MENOMONIE — Eight $1,500 scholarships will be available to incoming first-year UW-Stout plastics engineering students next fall.

Nearly all of the scholarships are being supported by employers of the plastics engineering advisory board. The board works to ensure the program continues to provide students with the skills and knowledge they need to work in the plastic industry.

Companies providing the scholarships include: Advanced Molding Technologies, Circle Pines, Minn., two scholarships; Andersen Corp., Bayport, Minn.; Nolato Contour, Baldwin; Phillips-Medisize, Hudson; RTP, Winona, Minn.; Scientific Molding Co., Somerset; and EVCO, DeForest.

“Our program cannot meet the industrial demand,” said Wei Zheng, UW-Stout plastics engineering program director. “These scholarships are one way to attract students to check out the program. The employers see the benefit of having a plastics engineering program that is local and in the region.”

The program has about 55 students.

“The demand is much higher,” Zheng said. “There are lots of plastics-related job opportunities on the market, and the industry wants students from this program because of their unique skill sets and background. Out students typically have multiple co-ops and job offers before they graduate.”

This idea to have employers of the advisory board support scholarships started with the board itself, Zheng said. During the spring 2018 meeting, the idea was suggested as a way to help encourage students to major in it. “They are very supportive,” Zheng said. “We are fortunate and blessed to have such a dedicated board. They invest time and effort in this program and support it.”

Chuck Bomar, dean of the College of Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Management, said having advisory board members and their respective companies step forward to fund the scholarships reinforces their commitment to the university, the program and students’ success.

“First-year scholarships are important to campus since they facilitate our ability to recruit the best and brightest students in the region,” Bomar said. “It also helps to provide opportunities to talented students who may not have been able to bridge the gap for tuition.

“This partnership is important to the mission. We speak often about student success and this best happens when we work collaboratively with our industry partners.”

Steve Maki, vice president of technology at RTP Co. in Winona, Minn., and a member of the advisory board, said faculty members talked to the board about the importance of having scholarships to attract students to the field.

“They wanted ways to attract incoming freshman and let them see what plastics engineering has to offer and all the tremendous job opportunities and placement opportunities available,” Maki said.

When faculty talked, industry listened because plastic engineers are needed, Maki said.

“There is a high demand and it is not being filled,” he said. “There is a high demand for plastics engineers, particularly in the Midwest where there is a lot of injection molding.”

Maki has been on the advisory board for about a decade. He believes it is important for programs to know the needs of the industry to better educate students for careers. Industry benefits by having qualified employees available with hands-on experience.

Michelle Dingwall, UW-Stout Foundation senior development officer, said support from the companies on the board is new for UW-Stout and important for attracting students.

“Scholarships can help ease the financial burden of higher education,” Dingwall said. “It can help students get started here. It can help them connect with an industry partner from the start and get an idea what a career in plastics engineering might look like.”

Employers of advisory board members also have donated equipment and materials. Three companies consigned new electric injection molding machines in the lab in Jarvis Hall Technology Wing. The value of the machines was about $500,000. The companies were Arburg, of Germany; Engel, of Austria; and Milacron, of Ohio.

The bachelor’s degree in plastics engineering has 100 percent employment or continuing education for recent graduates. The average starting salary is $59,000, with a national median wage of $93,310.

As one of only two Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology-accredited plastics engineering programs in the U.S., students learn product and mold design, plastics material science and advanced processing techniques.