Williamsport, Pa. – 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.
“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.