UMass Lowell Emphasizes Lab Work for Process Ready Graduates

The current and former department chair’s of UMass Lowell’s long-running plastics program take a break from finals to speak with PT.

It was finals weeks at UMass Lowell’s Plastics Engineering program, but Robert Malloy, former department chair and now a professor emeritus, and David Kazmer, current department chair, graciously gave me some time to talk plastics training and education.  

The full report will be in a forthcoming article, with insights from Kazmer and Malloy into the past, present and future of America’s longest running plastics engineering program. Founded in 1954, the plastics engineering department offers one of only four ABET (Accreditation Board for Engineering Technology) accredited programs in the U.S., joining University of Wisconsin Stout, Penn State Behrend and Pittsburg State University *. UMass Lowell boasts more than 3000 graduates working in the plastics industry.

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When I reached Malloy on this cell phone, he was back in his office after wrapping up a 1:00 p.m. Introduction to Engineering final. Malloy first came to UMass Lowell in the 1970s, earning his bachelors in plastics engineering in 1979, and then his doctorate in polymer science in 1985,  before joining the faculty in 1987.

Three decades since he first administered a final at the school and more than 40 years since he arrived in Lowell, Malloy noted there’s one thing about the program that hasn’t changed. Then as now there is an emphasis on hands-on training—taking the theoretical of the classroom and converting it into practical knowledge on donated processing machines in the schools 20,000-sq-ft lab. That lab piece, and dedicated plastics engineering programs, were rare then and still are.

“The reality was, back then there just weren’t a lot of programs,” Malloy said. “Today there still are not, the number is still relatively small.”

Kazmer noted that its lab emphasis is even unique at Lowell among the engineering programs.

“We have, by far, more lab courses than any other engineering major,” Kazmer said. “So the students are able to come out and hit the ground running. They’re not afraid of processes, and they really have very applied knowledge in terms of materials design and processing.”

This is all good news, especially for an industry starved for new talent, but UMass Lowell and other programs face their own skills gap—in instructors. More on that in our special NPE Preview.  

*Editor’s note: a previous version of this article incorrectly stated that UMass Lowell was the only ABET accredited plastics engineering program in the U.S.