Made in Nassau County: a learning experience

Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
October 9, 2017 1:54 p.m.


Fernandina Beach students are welcomed to the Rayonier Advanced Materials plant on Gum Street.

The morning of October 6, 2017, Fernandina Beach 8th graders were the first of four groups of students to visit the Rayonier Advanced Materials plant on Gum Street in Fernandina Beach, FL in conjunction with Manufacturing Day celebrations hosted by the plant.

Manufacturing Day is part of a nationwide effort organized by the National Association of Manufacturers to inspire the next generation of manufacturing leaders.
Florida Sen. Aaron Bean and Florida Representative Cord Byrd helped welcome the students to the first of four sessions to expose Nassau County 8th graders to the complex work conducted by the mills that results in a remarkable array of products ranging from foods and personal hygiene products to paints, plaster and computer screens.  Representatives of other elected officials as well as manufacturing representatives also attended.

Bean, whose son works at the Fernandina Beach facility, said, “It’s wonderful to see manufacturers like Rayonier Advanced Materials reach out to our local schools in this way. As a Fernandina Beach native, I know how important this facility’s operations are to local families—both as a community partner and employer.”

Nassau County School Superintendent Dr. Kathy Burns explains to students that Rayonier Advanced Materials plant is not a paper mill, but a complex manufacturing facility.

Nassau County School Superintendent Dr. Kathy Burns, who accompanied the first group, said that this was an opportunity for the students to learn just what goes on in the facility that employs many of their family members and neighbors. She applauded Rayonier’s outreach educational endeavor. “This is a unique addition to our community’s existing S.T.E.M. programming,” she said. “As we prepare students to consider careers in engineering, manufacturing and science, it’s wonderful to have this resource in our backyard. The team at Rayonier Advanced Materials did a remarkable job of sharing the operational ‘nuts and bolts’ with our students, particularly through the interactive ‘Learning Labs’ led by their in-house experts.”

The five learning labs covered a variety of topics: cellulose products, forestry, process control and electric shop, pulping and science and chemistry. Students rotated through the five stations where they had an opportunity to interact with Rayonier Advanced Materials employees who explained the work done in the various facets of the operation and provided examples of products and processes.

“It’s a joy to open our doors, invite local students to learn about modern manufacturing and discuss the exciting careers available in today’s industry,” said CA McDonald, General Manager of Rayonier Advanced Materials’ Fernandina Beach plant. “Manufacturing Day is the perfect opportunity to bring our company and community leaders together with local youth. We hope the visit inspires some to pursue careers in manufacturing.”

Students enjoyed the day, beginning with an outdoor look around the mill followed by refreshments indoors and some prizes as they visited the various stations. They listened to a brief presentation on the history of the company and its products. Teachers received a printed toolkit complete with lesson plans and activities to further expand their students’ knowledge of manufacturing and its many career opportunities. The toolkit can be found online at:

To reinforce the knowledge gained during the field trip, students received an assignment to write an essay about what they learned during the visit.

Fernandina Beach and Yulee 8th graders’ visits on October 6, 2017, will be followed by visits from their counterparts in Callahan and Hilliard on October 13, 2017.

Editor’s Note: Suanne Z. Thamm is a native of Chautauqua County, NY, who moved to Fernandina Beach from Alexandria,VA, in 1994. As a long time city resident and city watcher, she provides interesting insight into the many issues that impact our city. We are grateful for Suanne’s many contributions to the Fernandina Observer.