By BRIAN BIGELOW
The spring 2011 semester marked the first graduating class from APSU’s new Chemical Engineering Technology program.
Fifty-three students graduated from the program Friday, May 6, and another has graduated since completing a course at Nashville State Community College. The program first began during the fall semester of 2009.
APSU is one of only two schools in the state that offers a comparable degree program. A sister program has recently begun at Chattanooga State Community College.
The program is intended to prepare students for jobs at the Hemlock Semiconductor LLC manufacturing plant that is currently under construction in Clarksville. Hemlock Semiconductor LLC manufactures polycrystalline silicon, which is most commonly used in manufacturing solar panels and in making semiconductors used in cellphones and computers.
“It is extremely unlikely that we will ever again see such large graduation classes,” said Chester Little, associate professor and director of the Chemical Engineering Technology program. “The normal graduation number will probably range from 30 to 50 per year.”
According to Little there are “well over 100 students” still enrolled in the Chemical Engineering Technology program, and he expects to graduate approximately 120 students for the entire 2011 calendar year.
“These large graduation classes are a result of the implementation of three accelerated sessions during 2011,” Little said. “In addition to the normal 2011 graduates, we have accelerated many of those who would have normally graduated in 2012.”
“Approximately 50 of the graduates have already been hired or have chosen to continue their education here at APSU or at other universities,” Little said.
The companies that have hired APSU chemical engineering graduates include Hemlock Semiconductor LLC and TVA. According to Little, Wacker Chemie, another manufacturer of polycrystalline silicon with a plant in Cleveland, Tenn., is also considering APSU chemical engineering graduates for employment.
Graduates of the program receive an Associates of Applied Science which prepares them for highly specialized work in various fields.
“The generic terms for the typical positions associated with this type of degree are ‘process operations technician’ or ‘process operator.’ However, the exact job titles are usually specific to the particular industry and company,” Little said.
The employment positions the degree program prepares students for include “oil and gas production, petroleum refining, minerals processing, electrical power generation, petrochemical production, alternative energy, agricultural chemicals and products, pulp and paper processing and specialty chemicals,” Little said.
The Chemical Engineering Technology program is a two-year curriculum that includes 20 credit hours of general education requirements and 40 credit hours of major requirements.
“The [Chemical Engineering Technology] program was designed with suggestions from [Hemlock Semiconductor LLC],” Little said. “Their input consisted of descriptions of the knowledge and skills that will be needed in process operator career path.”
Similar programs throughout the U.S. and Canada were also reviewed while creating the curriculum.
“Unfortunately, our program is limited to 60 semester hours by state regulation,” Little said. “This 60-semester hour limit precludes the possibility of obtaining Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology accreditation. We are now developing a plan to expand the program beyond 60 semester hours and hopefully achieve ABET accreditation.”
Construction on the Hemlock Semiconductor Building on campus, which houses the program, began with a groundbreaking ceremony July 10, 2009, and the building opened Sept. 16, 2010.
Bill Persinger, executive director of APSU public relations, said the building was paid for with a $6.4 million grant from the state of Tennessee, and was furnished with an additional $2 million in laboratory equipment provided by Hemlock Semiconductor LLC.
The Hemlock Semiconductor Building is equipped with solar panels on its roof, and houses the “chemical process lab, faculty office space including the dean of the college of Science and Mathematics, several lecture-style classroom spaces, a computer lab and a lounge area for students,” Persinger said. TAS