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Student discovers passion for polymers at Pittsburg State

Kevin McNay was more than a little suspicious when, in eighth grade, he learned his parents had signed him up for summer camp. His skepticism grew after discovering the camp had no canoes, no cabins, and no campfires. What it did have was an intriguing title, “Plastic is Fantastic.” It was a title that piqued the 13-year-old’s interest, and introduced him to the amazing world of polymers.
Student discovers passion for polymers at Pittsburg State
Kevin McNay, Plastics Engineering Technology major at Pittsburg State, is assisting an assistant professor and research scientist with advanced polymer research at the university’s Kansas Polymer Research Center.

“I knew I liked to work with my hands and build things,” said McNay. “But I was completely blown away by everything we got to do. We designed and created our own race cars, and then raced them. To be able to go from design, to production, to quality-control testing at that young age was amazing.”

Today, McNay is attending one of the top collegiate polymer programs in the nation.

His university of choice? The same place he attended camp: Pittsburg State University.

Pitt State’s Polymer Chemistry Initiative offers students access to three vital facets of polymer education: an industry-endorsed Plastics Engineering Technology program, a renowned Polymer Chemistry undergraduate and graduate program, and a professional research laboratory.

These features, and the fact that they are all located at a single university, provides PSU students with opportunities they won’t find anywhere else.

“It’s one of the primary reasons I chose Pittsburg State,” said McNay, who is now just weeks away from earning his bachelor’s degree in Plastics Engineering Technology.

With an eye toward his career, McNay already has applied for and been accepted into Pittsburg State’s graduate-level Polymer Chemistry program.

“My undergraduate degree has given me the hands-on skills I need for the industry,” said McNay. “I know how an injection molding machine works. I know the problems that could arise. But now that I’m going into polymer chemistry I’ll be able to understand the plastic itself.”

It’s that kind of forward thinking that will likely reward McNay both personally and professionally.

According to the American Chemical Society, the median annual salary for polymer chemists is just over $75,000.

Thanks to his work in classroom, McNay has been able to secure a position as a research assistant at PSU’s Kansas Polymer Research Center (KPRC). The KPRC is an internationally recognized center for chemistry and materials science with a specialization in bio-based polymer research and development.

McNay works for Dr. Jeanne Norton, a research scientist and assistant professor within the engineering technology department. Norton, who came to Pittsburg State after completing her post-doctoral work at Kansas State, described PSU’s polymer program as one of the most complete in the nation.

“There’s no program like this in the region,” explained Norton. “Some are more chemistry focused, some are more engineering focused, but at Pittsburg State we’ve put it all together because both sides are necessary for the work we need to do (within the KPRC) for our industrial partners.”

Those industrial partners include such corporate giants as Honeywell, Ford Motor Company, Cargill, the United Soybean Board and MGP Ingredients. These industries work with the KPRC because of the experience of its research scientists.

“Over the employee entrance to this building is a sign that reads, ‘Through these doors pass the best polymer scientists in the world,’ and it’s true,” said Norton.

“People come here from all over the world to work with our research scientists. It really is a world-class research center.”

The KPRC has secured dozens of patents for its research and is the only university research laboratory in Kansas to have earned the prestigious Presidential Green Chemistry Award.

The fact that this level of academic and research prowess is located in Pittsburg, Kansas might surprise some – but not McNay.

“I knew from that moment in camp that this was what I wanted to do,” said McNay. “How lucky am I? I have one of the best schools in the nation in my backyard. From eighth grade, it was never in doubt. I was going to Pitt State.”

To learn more about Pittsburg State University’s Polymer Chemistry Initiative visit http://www.pittstate.edu/department/chemistry/polymer/index.dot.

Student discovers passion for polymers at Pittsburg State

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