New Orleans-Based Intralox Taps UML for Steady Supply of Interns, Co-Ops and Employees

Eight people pose for a group photo on a factory floor Image by courtesy
Intralox, a leading manufacturer of conveyor belt systems based in New Orleans, has become a popular landing spot for UML's plastics engineering graduates. There were eight UML alumni working there earlier this year, from left: Jim Piehl ’20, Abhishek Parial ’20, David vanSchalkwijk '15, ’17, Jack Weir ’20, Dan Harrington ’23, Mike Fingar ’21, Pat Kong '18 and Erin Wooldridge '20.

By Ed Brennen

Imagine a conveyor belt stretching 1,500 miles from UMass Lowell to New Orleans. 

Figuratively speaking, that’s how more than 20 plastics engineering majors from the Francis College of Engineering have ended up in Louisiana over the past eight years as interns and co-ops at Intralox, a leading conveyor belt manufacturer.

Seven of them — plastics engineering alumni David vanSchalkwijk ’15, ’17, Pat Kong ’18, Abhishek Parial ’20, Jim Piehl ’20, Jack Weir ’20, Erin Wooldridge ’20 and Mike Fingar ’21 — now work full time at Intralox. 

The global company, headquartered in New Orleans, will be recruiting more River Hawks at this fall’s Careers in STEM fair at the Tsongas Center.

“I love growing with this company. It’s always innovating,” says Fingar, who did a six-month co-op and three-month summer internship with Intralox before being hired as a process engineer.

Moving to New Orleans to start a career is a big step, both professionally and personally, so it helps to have a small community of fellow UML alumni to lean on, both in and out of work.

“That was huge. From the start, I felt more comfortable moving down here,” says Wooldridge, a native of Plainfield, Massachusetts, who joined the company as a process engineer after doing a six-month co-op there during her junior year.
Two young men talk to people at a career fair booth Image by Ed Brennen
Plastics engineering alumni Mike Fingar '21 and Jack Weir '20 represented Intralox at last spring's Career Fair at the Tsongas Center.

Wooldridge learned about Intralox when Alisha Welch ’17, ’18, UML’s first intern at the company, spoke to her preparation course for the Professional Co-op Program. They ended up working together in New Orleans. 

“She definitely helped a lot with finding housing, getting acclimated, having a list of the best restaurants to go to,” Wooldridge says of Welch, who moved on to a new job in 2020.

Weir, a process engineer from North Andover, Massachusetts, says the UML alumni enjoy a unique bond.

“Coming from a similar experience in college, we can relate to one another,” says Weir, who did a six-month co-op at Intralox during his junior year. He learned about the company at the Career Fair from Kong, who Weir says “has been a great mentor to me and is one of my best friends now.”

And then there’s the culture.

“Southern charm is definitely a thing,” says Fingar, who is from Medway, Massachusetts. “Everyone is super-welcoming. They always want to bring you in for a crawfish boil or making gumbo. They are some of the most welcoming people you’ll ever meet.”

The company’s connection with UML began in 2016, when plant manager John Kuchler was looking to recruit plastics engineering students for internships — a task complicated by the fact that only a handful of schools around the country have a plastics program. A human resources recruiter in the Boston area set up a meeting for Kuchler with Jim McGonigle, assistant director of employer relations in UMass Lowell’s Career and Co-op Center.

“Jim showed me a PowerPoint slide with companies where UMass Lowell students did co-ops, places like Nike, Gillette and New Balance,” Kuchler recalls. “I said, ‘Jim, how does little Intralox from southern Louisiana compete with those names?’ He said, ‘Just make sure they have a good experience, in and out of work, and hopefully your name will be on here.’”

Starting with Welch, Intralox has been thrilled with UML students, Kuchler says.

“The labs they take are really a plus. I can tell when they’ve been through an injection molding lab. And they know a lot on theory. They teach me some things on the chemistry of plastics,” he says.
“Southern charm is definitely a thing. Everyone is super-welcoming.” -Mike Fingar ’21 on living in New Orleans

“The education you get at UML is amazing,” Fingar says. “It gives you a great foundation and touches every facet of the plastics industry.”

Intralox has even imported some of UML’s faculty expertise: Asst. Teaching Prof. Anne Soucy recently visited the company’s extrusion department in New Orleans to teach a two-day course. She then had dinner in the city with some of her former students.

Even if an internship or co-op at Intralox doesn’t lead to a full-time job, the connection is still valuable.

“My internship experience is exactly what I’m doing now for work,” says Emily Cloutier ’23, a process engineer at PSI Molded Plastics in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire. She did a six-month co-op at Intralox in her junior year and celebrated her 21st birthday on Bourbon Street.

“I remember hearing about Intralox during the first semester of my freshman year, and it was always in my head, like, ‘I need to have an internship with this company,’” she says. “It was a great experience.”

For the UML alumni who have relocated to New Orleans to work at Intralox, the Big Easy now feels like home.

“I just bought a house and got a puppy,” Fingar says. “It’s pretty real.”

Wooldridge, who grew up raising horses in the Berkshires, now has her own horses in Louisiana.

“I recently caught some catfish that we cooked fresh, which was pretty cool,” says Wooldridge, who also enjoys New Orleans’ famous beignets and its many music festivals.

Her advice to students considering an internship or co-op somewhere far from home?

“Be a little bit adventurous,” she says. “It's just a short period of time where they can go to a new place while getting paid. Do something different.”