PITTSBURG — It has been half a century since Pittsburg State University began its Plastics Engineering Technology program.

At 3 p.m. Tuesday, the university will host a reception and recognition event to mark the 50th anniversary in the Rotunda of the Kansas Technology Center (KTC), which will be open to the public. Speakers at Tuesday’s event will include Pittsburg Mayor Patrick O’Bryan and PSU Vice President and Provost Howard Smith.

“I think our founders would be very, very proud,” Rebeca Book, an associate professor in the department helping to lead the celebration, said in a PSU news release. “The groundwork they laid, followed by visionary people who came here in the years after, helped propel this into a program that is recognized nationally.”

In an interview with the Morning Sun, Book noted that the program is “one of only a handful” of its kind that is accredited in the U.S., and it offers unique opportunities to its students. Next month, ten students in the program will travel to Düsseldorf, Germany for the K-Show 2019, Book said. The K-Show is “The World's No. 1 Trade Fair for Plastics and Rubber,” according to its website, and attracts more than 200,000 attendees. Since 2009, the program has also taken students every three years to the National Plastics Exposition in Orlando, Florida.

The Plastics Engineering Technology program has a 100 percent post-graduation placement rate for its students, “and it’s a key component of the recently begun PSU Polymer Chemistry initiative, which provides students research-based opportunities at the Kansas Polymer Research Center,” according to PSU’s news release.

The Kansas Polymer Research Center (KPRC), established in 1994, “is an internationally recognized center for chemistry and materials science with a specialization in vegetable oil-based polymer research and development,” according to its website. “KPRC scientists work with industrial partners, state and federal agencies, and producer associations” in developing and commercializing PSU’s intellectual property.

“KPRC engages the academic community at PSU through research projects and other educational activities for faculty and students,” the website notes. “Locally, KPRC creates wealth, jobs and new technology-based enterprises through polymer research, development and testing services for clients.”

Plastics Engineering Technology program faculty “frequently are invited to speak at conferences and are called upon for their expertise,” the release announcing Tuesday’s event notes. “Its students have been chosen for prestigious internship research opportunities at firms and agencies across the nation. And, its alumni have gone on to impressive careers from coast to coast.”

Some of those alumni are planning to attend Tuesday’s event, including Michael McGrew, president of the Plastics Advisory Council, and Jordyn Showers, who works as an engineer for Nike, which was her dream job while attending PSU. Both McGrew and Showers will also be at the university’s Company Day event on Wednesday. More than 10 percent of the more than 200 companies participating in the two days of PSU’s Company Days will include 30 plastics companies that will be at the KTC on Wednesday to talk and interact with students and offer information on potential job or internship opportunities.

“The Plastics Engineering Program looks very different than it did in the early days: it's now housed in the KTC, a modern facility with state-of-the-art equipment donated by industry,” the PSU release notes.

One thing that has not changed about the program, however, is its close work with the commercial plastics industry. Industry partnerships have long been an essential part of the program’s success.

“Working with industry is something we’ve done for a long time out here,” Professor Paul Herring said in the release. “We work with industry leaders like Engel, Chevron-Phillips, Krauss-Maffei and many others. They donate a lot of equipment and materials to us because they want to employ graduates who understand and have hands-on experience with modern technology.”