Marshall “Mark” S. White, professor emeritus of wood science and forest products in the College of Natural Resources and Environment, received the 2018 R. David LeButt Award from the International Safe Transit Association in recognition of excellence and continuing education in package design and testing.

“Mark receiving this award is a huge step forward for our packaging program,” said Laszlo Horvath, associate professor in the Department of Sustainable Biomaterials and director of Virginia Tech’s Center for Packaging and Unit Load Design. “We were always recognized by the pallet community as the leading pallet research and education program, but this is the first time a faculty member has been recognized by the broader packaging community.”

Packaging science was first offered as an option to students in the wood science and forest products major in 2004, and the college launched a bachelor’s degree in packaging systems and design in 2014. It is the only such degree in Virginia and one of just a handful in the country to prepare undergraduates for careers in the packaging industry.

The program has a strong focus on hands-on experience, with laboratory time incorporated into most courses. Collaborative team projects are a vital part of learning; small classes allow for extensive interaction among students and with faculty as well. These experiences give students an edge in the job market, with many of them securing jobs within weeks of graduation.

“Universities have two products,” White said. “They produce information in the form of research, and they produce young professionals. Virginia Tech has always generated quality research, but we needed to produce young people who could take that knowledge to the rest of the world. That’s why we set up the packaging program.”

White explained that while several universities have packaging programs, most of them focus on one aspect of the industry, such as food packaging or distribution. Virginia Tech’s program is unique in its focus on systems-based design, a process focused on understanding how pallets, packaging, and materials handling equipment interact during product distribution and storage.

“I built this curriculum around systems-based design because I believed students needed to understand how all of the components interact. We don’t just teach students packaging. We also teach them how to design equipment to handle packaging and how to apply a systematic approach to supply chains,” he explained.

Since retiring from Virginia Tech in 2007, White has established two companies: White & Company LLC and Phytosanitation Vacuum Systems LLC. Both are based on his research interests and maintain close ties with the Center for Packaging and Unit Load Design. He continues to mentor graduate students and teach courses at Virginia Tech on a part-time basis.

The International Safe Transit Association’s R. David LeButt Award was created to honor individuals dedicated to package design and testing. Recipients are selected for their outstanding contribution toward the continuing education of those involved in the field of packaging.

“It’s the premier award that the International Safe Transit Association gives out, so I was shocked,” White said.” I’m excited that the packaging program is getting this recognition. Among the programs in the United States, we’re the new kids on the block, but Laszlo has done a great job continuing my legacy.”

Horvath added, “Mark did exceptional work related to system-based unit load design, and I am glad to see that he was recognized for his work.”

White earned his bachelor’s degree from Colorado State University and his master’s and his doctorate from Virginia Tech.

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