Women In Forestry

Holding the reins: Q&A with Carolyn Morell, Technical Operations Manager at Lake Utopia Paper

March 7, 2023
By Sukanya Ray Ghosh Avatar photo
Presented by:
Pulp and Paper Canada
Women in Forestry

Who: Carolyn Morell

Role: Manager of Technical Operations

Employer: Lake Utopia Paper, J.D. Irving, Ltd.

Lives in: Utopia, N.B.

Years in the industry: 25

When Carolyn Morell was given an opportunity to work within the pulp and paper industry, she fell in love with the tremendous potential it has. Today, she constantly looks for ways to improve processes and work with others to find solutions to any challenges that come her way.

Pulp & Paper Canada: When, how and why did you come to join the pulp and paper industry?

Carolyn Morell: This industry was not my first choice. When I was a student at the University of New Brunswick, I had the opportunity to work at the Limerick Pulp and Paper Centre. I got a summer job there. The opportunity exposed me to the science part of pulp and paper. The director of the Centre then approached me about doing an industrial-based National Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC).

What really was the hook was that I could get my masters out of this project with an industrial partner. Therefore instead of doing an academic project, I chose to do a mill-based project. That interested me as I wanted first-hand experience working in the industry. This project was where my love for the pulp and paper industry first started. I was overwhelmed by the industry; it is so vast, and I have not looked back ever since.

P&PC: What has your learning curve been like in this industry?

CM: Truly what I am very passionate about is that this industry offers not a learning curve, but a learning journey. When I stop and think about all the people I have had the pleasure to work with so far in my career and the influences and perspective I have gained as a result, I am truly grateful. When I think of all the processes that I have worked on and into in the pulp and paper industry, they are so complex. It is absolutely thrilling to reflect on how far our teams progressed through all the challenges in those projects, how much knowledge we gained on our processes and how satisfying it is to get to the end goal on all of the projects.

For me, each process area where I have worked offers its own learning curve to master that process, figure out the limits and raise the ceilings to drive improvements in both process and operations.  I get a lot of satisfaction from figuring out the myths that get associated with a process and reaching new higher goals in each area.

P&PC: What is your current role and what is your day-to-day like in this role?

CM: I recently took a big step in my own career when I became the Technical Manager here at Lake Utopia Paper late last Fall. Prior to that, I held a number of roles at various different mills being as a process engineer. So, it is a little bit of a change for me.

My day-to-day activities have changed from being very process-centred, to now trying to help other people with their process-centred areas and try to lead and guide in that faction.

Our technical department meets quite regularly – a couple times a week. We have some meetings in our department to talk about our projects. It drives good communication amongst the team and allows us to learn from each other and see how each area that we’re working on impacts each other. We get to see how process changes in one area transform into other areas.

Then there’s a very diverse amount of change in any day-to-day in a pulp mill. So I could be involved in project meetings looking at where the business is reinvesting to drive our continuous improvement. Then there’s the day-to-day interactions with people to drive process improvement and continual growth.

P&PC: What are some major projects that you have worked on? Any particular favourites?

CM: I’ve worked on quite a few projects in my career, but two come to mind.

The first one was an evaporator upgrade project. This one comes to mind because it was one of my first introduction to a small capital project where I was the project lead. It involved decommissioning an evaporator train and implementing improvements in the second evaporator chain to allow it to assume the capacity of both.

In that role, I received great mentoring from an ex-NASA engineer who was an amazing individual. He taught me so much about process design, process optimization and project management. We had a lot of successes. We also had some failures that we had to overcome because the project had to be successful. And it was successful. When I think about the learnings that happened in that process, it was definitely a memorable project for that reason.

Another favourite project that comes to mind to me is from when I was working at a pulp mill where we were making dissolving pulp. It was a four-shift model at the mill. I realized that I was the liaison for a lot of the change that was happening at that mill. Through this I learned, we had all these lead cooks that were working on shift, but they didn’t get a chance to interact with each other. They had so much information to divulge but they weren’t necessarily given the opportunity to share with each other. So, we started these semi-annual “cooking days” where we were able to get all of the head cooks off shift and come in for an information-sharing day. We got so much out of those days. It was very memorable to bring the team together. Collectively, there were so many good things that came from those discussions – process improvement, process alignment, and best practices. It was a wealth of knowledge that we were tapping into by getting everybody together.

P&PC: Throughout your time in this industry, are there any particular challenges that you have faced?

CM: There isn’t a challenge that can’t be overcome if everybody works together and is aligned. Every project was a challenge, but we took it as a goal and worked together and achieved success.

P&PC: What do you love the most about being a part of the pulp and paper sector?

CM: What I love the most about the pulp and paper sector is how diverse it is. There are fundamental engineering skills that can be applied everywhere and on everything.

If you have a questioning mindset to find the opportunities, some data analysis backbone and some teamwork, you’ll find the solutions. There’s just an unlimited potential in that.

P&PC: What has it been like as a woman in this industry?

CM: When I think about this question, I have to recognize that in the several pulp and paper mills I have worked in over the years from the U.S. to Northern Canada, there has either been a female currently in a similar role or recently left a similar job classification.

I have seen female numbers relative to male increase over the years in this industry. Although, I would have to say it wasn’t something that I thought about or that has limited my abilities or opportunities. I think an individual makes their opportunities through their actions. Getting involved in the day-to-day issues and focusing on ways for continuous improvement will always lead to new and enticing opportunities to grow and learn.

P&PC: Any anecdotes you would like to share about any moments in your career that have stayed with you?

CM: For me, there are three catchphrases that I have learned from others that have definitely stuck with me throughout my career. First, “In god I trust: everyone else bring data.” I love this one because I am a data person. I don’t see a process trend improvement if I don’t see it in the data. I’m all about seeing data into information.

Second, “Collectively, we can be a genius.” This came from someone who is now a very good friend of mine. She was a mechanical engineer and she was spot on that with a great team environment you can figure anything out. She lived by this one.

And third, “Learn to run the process, or it will run you.” As a process engineer, there are no better words for me.

P&PC: What do you see in your future in this industry?

CM: I’ve been doing some work with university students lately. Looking at the universities, I see there is such a growth in the environmentalist mindset.

And I think our industry has had this mindset for many years.

I think the industry starts with a renewable resource, which is trees. J.D. Irving, the company I work for, has planted over a billion trees and counting. So, I see a strong commitment from our industry, in the environmental area. The industry has a long history of recovering fuels. J.D. Irving has made significant investments in this area with the installation of the world’s largest anaerobic digester. It’s part of our environmental treatment plan. It creates biogas and reduces CO2 emissions.

So, when I think of the future of the pulp and paper industry, we’re in the environmental regeneration future. We are well-seated and cemented in that mindset. It’s not anything new for us.

P&PC: What advice do you have for women who want to build careers in this industry?

CM: The advice I would pass on is always set your goals high, work hard to make it happen and embrace change because there’re always going to be opportunities that come out of that. I have two young children at home and fully intend to pass these traits on to them.

This article is part of  Pulp & Paper Canada, CFI and Canadian Biomass’ Women in Forestry series, an annual celebration of women in the industry. Find more content here and follow us on social media with the hashtag: #WomeninForestry.

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