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Penn College alumni represent bountiful plastics careers

Numerous plastics professionals scattered across the globe share a bond beyond their career choice – a degree from Pennsylvania College of Technology. Three of those graduates are reminded daily of that connection. They are enjoying thriving careers at the same multibillion-dollar corporation.

Bryan T. Robinson, of Gilbertsville; Hannah G. Maize, of Riverside; and Alexa M. Korinchak, of Hellertown, are engineers at the North American headquarters for Mitsubishi Chemical Advanced Materials in Reading.

A leading manufacturer of high-performance thermoplastic materials, Mitsubishi Chemical Advanced Materials is a subsidiary of the Mitsubishi Chemical Corp. The 195,000-square-foot Reading plant produces stock shapes in the form of rods, plates and tubes that are machined into parts by end users representing multiple industries, from aerospace and defense to food and beverage.

Graduates of Pennsylvania College of Technology’s plastics program are scattered around the globe, enjoying thriving careers. Three of the alumni work at the same multibillion-dollar corporation: Mitsubishi Chemical Advanced Materials, a leading manufacturer of high-performance thermoplastics. From left, Alexa M. Korinchak, of Hellertown; Bryan T. Robinson, of Gilbertsville; and Hannah G. Maize, of Riverside, are process engineers at the company’s North American headquarters in Reading.
Graduates of Pennsylvania College of Technology’s plastics program are scattered around the globe, enjoying thriving careers. Three of the alumni work at the same multibillion-dollar corporation: Mitsubishi Chemical Advanced Materials, a leading manufacturer of high-performance thermoplastics. From left, Alexa M. Korinchak, of Hellertown; Bryan T. Robinson, of Gilbertsville; and Hannah G. Maize, of Riverside, are process engineers at the company’s North American headquarters in Reading.

“We produce millions of pounds per year,” said Maize, who graduated in 2019. “They get made into some pretty cool and useful applications.”

“Our parts can be within the cellphone you use to the steering console on your car to the knee replacement your grandmother had last year,” said Korinchak, a 2020 graduate.

“Essentially, we make materials that are used to replace metal in applications,” added Robinson, Class of 2015.

All three earned bachelor’s degrees in plastics & polymer engineering technology and today have the title “process engineer” next to their name, albeit for different departments: research and development for Robinson, cast nylon for Maize and compression molding for Korinchak.

The specifics of their jobs differ, but the positions do require a similar mix of office work, project management and time on the manufacturing floor. That blend is essential for reaching a common goal: continuous process improvement to ensure Mitsubishi is manufacturing the best product via the safest and most efficient means.

“Every day is different,” Robinson said. “It’s constantly improving processes, working with new people and new materials.”

“I’m never bored, and I’m always learning something new,” Maize said. “There are so few companies in the industry that do what we do.”

“A lot of our materials are advanced engineered plastics, so they can withstand higher heat, higher pressure and have fewer chemical reactions. They are more durable,” Korinchak explained.

In other words, they are not single-use commodity plastics that can lead to pollution and a black eye for the industry.

“The first thing people think of when they hear the word ‘plastics’ is water bottles, plastic bags or straws,” said Joshua J. Rice, instructor and department head for plastics and polymer technology at Penn College. “As a society, we can do better about using those types of products.

“But what I want people to understand is that polymers are so much more than that. They go into those life-saving medical devices, life-altering electronics. They allow us to move, travel, transport and explore our world and our universe in a way that we couldn’t before we discovered the use of polymer materials.”

 

A combination of plastics’ pervasiveness and potential, high-tech nature, and opportunity for practical application of skills led Robinson, Maize and Korinchak to Penn College and eventually internships at Mitsubishi. The internships resulted in full-time job offers long before graduation. That’s a common occurrence, according to Rice, himself a Penn College graduate (Class of 2013).

“The job opportunities are pretty much endless,” he said. “There aren’t enough skilled workers coming out of colleges and universities to fill the needs of industry. We have basically a 100% placement rate for the graduates from our program.”

Alumni work in companies big and small throughout the nation and are stationed in multiple countries such as Germany, China and Mexico. Beyond engineering, typical specialties for plastics graduates include technical operations, research, sales and management.

“The plastics industry is constantly growing, constantly advancing. There are so many different ways that somebody could work within a company,” Korinchak said.

“You’re going to find something that you’re passionate about or something that interests you. And even if that doesn’t happen right away, you’ll gain experience, and you’ll be in high demand wherever you end up going,” Maize noted.

Penn College is one of six institutions nationwide offering plastics degrees – the bachelor’s in plastics and polymer engineering technology and a two-year program in plastics and polymer technology – accredited by the Engineering Technology Accreditation Commission of ABET.

“Our dedication to hands-on, lab-styled learning for our degrees is higher than you’ll find at any other accredited universities,” Rice said. “Every class has a three-hour lab associated with it.

Once you have that theory down, we take you to lab, and we make you put that theory to work.”

“I thought the hands-on portion was more challenging than the theory,” Maize recalled. “I’m pretty book-smart, but when it comes to the practicality, that’s where I often struggle. I’m most grateful for the hands-on experience. That is just such a huge part of being successful in a manufacturing environment like this.”

The college’s six labs feature industrial-size equipment and facilitate learning the five main industrial manufacturing processes for plastics: thermoforming, rotational molding, blow molding, extrusion and injection molding.

“Coming out into industry and working at Mitsubishi, I understood what’s happening inside the equipment,” Robinson said. “Not just turning a knob makes it (the machine) go faster, but learning at the molecular level what’s happening to the plastics.”

The hands-0n experience helped Korinchak grasp the “behavior of plastics” within a process. “We learned if we tweak this, this is what happens. If we increase the pressure, this is what happens,” she said. “Changing variables within a process was a big factor in my education, and it is as well with my job today.”

Students also can enhance their resume by interfacing with industry through the college’s Plastics Innovation & Resource Center, one of the top plastics technology entities in the nation for research, development and education.

“We want to build the strongest and broadest foundation for our students so when it comes time to graduate and find your job, you’ll have more options,” Rice said.

Options the alumni trio are thankful they explored through the college and Mitsubishi.

“I’m proud to work in plastics because I know I’m making a difference every single day, whether it’s making plastics more recyclable, making equipment and processes more efficient, or overall making everything safer,” Robinson said.

“I’m most proud to work in plastics because it’s still such a growing industry, and it impacts just everything, basically, that happens in the world today,” Maize said.

“I’m very grateful for Penn College because it opened my eyes to a whole new world of an industry I knew absolutely nothing about,” Korinchak said. “Penn College kind of lit the fire, lit that little ember, and then coming here, it created an inferno. I would highly recommend Penn College plastics.”

For more on Penn College’s plastics degrees and other programs offered by the School of Engineering Technologies, call 570-327-4520.

To learn about Penn College’s Plastics Innovation & Resource Center, call 570-321-5533.

Penn College is a national leader in applied technology education. For more, email the Admissions Office or call toll-free 800-367-9222.

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