Brian Frink has a bit of a supply and demand problem.
Frink, professor of chemistry/physics at Lakeland College, has been fielding phone calls from world-class local companies and even "headhunters" who know what Lakeland chemistry grads can do – and would like to hire them.
The only problem is Frink's graduates are hired faster than he can produce them.
"I'm kind of stuck," he says. "I really want to meet the need of our community. But right now, our chemistry department has the enviable problem of local businesses wanting our graduates at a higher rate than we have students. Our program has made a name for itself, and we'd love to welcome more high school students who are interested in chemistry to Lakeland."
When it comes to sending his graduates out into the workforce or to graduate school, Frink's rate of success is staggering. In fact, over the past decade, every graduate of Lakeland's chemistry program who wanted a job in a chemistry-related field or related graduate school placement was successful.
"It speaks so much to our students' ability," Frink says. "It's a testament to what Lakeland produces, and how our students are willing to accept challenges and really work. Employers want our graduates because they continually prove themselves."
Over the past decade, Frink, who just completed his 15th year at Lakeland, has helped an average of about four students graduate with chemistry degrees each year. He works closely with all of his students, an approach consistent with Lakeland's personal touch philosophy.
In recent years, as the reputation of Lakeland College chemistry graduates has blossomed, the demand has grown – both in terms of fulltime work and internships. Frink has established strong connections with local companies Curt Joa, Saco Polymers, Heresite Protective Coatings and Plymouth Foam.
"Our graduates understand chemistry, but what they really become good at here is critical thinking and problem solving," Frink says.
People around the community are noticing the quality of Frink's teaching. This past winter, he was nominated for the Sheboygan County Chamber of Commerce's annual prestigious Golden Apple Award for "preparing students for post-graduate success with innovative classroom content and opportunities for students in the community."
Over the past few years, Lakeland chemistry and biochemistry grads have moved on to Ph.D. or master's programs at the University of North Carolina, the University of Michigan, Michigan State University and Johns Hopkins University. They have studied protein folding, molecular biophysics, chemical engineering, medicinal chemistry and quantum chemistry, among other disciplines.
Jiacheng Yang and Ricardo Rosas, 2014 grads, are expected to begin graduate school at the University of California-Riverside and Marquette University, respectively.
The headhunter who called Frink was representing Curt Joa, arguably the world's top manufacturer of machines that produce diapers and feminine care products. Based in Sheboygan Falls, Curt Joa competes with global companies and constantly strives to improve its machinery. In order to do that, its research and development department is extremely competitive. Chemists are needed to understand and evaluate the chemical makeup of various adhesives and other raw materials, and how they interface with the equipment. The machines operate with great speed, so factors like friction come into play.
Curt Joa currently has a Lakeland student as an intern, and is also looking for a full-time chemist. Thus, the headhunter's call to Frink.
"If I had a graduate for this particular job, our Lakeland grad would be able to start there immediately," Frink says.
Meanwhile, Saco Polymers recently hired one Lakeland graduate fulltime and provided internships to three others. Frink says Saco has asked for two more interns, who would start in the fall with the opportunity for full-time employment upon their graduation in May 2016.
"Other local companies are asking for our help as well, with short-term internship type projects they are working on, but I am running out of people," Frink says.
Rob Andrews, director of engineering and research and development at Curt Joa, says he expects the relationship between Curt Joa and Lakeland's chemistry program to continue to grow.
"Brian is a great guy," says Andrews of Frink. "He's down to earth and very knowledgeable. He's a real working teacher who knows what he's doing. His students are very well-prepared. I like where the relationship between Lakeland and Curt Joa is now, and I think it's just going to keep getting better and better."