The plastics-processing community in Mississippi is relatively small.

The plastics-processing community in Mississippi is relatively small. U.S. Government statistics identify only 120 processing plants (not counting captives), ranking 33rd among the states. But Mississippi has one asset that few other states can boast—an integrated, multi-level plastics educational infrastructure to feed the state’s “polymer pipeline” (as some there like to call it) with fresh recruits.

The pipeline starts at Petal High School, not far from Hattiesburg. Since 1997, Petal has enrolled 45 students in an unusual two-year vocational program in Polymer/Plastic Technology. Taught by science teacher Eddie Spaulding, the plastics program has its own $400,000, 6000-sq-ft building. The program includes lessons in basic physical science, plastics materials, CAD, mold making, RTV silicone casting, safety, and injection molding. The last is made possible by the donation of a late-model, 85-ton press by nearby appliance maker Sunbeam Corp. Students spend two days a week outside of school in “job shadowing” programs at local plastics businesses like Sunbeam and Dickten & Masch.

The majority of Petal’s plastics students go on to a two-year plastics technology program at Jones County Junior College or a two-year moldmaking program at Pearl River Community College. Some join the polymer science program at the Univ. of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg. USM is home to the Mississippi Polymer Institute (MPI), a state-funded manufacturing extension center where local plastics firms can pay modest fees for training, consulting, and contract research. MPI has created a high school plastics curriculum so other schools can feed the pipeline.

It starts here, at the Polymer Technology center of Petal High School, where Eddie Spaulding teaches a two-year program in everything from CAD to injection molding on this donated press.