The University of Akron is adding a bachelor’s degree in polymer science and polymer engineering, the first to be offered at a public university in Ohio.
Polymer programs at Akron have historically been the source of international draw and recognition for the university, but it has always been graduate level study.
The new program comes two years after the College of Polymer Science and Polymer Engineering was downgraded to a school within the newly merged College of Engineering and Polymer Science, causing alumni to worry it would lose its prestige and recruiting power.
Craig Menzemer, who has been serving as an interim dean of the merged college since its inception and was recently appointed its first permanent dean, said the addition of the polymer undergraduate program was the next natural step for the school.
“We have a very, very strong graduate program, and the issue becomes why wouldn’t you have an undergraduate program,” Menzemer said. “I think that’s just a natural extension of what we’re doing.”
The program will start in the fall with two introductory courses: tools for polymer science and polymer engineering, and introduction to polymers. The major will add upper-level classes as students move up through the 126-credit program, which also will have heavy math and physics requirements.
Students will be able to specialize their major through electives in sustainability, processing or bio materials.
Current students could transfer into the new major if they aren’t too far along in their degree track in another study, Menzemer said.
The state approval for the new undergraduate major came fairly late in the academic year to recruit for next year, he said, but they are still hoping to have 10 to 12 students in the major.
Students who come to Akron for the graduate polymer science and polymer engineering masters and doctoral programs come from various backgrounds, Menzemer said, including chemistry, chemical engineering or mechanical engineering. Those undergraduate degrees are available at Akron, but creating a polymer-specific program aims to increase the pipeline to the graduate programs.
“We really think it’s going to increase the draw to the university,” he said.
But students don’t necessarily have to go to graduate school if they major in polymers, Menzemer said.
“The industry will tell you that they have openings for everything from associate’s degree all the way through the PhD, so there’s opportunities there along the spectrum,” he said.
Menzemer said the program will start with the existing faculty but look to grow the numbers in the coming years.
Despite the polymer programs’ transition from a college to a school within a larger college, Menzemer said they continue to thrive and receive recognition.
“We’re trying to maintain that identity but we’re also going to try to grow it, because it does have such a reputation that is so strong,” he said. “The faculty there are very strong.”
Menzemer, a 26-year veteran of the university, has a background in civil engineering and worked in the steel industry for over a decade.
Being named the first dean of the College of Engineering and Polymer Science, he said, is humbling and somewhere he never thought he would be.
“I would tell students, you never think that you’re going to be standing on the other side of the desks, and somehow you end up there,” he said.
Contact education reporter Jennifer Pignolet at [email protected], at 330-996-3216 or on Twitter @JenPignolet.