MSU School of Packaging alum helping with COVID-19 therapeutics and vaccines
Alyxandra Hoberg, '20 packaging, is part of a team developing COVID-19 therapeutics and vaccines – something she didn’t imagine happening within the first year of her career.
Alyxandra Hoberg received her bachelor’s degree in packaging with honors in May 2020 from the Michigan State University (MSU) School of Packaging within the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR). Now working as an associate specialist engineer for packaging, equipment and technology for Merck, a pharmaceutical company, she is developing COVID-19 therapeutics and vaccines. It’s something Hoberg said she especially didn’t imagine within the first year of her career.
“A lot goes into creating a new drug, but even more so with what occurs after that. It is important for the packaging and equipment teams to be introduced as early on as possible in the process,” Hoberg said. “It is extremely exciting to be a part of creating new products to help save lives!”
The packaging industry incorporates every aspect of packaging, from the variety of materials and processes to package products to the development of systems and testing.
“The packaging equipment must be designed, purchased, qualified, installed and tested before the product can be run. This includes traveling to suppliers and sites during the pandemic – following CDC and company guidelines – to stop the [spread of the virus]. A critical task is to ensure the equipment will execute the high-volume speeds necessary to fulfill the demand, which is clearly high. There is no time for down time.”
On Jan. 25, Merck announced their discontinuation of developing COVID-19 vaccines, with a continued focus on two promising therapeutic medications.
“Merck's COVID-19 vaccines have been in the timeline for about a year now, which means a lot of work, including the packaging equipment, has been completed,” Hoberg explained. “Sadly, this is just a part of the extensive process that keeps operations efficient, but more importantly, safe in the medical field.”
The best part of her job is the daily reminder of the importance of her work and the impact it has on the lives of others, she said.
“It holds the possibility to help save someone's life. Pharmaceutical packaging directly impacts patients’ day-to-day lives, and the packaging equipment we use is critical for ensuring people receive all of the medications they need,” she said.
“It is incredible to see the amount of amazing people completing this work purely out of the passion of helping others. Every project will impact the life of someone you do not know.”
At Merck, Hoberg works with external suppliers and internal cross-functional teams to purchase, qualify, and install packaging equipment for new and existing packaging lines globally. She says the complexity of these lines range from simple to extremely complicated, as most students learn in packaging course 432 at MSU.
Packaging course 432 is a class where students learn the integrated study of packaging and production operations, quality control, and organization and control of machines. They are also taught the interrelationships of products, packaging, machinery layout and efficiency, and quality issues.
MSU is one of the top packaging schools in the nation. It is also the largest, graduating half of all packaging engineers in the U.S. each year. Additionally, MSU is the first and only U.S. institution granting doctoral degrees in packaging.
“Alyxandra’s story is familiar to the packaging community,” said Matt Daum, director of the MSU School of Packaging. “A packaging engineering degree from MSU equips students with a skillset to make an immediate impact in their workplace. The blend of technical and creative elements from our program fuel creativity and thought leadership, making our graduates valuable team members.”
Hailing from a family of Spartan alumni, Hoberg continues to “bleed green”.
“My family has plenty of MSU alumni. Green and white run in our veins. In high school, I always knew MSU was going to be my future home and I had an eye on the packaging program, but I still wasn’t sure what was in store for me once I got there. My goal was to find a technical, but creative path, and packaging was the perfect degree for that,” Hoberg said.
In true Spartan style, she remains committed to helping others, not only through her job at Merck, but also by giving back to MSU. During college, she played on the MSU Women’s Club Volleyball team for three years. After graduation, she came back to coach the team.
“After the competition of my co-op senior year, I was asked to come back and coach for the team, which was an honor! I was ecstatic to continue my passion with something that helped me adjust to life at MSU. Unfortunately, our season ended early due to COVID-19,” she said.
Name: Alyxandra Hoberg
Hometown: Commerce Township, Mich.
Graduation Date: May 2020
Degree: Bachelor’s degree in packaging, with honors
What is your current job title? Associate Specialist Engineer, Packaging Equipment & Technology, for Merck.
Why did you choose to study packaging and why at MSU? My family has plenty of MSU alumni. Green and white run in our veins. In high school, I always knew MSU was going to be my future home and I had an eye on the packaging program, but I still wasn’t sure what was in store for me once I got there. My goal was to find a technical, but creative path, and packaging was the perfect degree for that.
Any thoughts or advice for current students? Do as many co-op/internships as possible to see what day-to-day packaging tasks require in the real world. If possible, try to branch out and try different industries. It helps narrow down your passion and interests in packaging, since it is so vast!
What do you like most about MSU and/or the MSU campus? My favorite thing about MSU is that I can be anywhere in the world wearing MSU gear and have someone yell from across the way “Go Green!” It isn’t just a school, it's a home filled with people that cherish community as family.