Penn College Takes Lead in Project Aimed at Enhancing Plastics Technology Education

Published 04.24.1998

Faculty & Staff
Polymer Engineering
Industrial, Computing & Engineering Technologies News

Pennsylvania College of Technology is taking the lead in a National Science Foundation project aimed at enhancing plastics technology education.

Penn College is the only plastics education program in the United States providing associate degree-level training for plastics technicians that is accredited by the Technology Accreditation Commission of the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology.

The Williamsport college, an affiliate of The Pennsylvania State University, will serve as the lead institute for the initiative and partner with Penn State and the University of Massachusetts at Lowell.

The NSF project, titled "Advanced Technological Education in Plastics Engineering Technology," will focus on the development of practical, hands-on training and the production of educational materials that are largely unavailable in the plastics education field. Examples of such materials include textbook modules, CD-ROM materials, laboratory kit packages, and "virtual" process machine and instrument packages.

By improving the instructional methods and materials being utilized by college faculty and enhancing the instruction and training of future plastics technicians, the project aims to bridge the gap between the flourishing plastics manufacturing industry and its dire need for trained technicians.

"Our efforts will greatly enhance the teaching of basic concepts in plastics and polymer materials and processing," says Timothy E. Weston, assistant professor of plastics technology in Penn College's School of Industrial and Engineering Technologies and principal investigator for the NSF project. He is coordinating the project with Dr. Paul C. Painter of Penn State and Dr. Ross Stacer at Lowell.

"A lot of what we're generating will be consumed inside the plastics education community," Weston explains. "Our 'customers' will be the educators who will use the materials, although industry may end up using them as well. And, of course, the final product the students wind up in industry."

Because the plastics business is a fairly young industry and plastics education itself is only about 40 years old, educational materials and resources are limited. This initiative will help remedy that situation, according to Weston.

In addition, the project will establish an instructor-training program at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell as a resource for faculty entering the field of plastics technology education.

As a part of the steering mechanism for the project, about 35 plastics educators from around the country came together to review the project objectives in a three-day workshop hosted by Penn College and Penn State. Activities took place at Toftrees Resort in State College and at the Penn College campus. A second workshop for educators will be held in August at Lowell.

An industrial advisory board also will be formed to provide input on the project.

Support for these efforts is provided by the National Science Foundation's Advanced Technological Education Program, which awarded $600,735 in federal grant funding. With the three institutions providing matching funds of $76,349, the total project cost reaches $677,084.

The University of Massachusetts at Lowell fielded the first plastics education program in the country approximately 40 years ago, Weston notes. "They are the flagship of the plastics education industry. Having them on this project is a huge feather in the cap for us," he comments.

Lowell's plastics engineering program is accredited by ABET, which also has accredited the plastics engineering technology programs at Penn College, Penn State-Behrend and Pittsburg State University in Kansas. The four institutions are the only ABET-accredited plastics education programs in the nation. Penn College is the only one that offers a two-year associate degree (plastics and polymer technology) along with its bachelor of science degree (plastics and polymer engineering technology). Weston notes that it is the associate-degree graduates who then enter the field as plastics technicians that are most needed in the plastics industry.

"We are only one of four institutions in the U.S. offering ABET-accredited bachelor's degree programming and we are the premier two-year plastics program," Weston says. "The successful implementation of this project will once again affirm Penn College's position as a leader in plastics and polymer education."

In addition to its stellar plastics education programming, the College also is home to the Plastics Manufacturing Center – a service of Penn College's Technology Transfer Center – which provides technology and equipment support for manufacturers in the plastics industry.