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From Pipes to Plastics, Graduating UML Senior from Billerica has a Hands-on Future

Kevin Hines, 22, of Billerica, a graduating senior in Plastics Engineering at UMass Lowell Photo by Julia Malakie/Lowell Sun
Kevin Hines, 22, of Billerica, a graduating senior in Plastics Engineering at UMass Lowell, holds a roll of extruded plastic filament in the High Bay Plastics Manufacturing Center in the Mark and Elisia Saab Emerging Technologies and Innovation Center.

Lowell Sun
By Rick Sobey

BILLERICA -- Have you ever seen a super tall plumber?

For instance, imagine a professional basketball player -- such as Michael Jordan or LeBron James -- crawling into a cabinet to fix a kitchen sink.

Pretty awkward, right?

Kevin Hines, of Billerica, knows how uncomfortable that can be for a tall person; the 6-foot, 7-inch student has crawled into cabinets for years, learning about plumbing at Shawsheen Valley Technical High School.

"I really liked plumbing in high school, using my hands all day and seeing the results from hard work," said Hines, 22. "But having to use your entire body, I realized with my 6'7" frame, I couldn't do it full time for my whole life.

"Hearing all about my bosses' pains, I knew it wasn't a long-term thing," he added.

Graduating from Shawsheen Tech in 2013, Hines needed to head in a new direction. What field would allow him to use his hands all day? He ended up moving from the kitchen sink to the lab.

Four years later, UMass Lowell has helped him transition from a job as a plumber to a career as a plastics engineer. He will be graduating this weekend, and then continue his pursuit of a master's degree in the university's plastics engineering program.

"Here, I still get to work with my hands and fix stuff," said Hines, showing off the machinery in the Mark and Elisia Saab Emerging Technologies and Innovation Center on University Avenue.

"It's not as well-known, but it's going to be the future," he added about plastics engineering.

"It's up-and-coming, and very useful."

Hines was intrigued by UMass Lowell's plastics engineering program from the first time he toured the campus. Even then, he saw many similarities between plumbing and plastics engineering; his love of math and science attracted him to both fields. 

Today, Hines is often in the lab, working on projects like developing advanced protective gear for soldiers; the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center is interested in the project.

He's focusing on giving soldiers more time to get their equipment off before they suffer burns.

"I like the manufacturing and design, being able to make a product," Hines said. "Trying to get the ideal product."

Since a young age, he has always been trying to "make things." His two uncles are jack-of-all-trades, so he started working with them as a youth.

"It was really fun," he said. "I enjoy doing all that kind of stuff."

Then, his education on "making things" transitioned to UMass Lowell, where he has received an "invaluable" education, Hines said.

"Teachers teach you the theory behind how things work, and give you the real-world practice," he said. "Setting you up with real-world situations, there's nothing like it."