By Erica Myatt, Virginia Western Community College
After about three years of instruction in modular classrooms, the welding program at Virginia Western Community College (VWCC) just completed its first semester in a much-anticipated expansion of the Botetourt Center at Greenfield.
The 8,900-square-foot facility includes four airy classrooms in a building adjacent to the main center and the program’s welding lab. The new classrooms easily enable multimedia instruction and give instructors flexibility.
“I’m thrilled to have this opportunity right here,” said Gary Young, the faculty member who leads the Welding and Metal Processing Career Studies Certificate program.
The program prepares students for careers in arc, gas, MIG and TIG welding as well as metal fabrication.
“Any of our hands-on classes are restricted to 14 students per section,” Young said. “But say we have a metallurgy class – we can bounce that up on to 28. Or blueprint reading class – that’s mainly a lecture class, so we can expand those numbers, and these classrooms can handle it.” The facility also has space for commercial heating, ventilation and air-conditioning instruction.
The new classroom space contains plenty of room for VRTEX virtual reality welding simulators made by Lincoln Electric. During a class this spring, two of Young’s students donned VR headsets and practiced stick welding and metal inert gas (MIG) welding on two machines where instruction had been held earlier in the day.
As student Josh Simmons practiced stick welding, the display indicated with green to red indicators if he was on track for his angles, travel speed, distance off the work piece, and other measures. “This will allow him to simulate very closely, without using any consumables, and without even needing supervision,” Young said. “They can use this on their breaks and before class.”
Simmons said he came to the welding field because of an early hobby of blacksmithing. “I was looking at other professions in metalworking. So I thought about welding, and I went online to see if there was any schools near me that offered welding classes, and Virginia Western did, so I just signed up.”
Next to him, Josh Waldron worked on a VR simulator to practice MIG welding.
“Back in high school, I did some stick welding, my freshman year at BTEC, and since then, I haven’t really thought about it,” Waldron said. “I’ve been figuring out what I wanted to do. So last summer I went and got a job at this company that showed me how to MIG weld. And once I started MIG welding, I fell in love with it immediately. So, I decided to go to school for it, and November of last year decided I wanted to go to welding school to get certified.
Simmons and Waldron were in the fast-track Career Studies Certificate program, which covers 17 credits of coursework in four months. Students completing the program come out with American Welding Society certifications in stick, MIG and TIG (tungsten inert gas) welding. Demand for workers is high, with some job openings literally out the facility’s back door, at Greenfield industries such as Munters and Altec.
Their classmate Sophia Lovejoy said that the program’s sense of community, and how that parlays into industry connections, was an unexpected aspect of the program. “It’s definitely stressed to keep the connections we made here,” she said.
Lovejoy began at Virginia Western in a different program. “I decided to take a trade, and my whole family suggested welding. I was kind of not sure about it until I got here, but it’s been really good so far,” she said. Having the option of a fast-track program is an advantage. “It’s one semester and then you get your certifications.”
With the expanded classroom space at Greenfield, gaining those certifications is a smoother process than ever. “This is actually ideal for what we do,” Young said.