Evan Morton, 25
Program and Sustainability Coordinator, SPE Foundation
Evan Morton earned his degree in community sustainability from Michigan State University, where he was also an undergraduate researcher with endless accomplishments.
His research topic for 2021 was "Consumer Choice: The Plastic, Paper and Reusable Grocery Store Bag Dilemma," and he won first place for MSU's Department of Community Sustainability's research symposium for 2021. He was also an undergraduate research ambassador, conducting presentations to organizations and students about research and opportunities at MSU.
Morton has been the program and sustainability coordinator for the Society of Plastics Engineers Foundation in Lansing, Mich., since summer 2021. He has created more than 20 STEM clubs within the United States, represented SPE at events such as the Automotive Composites Conference and Exhibition and spoken at the Recycling and Circular Economy conference.
Morton is also the first Black PlastiVan educator in the program's history. In this role, he teaches Detroit students about the history of plastics and the implementation of sustainable practices within the industry, and he conducts virtual experiments and outside activities. Morton has taught more than 1,000 students within the metro Detroit area.
"I am interested in the sustainability side of the industry, including recycling, composites, circle economy. [SPE Foundation Chief Executive Eve] Vitale called me with the opportunity because she saw that I was interested in the sustainability of plastics. And as I learned throughout the whole semester [in college], plastics have a wide variety of uses and ways we can express to children how important plastics are to today's society and teach them responsible behavior on plastic recyclability," he said.
"I'm interested in reaching out to groups of people and having a conversation/present on plastics and the positive impacts plastics and people play in combating climate change. In order to understand plastics, you have to understand polymers, and being able to teach about plastics and polymers while also teaching sustainability within the industry is … what has kept my interest at its peak," he added.
The pandemic forced Morton to adapt to new situations, he said.
"I am a risk-taker and a go-getter, so through the time I spent planning month by month for our STEM clubs for both virtual education as well as physical education has been the biggest impact and challenge, but being able to run this far in the program and have it run smoothly knowing that I put it together, seeing the students have research projects and experience makes the challenge all worth it," he said. "A smile is worth 1,000 words, and I get to see them every week, which makes it all OK."
Morton was nominated for Rising Stars by Lynzie Nebel and Mercedes Landazuri, co-hosts of The PlastChicks podcast.
Q: What should the plastics industry do to expand its efforts in diversity and inclusion?
Morton: I would say accept the past, work towards a brighter future. Since the plastics industry's inception, we have seen a change within diversity, equity and inclusion; this includes women within the workforce, workers' rights and inclusions of different backgrounds. Diversity, equity and inclusion do not just mean hiring a more diverse work crew; it is adapting [to] new situations, new environments and to be accepting of people that might not be like yourself.
It's not just having one conversation; it's about having ongoing conversations because it is constantly changing. We still have a lot of work within the industry, but the small impacts that we have made, such as creating a space for conversation, diversifying the workforce and being more inclusive, and accepting peoples' perceived limitations, speak to the wealth of knowledge and uniqueness and individuality that person has from yourself have helped. These are what make the bigger impact for the future and will ensure the longevity of diversity, equity and inclusion within the workforce for the plastics industry.
Q: What steps have you taken to advance in your career?
Morton: I have set foundations and goals that are being met currently. I am the youngest and the first Black male within the SPE foundation as well as PlastiVan. And in order to make sure I am moving in the right direction, I am making sure that everything that I am currently doing is replicable for the next person who comes after me by documenting my experience.
I'm looking for ways to be more inclusive in the industry while also making sure it is also more inclusive of others. So, every step I take within this industry sets precedence for me and the others who look like me that it is possible. I would take on 100 arrows if it meant that the kids behind me could move in front of me and be better than me, and I truly mean that. So the steps I have taken to advance is to make sure I take steps so everyone can advance and see themselves within this industry. Every step I take, someone is looking, so making sure I walk in my truth and represent my community well is how I have advanced.
Q: Who is your mentor or someone you look up to?
Morton: My mentor is Mr. Keith Young, owner of Ecotek Laboratory based in Detroit. Mr. Young was the first person who saw potential in me to become a researcher. He is the one that gave me the opportunity to work on research from sixth grade until 12th grade, and through that time having research papers, projects, presentations, events, internships, travels and experiences is what helped shape me into the person I am today. Even when I was going through my rough patch in college, he didn't stop messaging me and seeing what I was up to. And he is the one that put the conversation forward for me to become a part of PlastiVan.
As a mentor, you never give up on your student, even when the student isn't going in the correct direction. As a mentor, you accept that the student has made mistakes, and you work to improve them. This is exactly what Mr. Young has done for me; I can only hope that I can do the same thing for the students who come after me because someone believed in me first. A mentor is someone you can trust, someone who sees themselves in you and wants the best for you. And I would really have to say thank you to all my mentors, but specifically Mr. Young for giving me a chance to gain confidence in myself at an early age.