning with one of the world’s leading beverage and food companies, PepsiCo, at their Beverage Division in Chicago, IL. PepsiCo products are known throughout the world and their products are sold in more than 200 countries.
Sonoco Institute (SI): What is your position with PepsiCo?
Ray Cummings (RC): I am working at PepsiCo as an R&D Packaging Co-Op. The major brand that I work on is Tropicana, but I also have projects in other brands like Gatorade, KeVita, Naked Brands, etc.
SI: How did you hear about the co-op? Why did you select this one?
RC: As I went through Clemson’s co-op program, this was one of the companies with an offering that sounded interesting, so I interviewed, and here we are! I actually accepted this one for a few reasons: Before I make a lasting career decision, I’d like to figure out if I enjoy a few things, like living/working in a city (3rd largest in the US, trial by fire right?), and working for a large company rather than a small team. This gives me a way to do that, in an environment where I’m still supported, both by PepsiCo and Clemson. I also want to give myself a stronger foundation in testing and material use, and what that foundation really looks like in a corporate environment. PepsiCo’s portfolio of brands really gives me a chance to dive in and learn about a variety of concerns, like refrigerated products, or products that need to be really convenient to use. And the fact that the PepsiCo name looks great on a resume doesn’t hurt either!
SI: How does this co-op relate to your degree and the career you wish to pursue?
RC: This should be insightful as to how the world of packaging operates in reality, as opposed to how it should work. Hopefully, I’ll be able to apply the things I learned in a commercial setting. At the moment, I’m leaning towards the design path for a career, but I figure this is a great way to see if I prefer a more technical type of position. And even if I do go design in the future, it’s nice to have a background in areas that can affect a final design. A good design is functional, beyond just looking good, and this gives me some experience on the other side.
SI: What has been your favorite project with PepsiCo so far this summer?
RC: Without giving too much away, I’ve really enjoyed a project that’s looking at redesigning a closure for one of our larger containers. The closure itself seems to be pretty polarizing – some people love it, some people hate it. So far, I’ve been able to observe a series of consumer interviews comparing three different brands currently on the market, as well as two prototype bottles and five prototype caps. It’s been an amazing experience to be able to see what people keyed into, the subtle nuances and alterations they had opinions on, their different motivations and reactions, and how they tried to put that into words and explain what they were thinking. It’s going to be a long project, I’m excited to see where it goes next!
SI: What have you learned that you will take with you into your future careers?
RC: Besides the technical skills and the general experiences, the attitude, definitely. I’m surrounded by experts in so many fields, brilliant people who triple-majored, people who launched million-dollar initiatives, people who know the product lines forward, backward, and upside down. And every single one of them is humble and friendly. Their days are packed full, but they’re always willing to help when they can. They make time to explain what they’re doing, or to answer a question. That’s special, and it makes working here an incredible experience. I’d like to take the team-focused, collaborative attitude with me. I may not be an expert just yet, but if I can help somewhere, why not be the person who does?
SI: Would you recommend this internship to other students, and what was your experience living in Chicago?
RC: I absolutely would. The support and culture are tremendous at PepsiCo. When you’re brought in, you’re encouraged to ask questions and meet any and everyone you can. And people genuinely want to meet you too. You’re never “just the intern” here, you’re a member of the team – you’re on real projects, and your insight and perspective are valued. You’re an investment. As far as the area goes, I live in West Loop Chicago, about as central as you can get. There’s something for everyone—all the time—within walking distance. If you want to see if you like the city life, this is a great way to do it.