Chemistry Students Mentored by KSC Alumni in New Business Partnership
A new partnership between the Chemistry Department and Polyonics, a company in nearby Westmoreland that develops and manufactures industrial labels, is giving students the opportunity to explore industrial chemistry. This mutually beneficial arrangement gives students critical experience while providing Polyonics with eager minds to tackle real-world problems.
The partnership began last semester when Mick Secord ‘08, senior chemist at Polyonics, contacted Professor of Chemistry Denise Junge to kickoff the internship program. Three students have participated so far: Jack Callahan ‘19, Cody Chase ‘20, and Cody D’Amico ‘19.
Callahan was selected as the first student to pilot the program and completed his internship last spring. “It was a great experience. I felt really welcomed and the internship helped me gain more confidence in my lab work. It made me realize I want to get a job in industrial chemistry and hold off on graduate school for the time being.”
Chase started his internship over the summer and has continued to intern at Polyonics this semester. “I’ve always enjoyed the laboratory more than the lecture part of class so having the freedom to work in the lab here is very cool. You have a degree of agency. In a class lab, you have set guidelines to follow, whereas here the things I’ve worked on no one else had quite done, so that makes it a lot more fun.”
In addition to collaborating closely with Mick Secord, the students also work with Keene State alum and chemist Robert Guyette ‘13. The core of Polyonics’ business is manufacturing label materials for circuit boards and steel that undergo chemical and high temperature processes. The labels must withstand those processes so materials can be correctly identified at the end of the assembly line.
“One of the things that’s really different in an industrial lab is that we don’t always know what the next step is going to be,” added Secord. “When the students are doing work sometimes you can’t lay out the next five steps for them. They do their experiment, get a result, and then we sit down and see what makes sense for the next step.”
“It’s a great experience to think about things like that,” continued Chase. “Everything in a classroom lab is so structured. In class the experiment has an expected final result, whereas here things aren’t so certain and when you do achieve success it’s a lot more rewarding.”
Polyonics benefits from having fresh eyes to look at their ongoing projects. “Over the summertime, Cody Chase was instrumental in identifying a solution to a problem that we’ve had for three years. We just implemented that change and we’re expecting it to have a big impact on the business,” said Secord.
At the end of the internship, each student wraps up the experience with a presentation to the management team. This final presentation allows each student to look back on the experience and absorb all of the different tasks they’ve worked on while demonstrating how instrumental these students can be.
“I think one of the most important things about the internship is students can see if this is a fit for them, and it can help inform their career path,” said Secord. “We’re also trying to help shift the student’s thinking and their problem-solving skills, so as they encounter problems in the future, they might approach them differently because of this experience.”