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Chemical Technology program grads
in high demand with local employers
Dec. 16, 2013
The Chemical Technology Program at the Community College of Rhode Island has a long and successful history – in fact, it was the first such program the American Chemical Society accredited. But the program’s success comes largely from its impressive post-graduate job placement rate.
“It’s nearly 100 percent,” said Professor Wayne Suits, who relies on more than three decades of experience in the chemical technology field to form a solid network connecting students to potential employers.
Suits, program director and the sole chemistry instructor for the program, said many graduates go on to earn advanced degrees, as their associate degree is accepted as the first two years of a traditional bachelor’s degree in chemistry upon transfer at most universities.
“This shows how the program provides an open-ended career in science for those who choose to go on,” he said.
Founded in the late 1960s, CCRI’s Chemical Technology program offers two tracks – a certificate and an associate degree – that will allow graduates to go on to work as chemical technicians in a wildly diverse field encompassing everything from quality control and analysis to research and development in a variety of environments.
Because the program takes place exclusively on evenings and weekends, students who are working full time can easily fit it into their schedules. Suits emphasized that no prior experience with chemistry is necessary; all the requisite knowledge is offered in the program itself. Thus, many of the program’s students are new to the field, trying to break in after deciding on making a career change.
One such student was Jeffrey Moore, who entered the program in 2010. A career construction carpenter, Moore said he was looking for something more stable and had been taking nursing classes at the college. A professor mentioned the Chemical Technology program, and Moore was immediately interested, recognizing that it could be a good growth field. He emerged from the program with a certificate in Chemical Technology in addition to his associate degree in General Studies. “You learn amazing things about how things work,” he said.
In his third semester of the program, he was offered a full-time position at Waters Inc., a leader in analytical instrumentation based in Massachusetts, working as a chemical process technician and gaining exposure to different areas of the field such as quality control and engineering. In March, he left Waters for another full-time position at the BioProcess Institute, a startup in North Kingstown, where he does performance testing on various process materials. “It’s a small company and we’re growing well right now,” he said. “I like being one of the people helping to lay the groundwork for a growing company.”
Moore said he would recommend the Chemical Technology program to any student interested in breaking into the field, noting that his experience was overwhelmingly positive, including the refreshers on writing reports and documentation.
It didn’t take him long to feel like an in-demand job candidate either; he said that when he moved on from Waters, he sent out eight résumés, interviewed at five companies and turned down two jobs before ultimately accepting his new position.
By contrast, Damon Flynn, who works at Teknor Apex, an international custom polymer compounder in Pawtucket, was already in the field when he began working toward his associate degree. After he was laid off as a computer repair and networking technician and was unable to find work when the dot-com bubble burst, friends and family who worked at Teknor Apex directed him to the company.
He began in the company’s manufacturing arm as a blender operator, which he describes as a “manual labor job,” eight years ago. Eager to start a family and knowing that he needed to increase his salary to support one, Flynn looked for inspiration among his colleagues, many of whom had taken advantage of the company’s tuition reimbursement program to attend CCRI’s Chemical Technology program and were rewarded with advancement opportunities.
After receiving the Chemical Technology certificate, Flynn accepted a higher-paying position in another field to tide him over until he earned his associate degree. When he gave his notice, Teknor Apex looked at his performance and new skills learned at CCRI and counter-offered. Flynn accepted and now works as a materials regulatory specialist, a promotion to a higher pay grade as well as a more challenging job.
“The program changed my life,” he said. “I knew that even if things didn’t work out at my current company, CCRI was active in regard to placement, and I knew I could find a job. Knowing that alone, there’s a sigh of relief.”
Area employers are just as thrilled with the program as the graduates are. Tom Stone, owner of Denison Pharmaceuticals in Lincoln, said that about half of his lab came out of CCRI’s Chemical Technology program. “We’ve had really good success with them. They’re eager to learn, and they do learn,” he said.
Stone said that the workplace remains flexible if technicians would like to take additional classes or begin the program while working at Denison. He noted that these jobs were crucial to the pharmaceutical industry, as the chem techs test all of the raw materials as well as the finished products, “ensuring safety and reliability. These jobs are critical for us: Everything starts in the lab and finishes in the lab when you’re talking about pharmaceuticals.”
Stone echoed the sentiments of Suits and his many graduates: Even in today’s economy, the highly diversified chemical industry is stable and growing, and new chem techs are always needed. Learn more about the program online.
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