- Polymer Engineering
Like many high school students, Alexa wasn’t sure which career path she’d take. It wasn’t until after a few years of community college and a VIP plastics tour from a family friend that Alexa found something that genuinely sparked her interest. “Penn College fanned that little ember," she said. “And then working at Mitsubishi Chemical Advanced Materials created an inferno.”
TAKING THE LEAD
Q&A with Alexa
WHAT DO YOU DO AT MITSUBISHI CHEMICAL ADVANCED MATERIALS?
We make advanced engineered plastics. What that means is that we make materials that go into applications that can replace metal parts. Our parts can be anywhere within the cell phone that you use on a daily basis to the steering console of your car, to a knee replacement that your grandmother had last year. As process engineer, my job is essentially putting out the best product possible in the most efficient way. A lot of that involves data analysis, doing experiments, and asking questions. Most of my time is spent on the manufacturing floor, but I spend a lot of time at my desk too. Every day is different.
HOW MUCH DO YOU RELY ON YOUR PENN COLLEGE EDUCATION?
Every day. My education at Penn College definitely helped me understand the behavior of plastics within a process. Such as, if we tweak this, this is what happens. And if we increase this pressure, increase this heat, this is what happens. It's all about changing variables within a process. And that was a big, big factor within my education.
ARE YOU TREATED DIFFERENTLY WORKING IN A MALE-DOMINATED INDUSTRY?
Not really. At first that thought did cross my mind, simply because I was one of the very few females in the plastics program. Then coming here to Mitsubishi Chemical Advanced Materials, I am still one of the very few females. We're all here to make the best product possible and to do whatever we need to do within projects and experiments; everybody is very welcoming and they don't treat me differently. It was the same way at Penn College.
WHAT WOULD YOU TELL OTHER WOMEN INTERESTED IN A CAREER IN PLASTICS?
Don't let your gender dictate how you're going to be treated, because in some cases people will treat you differently. But if you prove to them that you're willing to learn, you're just as driven, and you're part of the team, then you won't have any problems.
WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST IMPRESSION OF THE PENN COLLEGE PLASTICS LABS?
Very different. I was not expecting anything that I saw. It wasn't your typical classroom. It wasn't your typical chemistry lab with the black tabletops. There was actual equipment in these labs that I had never seen before. It was all very new.
CAN YOU DESCRIBE HANDS-ON LEARNING AT PENN COLLEGE?
The way the curriculum is structured. It's a three-to-one ratio. For every hour, that you're in theory, you have three hours of lab. On Monday morning you'll be sitting in your theory class for an hour, looking at presentations, taking tests, etc. And then you go to your lab and actually put that into practice. For anybody who is a hands-on learner, I would highly, highly recommend Penn College Plastics.
ONE OF THE TOP SKILLS TAUGHT IN THE PLASTICS PROGRAM IS PROBLEM SOLVING. CAN YOU DESCRIBE THAT?
In labs we would be exposed to a problem within a material. We would make the material in the extrusion lab, pelletize it, and then make parts in the injection molding lab. From there we would put them through property testing by looking at tensile strength, elongation, flex, and heat deflection temperatures to see the properties we were getting with the material. We could then backtrack through the process and see where we could tweak the process to make a better material or better part.
WHAT DO JOB OPPORTUNITIES LOOK LIKE FOR PENN COLLEGE PLASTICS GRADS?
I believe the job placement rate for the plastics students was 98% pre-graduation. So I would say we're in pretty high demand. I had an internship with Mitsubishi Chemical Advanced Materials and with that internship came a full-time job. The plastics industry needs people. There's a lot of opportunity from basic production to being an engineer, sales, technical service, all the way up the chain to a business team leader.
WHAT MAKES YOU PROUD TO WORK IN PLASTICS?
What makes me the most proud is the fact that I can teach somebody something new. There's a lot of people who don't know about plastics, including my friends and family. So I come home from work and tell them, "Hey, I did this today...." and I'm teaching them something new.
Polymer Engineering Technology
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