For Lexington Peterson, sophomore in polymer chemistry and plastics engineering technology, representing Pittsburg State University in prestigious placements is nothing new. After receiving a 2018 summer internship, chosen as one of seven for the program, Peterson received another esteemed internship, this time in Chile.
Along with the internship, which Peterson will partake in summer 2019, she was also awarded a $2,500 scholarship to present at a Society of Plastics Engineers national conference in Detroit, Michigan. The scholarship is primarily a travel stipend and the conference will take place March 17.
“It’s really rewarding,” Peterson said. “I received both of those honors on the same day, so it was kind of overwhelming. I just felt like everything was paying off … I feel like they’re an opportunity to better understand what’s going on with my major, both of my majors, and just get more hands-on work… That’s what I’m looking forward to, I guess, is the experience.”
Peterson’s main focus in her research and presentation is on sustainability and bio-renewability of plastics.
“… I’m hoping to see the latest innovations at that conference that I’ll be going to in plastics,” Peterson said. “… And the presentation that I’ll be doing is basically my experience as an undergraduate on the importance of plastic and understanding the buyer renewability importance in plastics, and that’s basically what I wrote about when I applied for that is pretty much my interest in sustainability on the plastics side.”
Peterson credits Pitt State, its facilities, and faculty members within both of her majors, especially her advisor Jeanne Norton, engineering technology associate professor. Norton said she is proud of Peterson and that “that’s exactly why I want to do this job.”
“A lot of our students do have multiple internships, but she’s doing things that are a little bit different in that she’s doing research experiences,” Norton said. “So, she’s done two of those, and she’s doing them in two different areas. And she’s also doing them in things that regard to environmental impacts and sustainability… She’s kind of looking at these materials from a similar background as industry; industry wants to have more sustainable, environmentally friendly materials and she’s starting to look at those materials in much the same way before she’s even a junior, let alone having graduated. So, she’ll have the knowledge and experience of what industry might be looking for in regard to more environmentally friendly plastics and processes for making plastics.”
Norton said Peterson has “had practice” in participating in research like this before and she recognizes Peterson for the application and initiative she took to find these opportunities.
“It’s excellent,” Norton said. “It’s exactly the kind of success we want our students to have and she really has pursued this, and it’s really nice to see that when our students pursue things that they achieve them as well… I think she had me write eight letters of recommendation for her and I think that the internship she got for the summer was her first choice, so I’m also very proud that she got her first choice as well. We really are proud of our students, I mean they’re kind of like extra kids, so when we see them really do well and really kind of achieve the kind of things they want to achieve, we know it makes them happy. We also know that it’s really good for the long–term goals as well.”
Norton, who Peterson works with in the Kansas Polymer Research Center, describes Peterson’s work ethic as “consistent” and that she is “diligent” and “thorough.” Peterson will continue her research internationally this summer at her internship, which is partnered with two universities, one in Maine and another in Chile.
“… Our professors are really good about sending out these opportunities,” Peterson said. “The research opportunity I found myself because I was looking up research in plastics and polymers that was on the sustainability side… and that’s how I came across the University of Maine and the university in Chile… There’s nobody that’s at PSU who has gone through a similar program, so like I really didn’t know what I was doing, but I’m looking forward to it and bringing back my experiences here so that maybe one day somebody else could do it, too.”
Peterson said her work will include more polymer chemistry than plastics engineering as she researches into biodegradable fillers and how they may be used within plastics.
“… It’s basically my experiences here at Pitt State that have offered me those admirable resume boosters, I guess,” Peterson said. “Experiences in labs, the machinery that we have at Pitt State to allow students to have hands-on work similar to what is being done in industry definitely is a huge appeal to them is what I would think… Specifically, for this one, probably my previous research experience interested them. But definitely what we have here at Pittsburg State draws them in every time.”