Program teaches students about the plastics industry

March 24, 2019
Jason Goode, a science teacher at Milton Middle School, helps eighth-graders Aly Yankey, center, and Chloe Armentrout pierce a balloon without popping it using a dab of lotion during a demonstration by the PlastiVan program on Wednesday at Milton Middle School in Milton.

MILTON — A program with the goal of getting young people excited about science and the vast opportunities in the plastics industry made a stop at Milton Middle School last week.

On Wednesday, more than 200 students participated in the PlastiVan program.

“The PlastiVan program is changing the perception of plastics one classroom at a time,” said John Fellenstean with the Society of Plastics Engineers, which has the community outreach program called PlastiVan.

Fellenstean says the PlastiVan program travels to schools and companies throughout North America, educating people of all ages about plastics chemistry, history, processing, manufacturing, sustainability and applications.

“We are doing really cool polymer chemistry experiments and get them excited about all the career opportunities that are out there for them,” Fellenstean said.

Fellenstean says plastic plays a vital role in transportation, health care, agriculture, electronics, clothing and is in almost all industries. He said in the United States the industry is experiencing a serious shortage of skilled workers, so as the industry continues to thrive, it needs creative, bright and passionate new minds to steer its course.

“PlastiVan works to bring those concepts to life for students,” he said. “It provides sound science and educational programs, which spark scientific curiosity in students while increasing their knowledge of the contribution plastics make to modern life, as well as encouraging them to seek careers in engineering.”

Bonnie Conner and Jason Goode are eighthgrade science teachers at Milton Middle School and said it’s more important than ever to expose students to career opportunities.

“This program educates students about polymer chemistry and the plastics that are in their daily lives,” Conner said. “It gives them the opportunity to learn about and explore career fields in this area.”

Conner said the students also recently took a field trip to the refinery in Ashland.

“They are able to use that experience and apply it to the things they are learning about plastics during this program,” she said.

Goode says the hands-on demonstrations and experiments may be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for many of the students.

“This is an experience they may never get outside the classroom,” he said. “It’s a hands-on science and technology program that is fun, and all the students have really enjoyed it.”

In one experiment, students attempted to put a sharp object through an inflated balloon without popping it.

“Unfortunately, my balloon popped, but I still had a lot of fun learning about this industry,” said 14-year-old student Oliva Taylor. “It’s really cool to learn about plastics and those that work in that field.”

Sydney Barbour, a 13-year-old student, said her balloon also burst when she tried the experiment.

“I’ve never done anything like this before in science class, so it was really fun and kept everyone’s attention,” she said.

According to the Polymer Properties Database, the global plastics industry has continuously grown for more than 50 years.

The U.S. plastics industry is the third-largest manufacturing industry in the United States, according to the database, and it employs nearly 1 million people in the manufacturing sector at approximately 16,000 manufacturing sites. Total employment increases to approximately 1.4 million people when including plastics suppliers.

The U.S. plastics industry created a turnover of about $380 billion per year, with more than $13 billion trade surplus, according to the Polymer Properties Database.

The PlastiVan program is being promoted in part by the West Virginia Polymer Alliance Zone and HADCO, according to Jedd Flowers, Cabell County Schools’ director of communications.

“It’s a neat experience for students as our region explores new and innovative industries for the future,” he said.

Follow reporter Fred Pace at Facebook.com/FredPaceHD and via Twitter @FredPaceHD.