Enhancing Welding Education through Community Involvement

Enhancing Welding Ed through Community 1BLOG IMAGE
Written by: James Wilkey

Learning to weld takes practice. No matter how you’re learning, or who you’re learning from, every student needs to log some time behind an electrode to truly understand the craft. However, practice doesn’t have to stay in the workshop. Public projects are a great way for budding welders to develop their skills and help their communities at the same time. Community projects are also a good way for students to develop relationships and take advantage of opportunities such as scholarships, financial aid, training, and employment.

Students from Daniel Morgan Technology Center pose in front of a handrail they welded for a senior citizen.
Students from Daniel Morgan Technology Center pose in front of a handrail they welded for a senior citizen.

For example, in Green Bay, Wisconsin, welding students at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College (NWTC) are building bike racks to be placed around the city. The cost of materials for the bike racks is being handled by the city because the racks are for public use. Meanwhile, the students are donating their labor in exchange for a real-life welding experience. Community projects are an “excellent learning tool for students,” said Jon Russel, a welding instructor at NWTC. “They’re learning how to measure, how to layout, how to fabricate accurately, because, as you can see, this is not a work of art, it’s an actually measured fabrication.”

Actually, public art is another great way to obtain welding experience and give back to the community. Many states offer grants and funding for public art projects of all sorts, including welded sculptures. All that is needed is a carefully considered budget and a compelling proposal explaining how the project will help the community and the project’s participants. There are a great variety of how-to sources for procuring public art funding according to state. In Spartanburg, South Carolina, artist Erwin Redl is leading a public art project with student welders from the Daniel Morgan Technology Center. Students are making floating islands of light that will decorate the city’s Duncan Town Lake. The project is part of a “See Spartanburg in a New Light” campaign. According to Jennifer Evins, President and CEO of the Chapman Cultural Center, “Each piece that Erwin is creating is unique, so to have the students working alongside his creative vision, using their technical skills to help him work out the kinks, that’s what they do in industry. They come up with a prototype, test it and then make more.”

Students can also speak to family and community members about items that may need repair. Potential projects include everything from fences to fenders and broken household goods gathering dust in garages. Students can even hold an event designed to collect these types of projects. If project drives become a regular community activity, more and more people will likely seek help from their local students before giving up on their broken goods.

A student welder from Western Nevada College repairs a vandalized donation bin..
A student welder from Western Nevada College repairs a vandalized donation bin.

The same principle applies to community organizations. For example, students at Western Nevada College (WNC) helped the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northern Nevada repair broken and vandalized donation bins earlier this month. The students were guided by their welding instructor, Joseph Brillhart. “This is an incredible service to us,” said J. Merriman, a Community Outreach Specialist for Big Brothers Big Sisters.  “This is something we deal with all of the time. Finding people who can even fix them is difficult, and it’s an incredible amount for us to spend. WNC is not only saving us the cost to fix the bins, I know Joe is looking at ways to deter people from breaking into them in the future.”

If you are interested in getting your student welders involved in a public project, identifying a community need is a good way to get the ball rolling. For instance, is the city in need of certain items or repairs? Consider projects that students have the skills to complete, as well as those that will require additional practice to accomplish. Once an appropriate project has been identified, the instructor can reach out to those in need. A strong relationship between the welding classroom and the community can quickly develop into a reliable source of support for students, while providing them with the skills and experience they need to succeed in the industry.

What kinds of community projects have you done with your students? Have you had a welding instructor that teaches through community involvement? Let us know in the comments below!

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