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Welding on wheels
April 29, 2016 Frank Marquez   

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Frank Marquez/Gering Citizen Nicholas Smith, welding, and Colten Martindale, learn about laying single beads in a mobile welding trailer, the product of a joint venture by Gering’s Freshman Academy and Western Nebraska Community College.

Thanks to innovation of local educators, a 20-foot mobile welding trailer was parked earlier in April on the south end of the Memorial Stadium track in Gering.

After a few weeks of testing the equipment and safety inspections, about 30 students in Freshman Academy teacher Steve Land’s welding classes are now learning the techniques to lay single beads and later will weld Butt Joints and Lap Joints together.

“The kids get exposure to a basic introductory course of gas metal arc welding or metal inert gas-MIG welding; they also are welding with SMAW or stick arc welding” said Land, a veteran teacher with 29 years in public schools, and 25 years in Gering schools. The students also have access to a CNC Plasma Cutter, “for (precision) cutting of different shapes for creating metal objects.” The Plasma Cutting unit is taught at the high school Welding I class.

Land’s freshmen also have the opportunity to use a computer simulator for many different kinds of welding techniques including MIG, TIG, and Stainless Steel. Students simulate Butt, Lap, Outside Corner and Tee Welds. The computer will help them improve the travel and work angle of the weld without spending a large amount of money to improve skills.

Promoting the idea that a vocation like welding can add up to a career after kids leave school, together, the Gering’s Freshman Academy and Western Nebraska Community College have essentially added to education opportunities for local public schools.

Gering academy Principal Shawn Seiler saw a need and approached WNCC in the fall about making welding equipment more accessible to students who may be pondering careers in the industrial technology.

The trailer “gives kids the exposure to these introductory classes for wider ranging opportunities,” he said. Land added that students can earn both high school and college credit for taking the advanced course, Welding 2. He estimated there are about three to six students who will eventually take the advanced course. Subsequently, “we talk about careers in the military, local welding opportunities and jobs along the front range in Colorado,” he said.

The goal of the academy’s Career Cluster program is to introduce welding to freshman. “However, the Welding 1 course is also available to any students in grades 10-12.”

After Seiler approached the college about the idea in September 2015, Trades Coordinator Russell Pontarolo, a vital team member of WNCC’s workforce development department, worked on fabricating the mobile welding classroom, a facility which can be wheeled out to other local schools, as well as the Panhandle’s business community.

“There’s some local demand, as well as a nation wide shortage for welders,” said Pontarolo, who modeled WNCC’s welding trailer after ones used by Wyoming and Minnesota.”

The trailer contains four 5X5 foot work stations complete with generators, fans, vacuums and the basic setup for arc welding. WNCC’s Jason Stratman, dean of workforce of development, said the trailer cost about $35,000, not including labor.

Among business supporters, B&C Steel, which provides much of the scrap metal used by students, and Aulick Industries, were frequent field trip destinations of academy students. Due to constrained budgets, those visits have tapered off. Though both businesses still represent a vital connection to jobs.

Freshman Academy welding teacher Steve Land tells Nicholas Smith about the finer points of laying a bead.

A student dons protective equipment before entering the WNCC mobile welding facility. Frank Marquez/ Gering Citizen
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