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Industrial Chemistry Program Prepares Students for Local Workforce

Brittney Ikard is confident that when she graduates from Dalton State College she will be prepared to enter the local workforce as an industrial chemist.

Chemistry is a big part of the industry in Northwest Georgia, and for years local businesses have had to look elsewhere for college graduates to fill those roles. With the help and input from local industry, Dalton State has created an industrial chemistry program within the chemistry major that focuses on making sure students are job-ready when they graduate.

“Most of our students who will graduate from here will go to work in or near the Dalton area,” said Dr. Woody Mader, who heads the industrial chemistry program at the College. “In Dalton the real employment opportunities are in carpet companies or chemical companies who provide services for the carpet companies. We go into the carpet mills and the companies and show students how this is being done and why chemistry is important in this area.” 

The program allows students to become familiar with the vocabulary needed to enter this profession and allows them to see what they will be doing on the job, while giving the industry a chance to partner with Dalton State to ensure graduates will be ready to enter open positions. 

“I like chemistry, and these classes are showing me how to apply this to my life,” Ikard said. “It’s interesting seeing all the different parts of the carpet mills and chemical plants around here and how the information goes from being on a board in a classroom to real life. And one of the things I love about this is it’s not just making carpet. I can work in polymers or water application.” 

The idea to begin an industrial chemistry program for students seeking out a bachelor’s of science in chemistry came out of meetings with industry professionals, said Dr. Randall Griffus, dean of the School of Science, Technology, and Mathematics. Two separate groups of professionals, a STEM advisory council for the College and the Floor 360’s Alliance for Innovation and Sustainability, have discussed the need for a program geared toward industrial chemistry in the community. 

“We are very pleased to have a relationship with Dalton State’s industrial chemistry program,” said Dave Driggers, vice president of operations for MFG Chemical. “Our local floor covering, chemical, and other industries engage chemistry every day in their operations. Dalton State is providing a valuable resource for supporting some of the needs for local industry.” 

Phoenix Chemical, ArrowStar, and MFG Chemical have given Dalton State financial support to help create the program, Griffus said. 

“Unique about this program is that students are exposed to chemistry in practical industrial applications,” Driggers said. “Our company periodically hosts plant tours for students to see a chemical manufacturing facility and discuss the roles that chemists and engineers provide in our operations. In addition, we have hired students and graduates to fill positions as process and research chemists and quality control technicians.

“Dalton State has impressive laboratory facilities with state of the art instrumentation. We are currently working with the staff to provide technical services to our organization while allowing students to utilize some of the instrumentation to provide analyses to support some of our development projects. We are very fortunate to have this program in our community. MFG Chemical is looking forward to developing our working relationship with Dalton State.” 

Griffus said he hopes other industries come on board and partner with Dalton State. There is opportunity for companies to use the instruments in Peeples Hall - such as the nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometer, the gas chromatograph-mass spectrometer, and the differential scanning calorimeter - as long as it also benefits students.

“This is a great opportunity for both our students and our industry,” Griffus said. “We hope this program will grow and more industries will see the benefit in having our students in their businesses before they graduate. We want to do anything we can to strengthen our relationship with the community and help better prepare our students to be work ready when they graduate. I can’t say enough about Woody and what he has done for this program.” 

Mader, who holds a doctorate in chemistry, spent many years working for DuPont and retired from MFG Chemical in Dalton. 

“I have been helping and guest lecturing at Dalton State since it was still a junior college,” he said. “This is a chance to do something that can end with some real benefits for our community. Our students will fit into the industries here and hopefully the industries will look to Dalton State students first when taking applications for a position.” 

Students who finish the industrial chemistry program should be easier to train on the job, Mader said. The program is only two courses currently. They are upper level electives for chemistry majors. 

“I felt like it would be smart to understand the terminology used in industries,” Ikard said. “And I really think industry will be a good first job for me. I hope this program gives me a chance to get my foot in the door and be a good worker when I graduate.”