Cleveland — The worlds of education and industry can benefit by working together, according to an official with America's largest polymer science program.
“University researchers and industry scientists and engineers tend to think differently,” said Paula Watt, outreach director for the College of Polymer Science and Polymer Engineering at the University of Akron. “But collaboration is a necessity.”
Enterprise research partnerships can benefit both education and industry if done correctly, she added April 19 at the SPE Thermoset Topcon conference in Cleveland. These partnerships require master research agreements, including non-disclosure clauses, and should come with the understanding that the two sides “are forming an ongoing relationship — not a one-off project.”
In 2014, more than 5,400 such collaborations took place in the United States. Akron, Ohio-based UA is in good shape to add to that number. The school has the fifth-oldest co-op program in the country, sending its students to such organizations as Lubrizol Corp., Johnson & Johnson, Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. and NASA.
“Undergraduate and graduate students get real-world experience through co-ops, and the companies that we work with get interns, recruits and hiring opportunities,” said Watt, who has 30 years of polymer industry experience. “We really strive for strategic relationships.”
UA's master's and PhD programs currently have more than 350 students. Each of those students typically gets four or five job offers at graduation. The program has a 100 percent career placement rate. UA also plans to offer a non-professional master's program in polymer science for the first time this fall, if the project is approved by the state.
The school's polymers program also offers a wide variety of testing and analytical services to firms in the polymers market. Its polymer processing center includes equipment used for compounding, blending, mixing, blown film and injection molding. UA's polymer research center does 300 to 400 jobs for outside clients each year.
UA's Polymer Training Center opened in 1993 and provides workforce development for outside firms. Since 2002, the center has trained more than 2,500 employees from more than 900 companies.
Watt encouraged polymer firms to take advantage of the services offered by UA and other colleges and universities across the country.
“If we can work together, we can do great things,” she said. “So let's figure out how to get it started.”