Hancock County Career Technical Center expanding its award-winning polymer program

July 31, 2015

The Hancock County Career Technical Center's award-winning polymer science program will begin its sixth year with expanded offerings in the 2015-2016 school term.
"It's grown from studying polymers to moving into materials sciences," said Polymer Instructor Joel Myrick. Existing topics include chemistry, recycling, polymer synthesis or the organic chemistry of making plastics. 

"We are also beginning this year to have a section on ceramics and metals. We are including the artistic aspect of it with two kilns for pottery," Myrick said.

Hancock's program is one of just 10 in the state. Students earn four credits in the two-year program for chemistry, an additional science and two electives. Courses are open to students in the Hancock County, Bay-Waveland and Pass Christian school districts.

"Hancock County leads the state of Mississippi in its concentration of polymer and chemical industries," said Hancock County Port and Harbor Commission Executive Director Ashley Edwards. "The students in this program aren't just getting course credit. They are being prepared to enter the workforce in Hancock County and fill the high-tech, well-paying jobs that exist in one of our most important industrial sectors."

The Hancock program includes a production and manufacturing portion in both years in which students learn to use specialized equipment including 3D printers and CAD. 

In the composites section, students study everything from materials used in the space shuttle to common materials like plywood and concrete. Students study coatings such as paint and adhesives as well as metals. "The major part of the curriculum is plastics but we cover just about all materials," Myrick said. "It's a really good general type materials class that gives the kids a unique look at polymers."

Myrick said the courses are popular with students. "Almost 95 percent come back for the second year," he said. "Kids enjoy the career tech school because they want to be there."
The Hancock program has won some aspect of competition every year and is ranked No. 3 out of all the state programs.

"We have worked with SABIC which provides judges every year," said Myrick. SABIC gives students a tour of its Port Bienville plant to see firsthand how they make their polymer stock. The school also takes students to the University of Southern Mississippi Polymer Science Department for tours of its facilities.

Students are required to take a state test both years and also have a performance based assessment, which is a large part of their grade. One year students had a coatings analysis test. Last year they made nylon. The Hancock students built electronic parts for a space station mockup used to train astronauts in Houston.

"We always tell the kids when they leave that they know more than 99 percent of the population about plastics even though just about everything we touch is plastic," Myrick said.

Classes are in a small group setting and average 15 students. "The first year there were seven boys and one girl and it's grown from there," he said. Science classes historically have more males but Hancock's program is an even mix of boys and girls.

"There isn't one type of kid who is really drawn to that particular format of learning science and chemistry," Myrick said. "It's wide open."

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