Studies show that U.S. students lag slightly behind those in other industrialized nations in science and mathematics education. Some polymer-related educators fear that trend could affect the domestic pool of future plastics engineers, processors, equipment designers and manufacturers. Some say the solution is in better public relations: to promote a science major as a lucrative and fulfilling career option. Others say increasing the salaries of plastics engineers and processors would attract more students away from fields like business management and investment banking.
According to Frank Kelley, head of polymer education at the University of Akron, the faces of students in polymer-related studies will become more and more diverse.
"A reverse in the declining interest in sciences among U.S. students will occur when most of the attractive science and engineering jobs are taken by naturalized citizens from those countries which value science education," Kelley wrote in a response to a Plastics News survey sent to polymer science educators. "The opportunities will await the children of those same enlightened immigrants, who, hopefully, will be imbued with the same educational values.
"These children will be, of course, U.S. students."
Frank Feher, professor and vice chair of the chemistry department at the University of California at Irvine, echoed Kelley's observations, but with a stronger emphasis on changing current science education at the primary level to meet the more challenging standards at the university level.
"It is clear that most public schools do not have the incentives, flexibility, personnel or resources necessary to offer the kinds of programs that would reverse the declining interest in sciences among U.S. students," Feher wrote. "The only way to improve science education in general is to stop treating our public schools like day care for all kids between the ages of 5 and 17."