Logan A. Tate received five scholarships from the Society of Plastics Engineers in 2017-18. “Plastics hadn’t crossed my mind until my cousin, who is in the industry, said, ‘Plastics is everything.’”

Empowering Industry

Published December 6, 2018

Shell gift enhances college’s service to plastics industry

ShellIn Pennsylvania College of Technology’s plastics and polymer program, academic laboratories double as research labs for the college’s Plastics Innovation & Resource Center.

Faculty help to close the growing skills gap in plastics manufacturing by making students real-world ready, while the PIRC helps those already in industry through research and development and workforce training.

Often, students serve as research assistants as the PIRC tests and develops new materials and new processes for industry partners. The undergrads are actively immersed in their future careers, seeing the impact their work will have on the industries of tomorrow.

A $250,000 gift from Shell Polymers will enhance those efforts in the area of rotational molding. The crucial sector produces items that are too thick for injection or blow molding processes. The funding will enable the college to upgrade an academic and research lab that has been renamed the Shell Polymers Rotational Molding Center of Excellence.

“This support is important not only to Penn College, but to a niche industry that does not have many places in the world with the capabilities offered here,” said Elizabeth A. Biddle, director of corporate relations at Penn College. “We greatly appreciate Shell’s investment in our students’ success.”

Plastics and polymer engineering technology student Anthony P. Wagner, of Williamsport, shows a completed plastic test piece in the college’s Shell Polymers Rotational Molding Center of Excellence. The center is set to receive upgrades thanks to a donation from Shell. Wagner received his inspiration to pursue a degree in plastics while hunting: He hopes to develop a new process for producing waterfowl decoys.Skilled manufacturing professionals are in high demand, and the plastics industry is no exception. 

Penn College addresses those needs through its academic offerings – a bachelor’s degree in plastics and polymer engineering technology and an associate degree in plastics and polymer technology – and through the training it offers to incumbent workers through the PIRC.

“Shell believes in hands-on technology education like that offered at Penn College,” said Todd Whittemore, Shell’s general manager for polyethylene technology. “As a key provider to the plastics industry, we see this as an investment in not only education, but the viability of our industry.”

Penn College has the capacity to grow its plastics program and intends to do so with a continued focus on providing the finest education and training opportunities. In the next three years, the college anticipates that 150 students will receive hands-on training on the new rotational molder, and at least 100 incumbent workers are expected to participate in hands-on seminars at the PIRC, where 45 research-and-development projects will be completed for plastics firms over the same period.

In 2017-18, the Penn College Plastics Innovation & Resource Center

  • completed 53 research- and-development and compounding projects for 31 companies
  • conducted 12 customized courses for 193 trainees at their workplaces
  • hosted nine open workshops for 194 trainees in such topics as Lean Six Sigma Blackbelt, Injection Molding, and Troubleshooting.

Apprenticeship programs begin

In May, the college formed the Apprenticeship Center at Penn College. The center, inside the Center for Business & Workforce Development, provides a one-stop shop to coordinate programs for apprentices, companies, schools and other organizations. The college’s first apprenticeship consortia were approved by the state, and in spring, participants from 14 companies began training in a mechatronics apprenticeship and a CNC apprenticeship. The pilot programs are delivered using in-person instruction combined with remote learning.

Keeping workers ahead of the game

Workforce Development & Continuing Education at Penn College provided training to 5,228 participants in 2017-18.

Among them, 35 Industrial courses – in topics such as programmable logic control, welding and blueprint reading – were delivered to 403 people.

Thirty Business & Leadership courses were delivered to 62 people in such areas as supervisor training, project management and developing team skills.

Nearly 350 people received computer training at client-customized sessions or in open-enrollment courses.

The college’s National Sustainable Structures Center delivered 56 weatherization courses to provide critical support for the state’s successful pilot program in weatherizing multifamily dwellings.

Boosting the health care workforce

The college continues to help reduce shortages in the health care workforce through its continuing education offerings. Emergency medical technician training courses in Lycoming, Union and Clinton counties graduated 46 participants in 2017-18. The Practical Nursing Program in Wellsboro produced 27 graduates. Almost 100 percent of the licensed practical nurse graduates were offered at least one position, and in some cases, several, prior to graduation.

In its academic degree programs, the college graduated 19 emergency medical technician and paramedic students, and 143 nursing students. As a whole, 452 students graduated from the School of Nursing & Health Sciences, earning degrees in nine health care fields.

Student Profile

Logan A. Tate

plastics and polymer engineering technology

Tate received five scholarships from the Society of Plastics Engineers in 2017-18. “Plastics hadn’t crossed my mind until my cousin, who is in the industry, said, ‘Plastics is everything,’” said the student, who already held a degree in physics.

“If physics is everywhere and plastics is everything, it only made sense to combine the two,” he told Plastics News, which named him one of the industry’s “Rising Stars” in August 2017. 

Tate graduated in May with a bachelor’s degree in plastics and polymer engineering technology and accepted a position as a process engineer for medical technology company BD, confirming the wisdom of his choice.

Tate is surprised by the lack of young professionals entering the plastics industry. “I have been to six conferences thus far, and the message is always the same: ‘Where are the graduates?’” he told Plastics News. “The industry is full of experienced professionals who are getting ready to pass the torch … but who will they pass it to?”