APSU Solar Program Maintains Distance from Hemlock

APSU's new chemical engineering building bares Hemlock's name and rooftop solar panels.

APSU’s new chemical engineering building bares Hemlock’s name and rooftop solar panels.

Some were surprised to learn in January that fewer than half of graduates from an Austin Peay program were being hired by the solar company whose name is on the building. But the university now says it never expected all or even most students to work for Hemlock Semiconductor, which is building a billion dollar plant nearby.

Hemlock was in need of specialized chemical engineers with associates degrees for its soon-to-open polysilicon plant in Clarksville. The company donated $2 million worth of equipment to Austin Peay in order to get the classes running.

Dr. Chester Little is the director and says students themselves infer that a degree equals a job, even though he tells them that’s not the case.

“Even when they hear us say it two or three times, and they hear Hemlock say it two or three times, they think we’re saying it with a wink. And I say, look, I am not winking.”

Hemlock donated machinery and lab equipment valued at $2 million.

Hemlock donated machinery and lab equipment valued at $2 million.

Little says he’s not surprised that so few are being hired. Hemlock is still the largest employer of the program’s graduates, but Little says he expects that will change. He says some are getting jobs in the oil and gas business. He’d like to see more going to work for TVA.

Little says of his soon-to-be 100 graduates, Hemlock does pick the better-than-average, but not the best.

“In fact, my top students are more likely to go to a full engineering program or full mathematics or full physics. Ironically, companies like Hemlock don’t get my top five or 10 percent.”

Since Hemlock isn’t the only option for graduates, Little says he’s less concerned about a recent announcement from the company. Hemlock has yet to complete the first phase in Clarksville but is now slowing further expansion because of falling demand for its product – polysilicon.

Please keep your community civil. Comments will be moderated prior to posting, and Nashville Public Radio reserves the right to approve them at its discretion. Comments containing links promoting goods, services - even noble organizations - will not be published. Your comments may include external links, but all comments with links will be delayed as they are reviewed. Comments containing profanity will be rejected.