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Plastics students land prestigious internships
Lexington Peterson (left), Kylie DeClue (right), and Shelby Bicknell (not pictured) have landed prestigious research internships in plastics this summer, thanks in part to experience they got in school.

Plastics students land prestigious internships

When then-high school senior Lexington Peterson took a tour of the Kansas Technology Center at Pittsburg State, Assistant Professor Jeanne Norton handed her a plastic water bottle and sealed the deal on her future career field: Plastics Engineering Technology. 

"I was really attracted to the 100 percent placement rate," said Peterson, of LaCygne, Kansas. "I've always excelled at math and science. And I knew coming into it that when I graduate I wouldn't have to worry about a job."  

Peterson was surprised to find that she also wouldn't have to worry too much about landing a prestigious research internship: As a freshman, she has been accepted by the Center of Bioplastics and Biocomposites, a collaborative project by Iowa State University and Washington State University, as one of only seven in their program. 

"I asked them 'Why me?' and they said because I had experience with injection molding and extrusion here at Pitt State, and that immediately set me apart," said Peterson, who is pursuing a double major in Polymer Science. "We're lucky to have great equipment — new machines — so that when we go into industry, we know how to use what they have. It definitely will give us an advantage." 

Peterson is one of three students from Pittsburg State accepted for such research internships this summer — and all of them are female, which makes them unique in a field dominated by males. 

"There are a lot more guys than girls in the program," said Kylie DeClue, a sophomore from Parkville, Missouri, has been accepted by Virginia Tech's Macromolecular Innovation Institute. "But they're accepting. We're equal. We all get the same opportunity." 

Norton, who advises all three students, said faculty in the program don't look at students as "male students and female students." 

"But they're certainly role models for other young girls looking to get into the sciences," she said. "Having a degree in plastics — their careers are wide open." 

DeClue had planned as a high school senior to come to Pittsburg State for softball, and knew she wanted to be an engineer. She just wasn't sure in what. 

"A tour sealed the deal on Plastics," she said. "Only five or six schools in the nation offer a program like this." 

Her focus, like Peterson's, is on environmentally-friendly, biodegradable plastics. 

"I'm interested in reducing our ecological footprint," said DeClue, who is pursuing minors in chemistry, physical science, and music. Her research internship will focus on "Materials Innovation at the Intersection of Food-Energy-Water Systems."  

"It's a great experience to get to do the research side," she said. "I wasn't expecting to get in." 

A third internship recipient, Shelby Bicknell, who is a senior from Pittsburg on track to graduate in May, will return to campus this fall to work for Norton as a graduate student in the Polymer Chemistry lab. 

Her internship, like Peterson's, will be at Iowa State. She'll focus on increasing the interfacial bonding in agave fiber-polypropylene composites for enhanced properties. 

"I feel very excited for this summer," Bicknell said. "Research is exactly what I want to be doing and I feel like I will grow a tremendous amount during this experience." 

All three praised Pittsburg State faculty for their support, their dedication, and relating well to students.

One such faculty member, Professor Paul Herring, said internships aren't required for Pittsburg State students, but they make graduates much more employable. 

"They rise to the top," he said. "And this research opportunity for all three of them is unique. We think it speaks well of our program. To our knowledge, this is the first time Pitt State students have been chosen for such internships." 

He also anticipates that their experiences this summer will help the Pittsburg State program. 

"We think we'll learn from them," said Herring. "Research opportunities give you insight to a different side of the industry. The development of plastics, of polymers in labs — it's a big positive to know how things are developed and then made on the commercial side. It will give these students the whole spectrum." 

Norton said such internships typically offer a very limited number of spots. 

"The fact that we have three students selected is fantastic," she said. 

The internships will be paid, with housing provided.

Learn more about Pittsburg State's Plastics Engineering Technology program at http://www.pittstate.edu/department/engineering-tech/plastics/

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