Senior in chemical engineering named Auburn Engineering Vandegrift Co-op Student of the Year

Published: Nov 15, 2023 10:00 AM

By Diane Pham

William Nist loves a fast-paced environment. This made him a perfect fit for his Co-op with Packaging Corporation of America (PCA) in its manufacturing facility in Valdosta, Georgia.

Nist, a senior in chemical engineering, was named the Auburn Engineering 2023 Vandegrift Co-op Student of the Year. Established in honor of the former director of Auburn University’s Cooperative Education (Co-op) program, Frank Vandegrift, the award is presented each year to an outstanding Auburn Engineering Co-op student.

During his four rotations at PCA, Nist gained experience in various areas of paper machine, pulp mill, and utilities operations.

“I have had the privilege of working through a two-week mill shutdown, five boiler annual outages, three evaporator boil outs, and several other long days. These days made it clear to me that I want to start my career in a manufacturing environment,” Nist said.

In his last Co-op rotation during summer 2023, Nist created a new procedure for starting up a black liquor evaporator and concentrator systems following annual mill outages.

“The procedure went through many drafts. It had to correlate with other existing procedures, many of which I edited, and took a lot of time to complete,” Nist said.

Not only did Nist gain invaluable industry work experience, he also grew as a leader and communicator.

“I learned what it’s like to work in a 24/7 manufacturing facility, how to be a leader, how to think fast during times of crisis, and much more,” he said.

The Auburn University Co-op program offers students the opportunity to alternate semesters of full-time classroom instruction with at least three semesters of full-time paid employment. Work assignments are designed to relate to a student’s academic program and allow undergraduates to prepare for a professional career as they go through their academic career.

“After completing my co-op, I recommend it to anyone that I talk to who shows interest in doing such. It has been a great experience for me that I wish everyone could have,” Nist said.

Students participating in the Co-op program can gain up to one year of work experience before graduating. With more than 100 companies recruiting and an average salary of $20.93/hour, interested students are encouraged to schedule a meeting with Co-op coordinators via Handshake or contact Edie Irvin, assistant director for Cooperative Education and Internships at

Media Contact: Joe McAdory,, 334.844.3447
William Nist had the opportunity to gain experience in various areas of paper machine, pulp mill and utilities operations.

William Nist had the opportunity to gain experience in various areas of paper machine, pulp mill and utilities operations.

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