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EMCC offers degree in & on paper

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Pulp & Paper Production Associates Degree program now available to students

BANGOR - Think papermaking is a thing of the past? Think again. Verso Paper in Bucksport is busy as can be producing magazine paper that's used both domestically and internationally. And with an aging workforce, the facility is anticipating numerous openings in the very near future. That's why the mill, the town of Bucksport, RSU 25 and Eastern Maine Community College in Bangor are teaming up to offer a Pulp & Paper Production Associates Degree this fall to incoming students.

"This isn't your parents' or grandparents' positions in the mill anymore. These are high tech jobs," said EMCC President Lawrence Barrett. 

High tech jobs with good pay. According to the Pulp & Paper Association, Maine is the second leading papermaking state where the average salary is $37,388.

"We need people in production positions," said Bill Cohen, Verso Paper's public affairs and communications manager. "The biggest change that's gone over in the paper mills is technology. It's very much a part of our process [now]." 

Knowing there would be future openings at the mill, the town's economic developer, town manager and Verso's mill manager got together a few years back to come up with a plan to educate and train the next generation of mill workers from Bucksport's $42.5 million dollar Biomass Project. The project's goal is to use biomass rather than coal to generate electricity. According to Cohen, 75 percent of the tax money from the project goes back to the facility while the remaining 25 percent goes to the town. That 25 percent is what helped Bucksport, Verso and EMCC build and create the courses necessary for the new pulp and paper production associates degree.

"This originally started as a program where a student could start taking advanced classes in his/her junior year, graduate from high school and then get a certificate with one more year of schooling," explained Cohen. "It's an exciting opportunity because you've got a school system trying to be innovative, EMCC trying to be innovative and we're the recipient of it all."

"It's taken about a year and a half to design the curriculum [for this program]. Students are going to need a lot of math, science, critical thinking and communication skills," said Barrett.

Those courses will be available at EMCC as well as Bucksport High School and the mill itself. The program is currently accepting 15 students for enrollment and Verso is hoping both teenagers and nontraditional students will take advantage of this opportunity.  

"Verso wins because it'll be able to fill its workforce and the town wins by trying to help their youth," explained Barrett.

For more information on the Pulp & Paper Associates Degree, log on to www.emcc.edu.

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