Science can be fun – and lucrative


Bent on reversing a trend among students who turn away from science studies after they complete high school graduation requirements, faculty from The University of Akron's College of Polymer Science and Polymer Engineering (CPSPE), have teamed up with science teachers and students from Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary High School (STVM) to provide them with hands-on research and laboratory experience in the polymer industry and other important science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.

Designed to give students a preview of rewarding career opportunities that await them and their teachers a greater understanding of practical research, the program also is a novel and fun way for secondary school science teachers to roll up their sleeves in the lab and get their students more excited about science.

Creating and retaining a highly skilled and well-paid workforce in Ohio also is a nice perk.

Collaboration designed to inspire

Partners in Progress, as the UA-STVM partnership is known, enables students to envision themselves as future scientists and engineers. Mary Jo Chionchio, project director of Partners in Progress and chair of the science department at STVM, points out positive experiences such as this collaboration can have a lasting effect on the students, inspiring them to pursue advanced studies and expertise in polymer engineering and other STEM fields.

Matt Becker, associate professor of polymer science at UA, says that while many CPSPE faculty have been committed to educational outreach efforts for a long time, the partnership with STVM has a very different approach.

Dr. Matt Becker

"The idea is to develop a sustained relationship over time, empowering individual teachers to stir a passion and deeper understanding of the sciences within their students for years to come," Becker says. "And we're very fortunate and grateful that the faculty and leadership in the College of Polymer Science and Polymer Engineering have been very supportive of these efforts."

Next generation of scientists in the making

Becker, Chionchio and a number of Becker's colleagues from CPSPE and the College of Engineering hope to convey a strong message to Ohio legislators, business leaders and fellow academics that the state's education community must inspire a new generation of scientists or risk being left behind in the global economy at a special luncheon on Monday, Aug. 27, at 11:30 a.m., at the Hyatt Regency in Columbus. The luncheon is being held during the first Global Polymer Innovation EXPO, Aug. 26-29, at Battelle Hall in Columbus. The Rubber and Plastics Research Association (RAPRA), based in Hudson, Ohio, is sponsoring and organizing this major event.

Holding up the innovative partnership between UA and STVM as a shining example to help Ohio develop a highly skilled workforce, Becker will lead a discussion of the critical skill sets required for continued competitiveness and economic success of companies in the polymer industry and other STEM fields. Leaders from UA, JobsOhio, Ohio's Office of Workforce Policy, Lubrizol Corp., the Ohio Controlling Board, Kent State University and the office of U.S. Sen. Rob Portman will attend.

"This forum on Aug. 27 will challenge participants to consider solutions that will be outside the boundaries of traditional classroom learning," Becker says. "Companies are willing to hire Ohio's graduates if they can find first-rate talent. And if we don't grow the talent, that's not going to happen."

About The University of Akron

The University of Akron offers more than 300 associate, bachelor’s, master’s, doctorate and law degree programs – with accreditations by 35 professional agencies. With nearly 30,000 students and $46.7 million in sponsored research awards, UA is among the nation's strongest public universities focused on innovation, entrepreneurship, and investment in community and economic growth. Programs are targeted to diverse groups of learners, including full-time, part-time and online students, veterans and adults returning to the classroom. The distinctive Akron Experience enhances postgraduate success through internships and co-ops, academic research (both undergraduate and graduate), study abroad, on-campus student employment and service projects.

About the Rubber and Plastics Research Association (RAPRA)

RAPRA Limited, U.S. is a national-reaching nonprofit organization for companies in polymer manufacturing, processing or end use. Its mission is to serve as a platform for collaboration between member organizations, universities, governments and economic development offices, and industry to grow the field of polymer science. RAPRA Limited has been contributing to research and development of innovative new materials, products and processes by providing members with privileged access to a range of services including technical, information, business development, skills and training for over 90 years. RAPRA continues to partner with other leaders in the polymer industry: PolymerOhio, Ohio Polymer Strategy Council (OPSC), the Society of Plastics Industry (SPI), the Society of Plastics Engineers (SPE), and the British Plastics Federation (BPF) to further global collaboration and innovation.

Media contact: Laura Massie, 330-972-6476 or