Kaivalya "KD" Shah has degrees in industrial and systems engineering, mechanical engineering and instrumental piano. Shah was born in India — he was introduced to plastics there — and is now an industrial engineer at Rockford, Ill.-based Pyramid Plastics Inc.
Nichole Freeman started working at the Prischak family-owned Lake Erie Speedway as a food and beverage supervisor and worked her way up to corporate marketing manager of the Plastek Group, founded by Joseph Prischak, in Erie, Pa.
Shah and Freeman are just two of our Rising Stars class of 2021 — our largest group ever since Plastics News started the special issue. This year we chose 35 industry professionals aged 35 and under.
The honorees this year come from all over the world, from Pakistan to Pennsylvania, from Mexico to Michigan. They also have all different backgrounds and reasons for joining the plastics industry. College degrees range widely: finance, economics, engineering, marketing, communications and even kinesiology. Some got into the industry because of a parent's guidance, a teacher's advice, a sibling's referral or maybe they just happened to fall into it.
Since our last Rising Stars special report, a lot has happened in the world: a global pandemic with more than 26.5 million cases and 450,000 deaths of COVID-19 in the United States; racial injustice protests and calls for reform; a presidential election and inauguration; ongoing debates, bills and bans surrounding plastics and recycling; and so much more. We added questions pertaining to those events into our nomination forms to get the insight and thoughts from the Rising Stars: What has been the biggest impact/challenge on your career from the coronavirus pandemic? What should the plastics industry do to expand its efforts in diversity and inclusion?
Many respondents said they have been forced to work from home and miss the face-to-face interactions and bonding with their team or department. Some have had to change or adapt their projects, forecasts, supply chain or business in some way. Whether working remotely or in a laboratory, all of the Rising Stars had been impacted by the pandemic in some way.
In terms of diversity and inclusion, most of the nominees said the industry should promote itself outside of plastics programs to find more talent, which would help fill the skills gap.
Cassandra Gallaschun, research scientist/engineer at Braskem, said community outreach efforts such as career panels, on-site tours and mentoring can set up the industry for a positive future; visibility is important. "For someone to want to be an engineer or work in the plastics industry, they have to know that it is even a job that exists. As a high school student, I had no idea what a chemical engineer did," Gallaschun said. She added that it is important "to see someone like you in the job you want.
Melissa Gurchinoff, account manager at Nova Chemicals Corp., said that with her liberal arts background, she and her peers didn't even know plastics was an option during career exploration. Andrew Dickinson advised companies and hiring managers to target candidates where diverse populations congregate and develop a brand identity that showcases diversity. "Diverse teams help companies to be more innovative and achieve more success," said the Schwing Technologies sales manager.
"The industry can expand its efforts in diversity and inclusion by encouraging organizations to publicly report diversity statistics such as minority representation in executive roles or data outlining how they are actively building and retaining a diverse talent pipeline," said Celanese Corp. Marketing and Communication Manager Jillian Richardson.
We couldn't fit all of their observations and wisdom in print, so we added more online. If our Rising Stars class of 2021 is any indication, the future of the plastics industry looks promising and I can't wait to see more of them in the years to come.
Vitick is special projects editor of Plastics News.