Go down Highway 42 to Petal and you'll see that though you've left
the city limits of Hattiesburg, a Golden Eagle influence is just
around the corner.
Thanks to the
influence of The University of Southern Mississippi, polymer students
at Petal High School have an opportunity to be involved in the Polymer
Plastics Technology course, which focuses on basic knowledge of
Computer-Aided Design (CAD) systems, polymer production and solids
course spans two years, and during that time, students have the
opportunity to gain practical, real-world experience. Two long-term
goals of the program are to offer subcontract services to local
industries and become involved in area recycling programs, according
to Area Development Partnership officials.
course] is one of only four in the United States," said Deborah
Reynolds, the Petal Chamber of Commerce's executive director. "These
students job shadow with companies in Hattiesburg that deal with
polymer products. These companies have donated a15-ton injection
molding machine in the classroom, and I've heard that some of these
students get out of high school and walk into $17-$18/hour jobs."
is in its sixth year, and enrollment numbers continue to climb.
Last year, 38 students enrolled in the course, 13 of whom were second-year
Plastics Technology course came about after a 1994 conversation
between former Petal Superintendent Dr. William Lewis and Dr. Shelby
Thames, founder of Southern Miss' polymer science program. "[Thames]
was convinced that Hattiesburg and south Mississippi could become
the polymer service center of the Southeast United States,"
Lewis said in September 1997.
USM started its polymer science program years ago, there have been
many ups and downs in the job market," Thames said. "But
I don't remember anytime our graduates haven't found employment.
...This is a magnificent opportunity for a lot of young people in
Thames, a distinguished
professor of polymer science and now president of the university,
founded the Department of Polymer Science in 1970 with 10 students.
Thames served as the sole faculty member. The U.S. Department of
Agriculture helped Southern Miss build and equip a $19.7 million
Polymer Science Research Center in 1991; seven years later, it was
officially rededicated in honor of Thames.
86,000-square-foot facility houses state-of-the-art instrumentation
for the department and the independent Mississippi Polymer Institute,
which directly helps fill industry training and consulting needs
of more than 400 polymer-related industries in the state.
The first year
of Petal's polymer science program, 64 students signed up for the
45 slots in classes. By February 1998, the polymer science graduate
program at Southern Miss itself remained among the nation's best,
according to U.S. News & World Report. Southern Miss' program
still is ranked among the best, and that influence helps with Petal's
we need something, we know we can contact Southern Miss and get
help," said Eddie Spalding, the course's instructor. "Southern
Miss and the Mississippi Polymer Institute are invaluable. Right
now, I send students over to them during our partnering program
so the kids can see the educational system as a part of polymers.
I want them to also focus on the educational aspect and how important
Spalding teaches about 40 students each year-- 30 are first year.
He's had five or six go on to work right after high school, but
most go to Jones County Junior College for two-year degrees. This
year is the first year for a course graduate to complete the Southern
Miss program, and Spalding said four or more are beginning the program
I think this program is the best thing to come down the pipe in
a long time," he said. "[The area] is starting to get
more industries, and we need to produce students who are capable
and knowledgeable. And we're doing it."