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University of Akron to beef up polymer sector workforce development with tech hub funding

The University of Akron's Polymer Engineering Academic Center
Annie Wu
Ideastream Public Media
The University of Akron will get a cut of the $51 million in federal grant money earmarked for polymer research in Akron.

The University of Akron will provide more workforce development in the polymer sector after the city announced Tuesday it received a $51 million federal grant to research sustainable polymers.

Akron was selected as one of 12 tech hubs in the country to receive federal funding. The Greater Akron Chamber estimates the funding will bring $5 billion in total economic impact to Northeast Ohio.

Some of the federal funding will go to the University of Akron to focus on life cycle assessment training as part of its Workforce Initiative for a Sustainable Environment, said Vice President for Research and Business Engagement Sue Bausch.

“That is the analysis of the environmental impact of products from original sourcing of the raw materials through manufacturing through use and then finally end of use," she explained.

The tech hub will focus on developing and producing the next generation of sustainable rubber and plastics. The university's role is to fill needs communicated by polymer businesses in the area, Bausch said.

"That's something that industry said that they really needed. There's a big gap, not just in the region but in the country in general," she explained. "There aren't a lot of programs and educational opportunities in that arena."

UA plans to add courses in life cycle assessment and update the current curriculum to include the topic, Bausch said.

"That's across polymers and biology and microbiology, and we're hoping earth sciences," she said. "We're also going to have business involved with that, because there's a value proposition associated with sustainable materials."

The university will also develop ways to provide more workforce development for continuing education and K-12 programming, including summer camps that teach kids about polymers, Bausch said.

"There's also going to be money available to help reduce barriers to an education," she said, adding that the university wants to target minorities and women when advertising the program.

As colleges and universities across Northeast Ohio struggle with low enrollment numbers, Bausch hopes this funding will be a way to draw more students, she said.

"We're hoping by having one of the few life cycle assessment certificate programs that we'll be able to attract people into that program," she said.

Abigail Bottar covers Akron, Canton, Kent and the surrounding areas for Ideastream Public Media.