PCI Corporate Named Scholarships – An Investment in the Industry’s Future

Posted on Thursday, January 7, 2021

By Sheila LaMothe

It was June 23, 2016 when discussion ensued at the PCI Board of Directors meeting about ways to grow the association’s scholarship program and better engage the next generation of powder coating professionals. Board member Greg Dawson shared Nordson Corporation’s willingness to donate $5,000 annually to the cause. After some discussion, Dawson made a motion to add corporate named scholarships to the PCI Scholarship Program. The motion passed and today Nordson Corporation, Axalta Coating Systems, Gema USA, and PPG all participate in the program.

In 2016, Nordson and Axalta became the first two companies to award $5,000 annual scholarships, following the requirements set by PCI. Gema presented its first scholarship in 2017 with PPG making their participation official in 2020. Nordson’s Teddy Piepkow, current chair of PCI’s Scholarship Subcommittee, as well as PCI Board Members Mike Withers of Axalta and Shelley Verdun of PPG, along with Gema’s Jeff Hale, shared with PCT why their companies support the PCI Corporate Named Scholarship Program and its impact on the industry.

What led to the decision for your company to participate in PCI’s Corporate Named Scholarship Program?

Piepkow: Nordson has always been passionate about supporting the communities in which we live and work. Pioneer PCI members from Nordson like Sam Dawson and Ken Kreeger, both PCI Hall of Fame inductees, understood the importance of engaging with young people and contributing to the growth of the next generation of professionals in the finishing industry. The scholarship provides a great avenue to impact more people every year as part of our overall philanthropic efforts.

Withers: Historically, Axalta has strived to encourage students to pursue studies that could lead to a career in powder coating. That mindset continues today, especially as many powder coating veterans approach retirement. We owe it to the industry to do our part in attracting young talent to powder coating. It is crucial to our industry’s future.

Hale: Gema believes that investing in education is very important. We are also dedicated to expanding awareness of our industry and the career opportunities it presents. By sponsoring a scholarship through PCI, we are helping individuals reduce their education costs as they pursue higher education goals that hopefully lead to a career in powder coating.

Verdun: We were looking to connect with universities and their students who are studying polymer chemistry or coatings-related chemistry fields for future talent development. Many students are not connected with the industry and are not aware of the opportunities it presents after graduation.

Do you have specific goals from a corporate perspective that you hope to attain as a result of your participation?

Withers: Ideally, we would like to introduce our scholarship recipients to Axalta in order to strengthen their understanding of our company, the powder coating industry, and why they were selected for the award. Scholarship winners have the opportunity to participate in Axalta’s InventU internship program that provides work experiences that align with the student’s academic major. The 12-week program gives interns the opportunity to apply what they learn in their studies to real world applications. Interns are considered for additional opportunities including full-time employment upon graduation. In fact, 70% of Axalta interns receive full-time offers.

Piepkow: The PCI Ken Kreeger Scholarship is funded by the Nordson BUILDS Scholarship program, where our goal is to help students from our communities build brighter futures for themselves, and to develop a diverse, highly skilled talent pool for the future. Nordson is constantly in search of top talent to add to our growing team. This includes our summer intern program for college students, entry level positions for recent college graduates, and any number of open positions across disciplines like sales, engineering, finance, and human resources, as well as vocational pursuits like machining. Scholarship award winners are great candidates for these opportunities and provide a path to achieving our employment goals.

Hale: The primary goals of our participation are to increase awareness of Gema, and to demonstrate our interest in and dedication to education. We also want to encourage peer companies to get involved and increase student opportunities through the PCI Scholarship Program, whether it is through a corporate named scholarship or a donation to the PCI General Scholarship fund.

Verdun: PPG strives to provide its scholarship winners with an opportunity to enhance their coating-related academic pursuits with exposure to a powder coating business. Had it not been for COVID, our inaugural scholarship recipient would have been invited to visit one of our powder facilities in the U.S., meet the team, take a plant tour, and have an opportunity to present some of their work. If geographically feasible, the winner would have been offered a summer internship at one of our powder technical labs and an opportunity to focus their efforts on a powder coatings project in the lab. While we weren’t able to implement any of these items this year, we do hope to regularly offer such opportunities to future PCI PPG Scholarship winners.

What value do these types of scholarships bring to the powder coating industry?

Verdun: The value is simple, but significant: visibility and awareness of the powder coatings industry, and the development of future talent.

Piepkow: The PCI Scholarship Program provides a conduit for member organizations to interact directly with the best and brightest young people entering the workforce— specific to our industry. Further, the PCI Scholarship Subcommittee works to identify universities and programs that continually produce highly qualified young people who would make excellent additions to an organization, which can benefit all PCI members.

Hale: PCI Scholarships increase awareness of the powder coating industry and create interest in related career opportunities while providing assistance and encouragement to students focused on degrees and programs that impact our industry.

Withers: The program provides an avenue for students to help fund their education while being exposed to powder coating and key players in the industry. Even if they ultimately do not receive a scholarship, the application process provides insight into the industry and the careers it offers.
What do you look for in a scholarship applicant?

Piepkow: Nordson seeks out scholarship applicants who share our corporate values: integrity, respect for people, customer passion, excellence, and energy. Often those values cannot be conveyed solely by a GPA, or the pursuit of a certain degree or specialization. While of course those factors are considered, we look for young people who contribute in and out of the classroom in a positive way. For instance, the 2020 PCI Ken Kreeger Scholarship recipient was Dakota Weinman, an aerospace and mechanical engineering double major from Case Western University who competes on the varsity swim team, is the vice president of Sigma Alpha Epsilon Ohio Rho, and a member of the CWRU wakeboarding club.

Hale: We follow the guidelines established by PCI to evaluate scholarship candidates. With that said, we find it exciting and rewarding to read through the diversity and breadth of each candidate’s credentials and qualifications every year. We have found that one person regularly stands above the others as deserving of the scholarship sponsored by Gema.

Verdun: We take a number of items into consideration in the applicant review process. While an individual with polymer chemistry, chemical engineering, or coatings background is a high priority, we also seek out well-rounded individuals. Therefore, leadership skills (both academic and extra-curricular), academic achievements, internship experience, future aspirations, and strong communication skills all factor into our decision-making process.

Withers: As a leading global coatings manufacturer, we specifically seek out candidates whose field of study includes polymer science and demonstrate the likelihood of a career in our segment of the powder coating industry.

Have you followed the career path of any of your corporate scholarship winners? Have any come to work for your organization?

Withers: We’ve followed past winners to some extent but, to date none have come to work for Axalta full time. Increased communication with our scholarship recipients combined with a concerted effort to recruit their participation in Axalta’s internship program are key components of our scholarship program initiatives.

Hale: We have tracked the journeys of our scholarship recipients and while none have come to work for Gema, some are still working on their education. We do know that several of our recipients are employed either full-time, part-time, or as interns for companies within the powder coating industry. This helps the industry as a whole and meets a major goal of our program participation.

Piepkow: Unfortunately, no Nordson scholarship winners have joined our team full-time after graduation. However, we do keep in contact with past award recipients and all have indicated that the scholarship opportunity was a key contributor to their career journey. We are hopeful that our paths cross again.

Verdun: With 2020 being our inaugural year in the program, our scholarship recipient is still pursuing his degree and has not yet entered the industry. However, we fully intend to follow our scholarship winners in the hopes that these talented young individuals find their way to a career in powder coating—even better, a career at PPG.

What is the biggest workforce challenge the finishing industry faces? How do you feel PCI’s Scholarship Program helps to address this issue?

Verdun: One of the biggest challenges is the ‘maturity’ of the workforce in the coatings industry. It’s extremely important that we develop young talent and give them opportunities for advancement. The PCI Scholarship Program fits very well with this challenge. Succession planning for leaders in key areas like R&D, manufacturing, technical, and service are top priorities for the future of this market.

Piepkow: The landscape for recruiting, developing, and retaining top talent is competitive. The PCI Scholarship Program promotes direct interaction with potential interns and full-time employees, increasing our exposure to top talent for the future.

Withers: As I noted earlier, the powder coating industry has an aging workforce. This presents a challenge we all need to respond to. It is our responsibility to encourage the younger generation to take over the reins of our industry and help them develop a passion for powder coating that extends into the next two to three decades.

Hale: We are challenged with a responsibility to bring awareness to the diverse career opportunities found in manufacturing and within the powder coating industry. While STEM-related careers are often the focus, opportunities extend into a variety of other areas including positions in accounting, marketing, human resources, sales, logistics, and many more. All are crucial to the success of our industry. Involvement in the PCI Scholarship Program is just one action of many that can help our industry grow by attracting talented young professionals.

In 2020, the PCI Scholarship Program distributed a total of $30,000 to six well-deserving students. Applications are now being accepted for the 2021 program. To apply for a scholarship or to learn more about the program and how to get involved, visit www.powdercoating.org/scholarship.

Sheila LaMothe is the editor of Powder Coated Tough.