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Released January 12, 2005


MOSS POINT - Dr. Shelby Thames, president of The University of Southern Mississippi, pledged his support Tuesday to the students of Moss Point High School by presenting a check for $1,000 to the school's newly created polymer science program.

An integral figure in the program's inception more than a year ago, Thames was honored by giving the keynote address at a dedication ceremony to unveil the new Moss Point High School Polymer Science Facilities. The architect of the internationally renowned polymer science program at Southern Miss surprised students, educators, community and industry leaders near the end of his presentation with the unannounced gift.

"This shows how strongly we feel about what you're doing here at Moss Point," Thames told the crowd as he presented the check to Dr. Tressie Harper, superintendent of Moss Point Schools.

Thames said that decades ago, as he began building what would later become the School of Polymers and High-Performance Materials, he realized that Mississippi had to do a better job of "keeping our brainpower."

"The idea was that we wanted to develop a program that would teach students the technical and social skills necessary and put them in a working environment without the industry having to train them once they entered the workforce," he said.

Thames touted the Moss Point program and its news facilities, saying it would give students participating in the two-year curriculum an advantage in the only growing manufacturing industry in the state. Eighty percent of the chemical products industry is polymers, he said. "If we can train students in high school, then they can go straight into the industry through their research here."

The Moss Point High School Polymer Science Facilities, housed in a former automotive shop located in the vocational building on campus, cover 2,600 square feet with a new application lab, new computer lab and new classroom. Offered as electives to sophomores, juniors and seniors, the program currently enrolls about 25 students, who are taught three classes with complementary lab sessions.

Thames noted the importance of the laboratories, saying students learn how to make composites; "they don't just talk about them."

"They learn valuable career training for employment or continued education," he said.

Brittany Chapman, a senior program participant, presented Thames with a plaque at the ceremony to honor his efforts in helping launch the program. More than a year and half ago, officials from the Moss Point School District approached Thames, seeking his expertise in the area of polymer science as they set about building the curriculum.

"We're honored to have President Thames here today," Harper said. "We look at him as one of the foremost educators at the state level, and he has really supported us in our venture to build this program."

Chapman, 17, said she entered the program because she heard it was a growing field and she could be part of something that would give her good job possibilities.

"I've enjoyed learning about the industry and the history of polymers and everything they're used for in the modern world," Chapman said.

Dr. Senita Walker, vocational Director for the Moss Point School District, said the program is designed to introduce students to the world of polymers, with an emphasis on composites. She said this fits into the needs of local industry like Northrop-Grumman and other shipbuilders who use composites in their products.

"We're very excited about our ties with Southern Miss and Dr. Thames on the level of secondary education," Walker said.

Thames said he was thrilled to be involved with the program. "It implies to me that high schools are starting to realize the value of polymer science as a career choice," he said.


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April 1, 2005 11:10 AM