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Alcoa Foundation invests $70,000 in campus and environment

Student research in chem lab.
The campus chemistry lab will be home for students doing research on environmental issues.
3/5/2012 —

 

INITIATIVE CREATES AN ENVIRONMENTALLY-FRIENDLY REGION
 "Reducing Our Environmental Impact: Green Coatings without BPA”

Alcoa Foundation recently announced that it is investing $70,000 in Penn State New Kensington to enhance undergraduate education in the sciences and to help create an environmentally-friendly region.

The new initiative, "Reducing Our Environmental Impact: Green Coatings without BPA,” will team interdisciplinary groups of students with campus faculty, Alcoa scientists and industry leaders to research environmental issues. BPA (or Bisphenol A) is a synthetic compound that is used to harden plastics in products such as beverage containers. The use of BPA on consumer products is an issue for some environmental experts because it breaks down easily, and exposure can lead to numerous health disorders.

“We are trying to provide a ‘real world’ opportunity for our students to be involved in a current issue that impacts our planet,” said Kevin Snider, chancellor at Penn State New Kensington. “This includes understanding the issues not only from a textbook but from discussions with current and retired experts who can share practical knowledge.”

The new program will be implemented in the fall semester with eight students majoring in the fields of science, technology engineering and math, the STEM disciplines. Robert Mathers, associate professor of chemistry, is the lead faculty member at the campus.

“Our students are the vanguard of the next generation of scientists," Snider said. “One of the components of the program is that scientists from Alcoa will be working with our faculty.”

Mathers holds a doctorate in polymer science from the University of Akron and joined the New Kensington campus faculty in 2004 after two years as a postdoctorate research associate at Cornell University. He has published numerous books and articles, and he and Roderic P. Quirk, professor of polymer science at the University of Akron, have applied for a patent for a polymerization of oxiranes with a lithium-containing initiator. Mathers’ research interests include integrating renewable resources and catalysis. He teaches organic chemistry and general chemistry lab at the campus.

Alcoa Foundation's new investment in the campus complements a project already in existence at Penn State New Kensington. In 2009, the foundation invested $70,000 to enhance STEM learning in elementary and secondary schools. The initiatives are designed to increase the number of grade-school students, especially females, minorities and the underrepresented, in the STEM fields and to create the local workforce needed for the future economic prosperity of the region. Penn State students and faculty provide on- and off-campus program support and serve as instructors and tutors for students.

Community service has been the cornerstone of Alcoa Foundation's mission for more than 50 years. Company employees from around the globe heed the call to service and devote their time and talents on a regular basis to serving their individual communities, working with local nonprofit or non-governmental organizations.

Alcoa and Penn State New Kensington have a long history of collaboration. In 1963, the company donated land to Penn State, and three years later, the present Upper Burrell campus opened on the 35-acre parcel. Since then, Alcoa and Penn State have worked together on numerous initiatives, such as scholarships, the virtual nature trail, "green chemistry" and service projects that have benefitted the campus and the community. In July 2009, Alcoa was the recipient of the campus' inaugural "Corporate Partner of the Year" award.

"Alcoa is more than a corporate partner; Alcoa is our neighbor, and the people there believe in working together for the success of the community," Snider said. "Alcoa was responsible for providing a home for the campus and has a long history of working with us and others to make our homes and communities great places to live, work and learn."