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Paula Hajakian

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Meet Paula Hajakian! A woman in the industry that strives to make a difference

Technical Manager, Paper and Board, at U.S. Gypsum, Inc., in Chicago, IL.  As an active TAPPI volunteer, including serving as Chair of the Paper and Board Division and as Working Group Chair for Technical Information Papers (TIPs), her love for the industry resonates when she speaks.

Please enjoy reading a glimpse of her career and contribution to TAPPI; including her participation in TIPs! 

“TIPs are a great way to participate on a small team. They provide a defined period of time to accomplish a shared goal, and you get an opportunity to hear other’s opinions and contribute your own.” - Paula Hajakian

1. What sparked your interest in Technical Information Papers (TIPs)?  

Early in my career as an engineer, long before I ever participated in TIPs reviews, I referred to TIPs when in-depth knowledge was required to trouble-shoot papermaking processes or install new equipment. The role I initially took in the Water Removal Committee tracking Forming and Pressing TIPs was daunting based on the number of TIPs and technical content supported by that subcommittee.  It is a significant and important role to participate in the review of TIPs and the creation of new ones to support and sustain our industry.

2. Why do you think TIPs are important? How have you used them in your field and how can people benefit by becoming involved? 

TIPs are an excellent source of information and serve as a great reference. They have the most up-to-date information since they are reviewed periodically. TIPs can be used for training, process improvement, benchmarking, a deep dive for troubleshooting, as reference material for calculations, and for auditing paper machines.

TIPs are a great way to participate on a small team. They provide a defined period of time to accomplish a shared goal, and you get an opportunity to hear other’s opinions and contribute your own. Lack of experience isn’t an issue. Participating in team discussions and helping to shape TIPs is what matters. Being able to contribute to a TIP publication is very rewarding, and when your name appears as a contributor, people know you were an important part of it

3. Is there any particular review that has impacted you? Please tell us about your experience

The iterative process of reviewing TIPs with your peers is an education in itself, and I encourage Young Professionals to participate in reviews and be a part of this dialogue.  I revere the knowledge, experience and skill of those chairing TIPs and keeping technical content up to date. 

TIP 0404-51 Paper Machine Clothing Cleaning and Conditioning for Recycled Fiber Use stands out as a truly collaborative effort in which I have been involved. TIP reviews provide an opportunity to add your experience and also learn from the experiences of others. 

4. You recently served as Vice Chair of the Paper and Board Division and you’re now the Chair. How would you describe your experience? 

The Vice Chair of the Paper and Board Division also serves as the Technical Program Committee Chair for the papermaking track at PaperCon (in 2021 PaperCon will join five other events to create TAPPICon). There’s such a wide range of information that is part of PaperCon. Serving two years in this role was an exciting experience as we put together topics designed to attract bigger audiences!

Another role, and accomplishment, as Vice Chair was re-writing the division manual; it hadn’t been updated in a while. There were so many committees and changes over the years that it was important to incorporate them, and now, as Chair, implement them.

5. What attracted you to this field?

As far as chemistry, it was my high school chemistry teacher, but I’ve always been science oriented. Troubleshooting, problem solving and of course engineering training gives you that ability to focus on problems and solve them. Since then, there’s been so many other tools, such as Six Sigma, that allow you to get to the root of problems and solve them effectively.

6. Where did you attend school, what did you study, and how did you wind up in this industry?

I attended Illinois Institute of Technology to start a Chemical Engineering degree and finished at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell with a specialty in Pulp and Paper Engineering. It was an interesting transition time between Mainframe computing to personal computing. Illinois Institute of Technology had a very technical education and the University of Massachusetts at Lowell had a much more team approach to Chemical Engineering projects. It was a very interesting mix of an education. Working in paper chemical companies and at a recycled paper mill during school convinced me I was in the right industry.

7. What has your experience been in an industry that's predominantly male?

For many years I was the only woman in the paper mill. There was no women’s bathroom; I had to go to the office to use the restroom. There were many little challenges like wearing men’s uniforms (pants that didn’t fit) and putting my hair up so my ponytail didn’t get caught in any equipment (hard hats were available in use in later years). There’s always been some challenge. You’re a novelty when you’re the only woman which can result in being picked on.

One element that has been very beneficial is TAPPI’s Women in Industry (WIN) Division. WIN events have been excellent. It is a great resource for young women and young professionals coming into the industry because they can ask questions and talk with others who have had similar experiences. I mentored about three or four young women coming into the industry, and it was wonderful to provide guidance to others entering the industry.

8. What would you tell young women aspiring to get into the engineering field?

Do it! Engineering has been awesome. If you like getting your hands dirty and getting into problem solving, then this is your field. The industry has definitely changed over the years and companies have evolved since I started my career back in the 80s and 90s. We have a different mentality now and appreciation for diverse opinions in the workplace.  Over the last few years there’s been an increase in women graduating from paper technical schools, which is awesome.

9. Tell us a bit about yourself (hobbies, etc.)?

Dance has always been my passion. I taught tap dancing for 17 years while I was working in paper mills and attending school. I have also professionally performed ballet and jazz.

My passion at work entails finding new, better, creative, and elegant solutions to problems. I currently have six patents, so finding new applications to old projects, problems and chemistry is one of my passions. 

10. If you could describe the value of TAPPI membership in one word, what would it be?

If I had to put it into one word, it would be education. Not only does TAPPI membership give you education through webinars and courses, TIPs involvement also gives you an education. Working with peers and roundtable discussions are all part of an education that I think is important for learning and advancing your career.

Interview conducted/ written by Souadou Camara
Assisted by Standards Manager Priscila Briggs

Special thanks to Editor in Chief: Janet LoBue

Thank you, Paula Hajakian for your contribution toTAPPI!

If you would like to share your experience with Standards, TIPs or ISO TC 6, please write to and the TAPPI Standards team will be happy to interview you.

TAPPI Standards guidelines require that all TAPPI members receive notification of any proposed new Standard or TIPs. This message is being sent to you because you are a TAPPI member; have purchased TIPs or Standards products from TAPPI; or because you have previously expressed interest in this topic.


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