Ed Terwilliger and James McNear, longtime advocates for plastics education, have left a void after retiring from their Southern California teaching positions.
Terwilliger taught at Buena Park High School, and McNear at the Garden Grove Regional Occupation Program.
The Society of Plastics Engineers' Southern California Section recently recognized Terwilliger and McNear with SPE Lifetime Achievement Awards for education in plastics.
Chris Mitchell, a past SPE section president who organized the recognition, has known Terwilliger for 34 years, back to his days as a student learning about plastics processing on a Van Dorn plunger machine.
``Jim has spent many years in support of our industry, teaching, grading papers and making awards,'' Mitchell said about McNear. ``He has always been receptive to our [advisory panel] proposals for change in his programs.'' Mitchell is district sales manager for Toshiba Machine Co. America in Ontario, Calif.
Terwilliger and McNear said they continue to see low interest in the region for plastics-related courses.
``Unfortunately, there are, for practical purposes, no plastics courses being taught in the junior or senior high schools in Southern California,'' said Terwilliger, who began teaching in 1970.
Some schools only offer a plastics component within another course of study, he said.
Also missing is ``a willingness of school administrators - all the way up to the superintendent - to understand the need for all vocational courses, not just plastics education.'' And even while state and federal funding for vocational education has increased, there is an absence of qualified instructors, he said.
``An expert in the field does not necessarily make a competent teacher,'' Terwilliger said.
Terwilliger started north Orange County's first regional occupation program in plastics and once taught the subject full time. He was the school's teacher of the year in 1992 and received SPE recognition in 1997.
He plans to continue teaching an adult education course on automotive detail and reconditioning through Cypress College in Cypress, Calif.
McNear retired after 14 years with Garden Grove's occupational program. During his time there, he instructed more than 1,200 students in plastics technology. But he cited a deficiency of administrative support for the ROP program and a ``lack of quality [high school] students.''
McNear said he had helped eight students, as adults, start plastics-related small businesses.
``I have had many former students stop back over the years,'' he said. ``Many are working in the plastics industry.''
Currently, McNear designs and manufactures Werksberg-brand automotive street and racing equipment.
Skills go high tech
Vocational education programs in Southern California teach higher-end machine technologies but skip instruction on how to process plastics, said William Clarke, who heads a two-year machine trades program at San Bernardino Valley College.
``The day of training on how to use [an injection molding] press is gone,'' said Clarke, who also teaches robotics and manufacturing technology part time at Fontana High School in Fontana.
``We teach technical skills to be involved in design work at a higher level,'' he said. ``The menial jobs are being farmed out. We are going toward a higher level of technology required in the workforce.''
That type of technology includes computer-aided design, prototyping and manufacturing. He said his students of recent years would not have been interested in previously taught plastics processing and injection molding courses.
But, Clarke said, if high school, community college and regional occupation programs are not connected, students cannot transfer knowledge to higher levels of education being offered through four-year universities.
For San Bernardino Valley College's 18-week fall semester, the program he teaches has a 216-seat capacity in manufacturing, with 162 now enrolled, he said. Normally, high-technology courses use 83 percent of available capacity but the current enrollment stands at 75 percent.
Seven examinations at the end of a semester test students on standards of the National Institute for Metalworking Skills Inc. in Fairfax, Va. In one grouping, 11 of 13 students passed the NIMS sequence, Clarke said.
As for manufacturing programs, Fontana High School is one of the few schools that has one, he said. In many locations, ``they have shut them down,'' Clarke said.
Clarke said the state of California pushes for more instruction in the academic sciences and literature and better student scores on mandatory exit examinations.
``The problem is they have thrown out the technical end to articulate the academic,'' Clarke said. ``We get students who have never seen live tooling or [computer numerically controlled] machines. They cannot tie together math coordinates.''
Instruction at Fontana High School comes from teachers and some adjunct faculty now in the workforce, but not enough talent is available to provide effective instruction, he said.
``We cannot find people like that,'' he said, adding that the problem is sometimes overwhelming.
But Clarke appreciates the assistance the plastics industry has given him during his teaching career: ``The plastics industry has supported me for last 10 years. We stay close with them [and try to] teach courses relevant to the industry needs.''
His California supporters have included Mission Plastics Inc. in Ontario, Prestige Mold Inc. in Rancho Cucamonga, and Toshiba Machine Co. America in Ontario.