Scott Nalls, ’98, took the best gamble of his professional career at Indiana State University.
He now has 20 years in the packaging industry and a position as senior manager for the largest private label manufacturer in the U.S. to show for it.
In his fourth year at TreeHouse Foods Inc. in Oak Park, Ill., Nalls manages a staff of 26 packaging engineers for the largest private label manufacturer in the U.S., Kraft. The company boasts more than 50 domestic and international plants.
But this success may not have happened had he not been inspired to seek a career in packaging during Nall’s freshman orientation at State.
“I went into orientation a declared electrical technology major, but then Robert Cooksey, professor of industrial/mechanical technology, gave a spiel on the packaging engineering and technology world that day,” Nalls said.
“He talked about how beneficial the packaging program would be for students, because of the low percentage of packaging students in the industry. A low percentage of students in the major with a lot of companies meant a greater chance of getting a job upon graduation,” he added. “So, I decided to take a class in packaging my first semester just to see what packaging technology was all about. It changed my world.”
Nalls briefly left Indiana State going into his last year when his father became ill. When he returned to school two and a half years later, he found a changed curriculum and had a decision to make.
“I only had a year left to finish my degree, but I would have had to stay another half semester to get the packaging major,” said Nalls, who is originally from Gary, Ind. “Luckily, I had a good packaging professor, Marion Schafer, who advised me to get the industrial technology degree, keep packaging as a minor and take a gamble to see if I could get a job in packaging.”
Nalls landed a position as the first and only packaging engineer at Solo Cup in Illinois upon graduation in 1998. Nalls later entered management at several small companies before going on to a three-year position as a packaging engineering with Kellogg’s, in Michigan. He also worked a year as a senior packaging engineer and seven and a half years as a senior manager of research and development, managing packaging, process, chemical engineers and food scientists at Kraft Foods.
“Indiana State professors really helped to drive entrepreneurship in my life, because we were a small program and had to work independently,” Nalls said. “You couldn’t be the person in a group of 10 who was just going along for the ride. You had to be active, because there were one or two of you, or you were by yourself. You had to understand the packaging life cycle, and that learning has helped me in corporate America to look at things from a total-ownership perspective.”
Indiana State’s hands-on curriculum equipped Nalls to hit the ground running on his first job and beyond.
“We were being prepared from day one to have practical and theoretical experience,” he said. “My practical experience really helped me navigate through corporate America, especially in my first job, because I didn’t have any mentors or counterparts to bounce ideas off. Indiana State prepared me to think about things in a different way, so I could problem-solve situations better than some of my other peers, and it has served me well.”