WHEELING - Whether it's pipeline work for the natural gas and oil industry in Appalachia, underwater welding on the Gulf of Mexico or ship building halfway across the world, the welding technology program at Wheeling Park High School is opening doors for students who love the sight of sparks coming off metal.
"There's no downside to welding to me. I like doing this. It keeps me out of things I shouldn't do," WPHS student Jon Sayre said. "It seemed interesting putting two pieces of metal (together) - Two becomes one."
Sayre, a Clearview resident, is a junior at WPHS and has been taking welding classes at the high school since his freshman year. He plans to enter into pipeline work for the gas and oil industry after graduation.
Wheeling Park High School student Jon Sayre welds a piece of metal in the high school’s lab. Sayre is taking welding classes in hopes of entering pipeline work for the gas and oil industry after graduation.
Photo by Sarah Harmon
He said while opportunities in the gas industry are available locally, he is interested in the traveling that comes with the job and "seeing new places."
One of the many career and technical programs offered at Wheeling Park, the welding program gives high school students a practical, "hands-on" experience of what it is like to work in welding. In a field where the workforce is rapidly retiring, younger employees with welding skills are in high demand and are needed practically anywhere in the world, according to welding instructor Micah Farmer.
"In these classes, they get exposure to basically anything they could face in the field," Farmer said. "Welding is a field where there is always work."
Farmer, a 2005 WPHS welding technology graduate, said the program has recently added "virtual welding" to the curriculum, in which students now use a welding simulator -VRTEX 360 - created by the Lincoln Electric Co. to practice basic concepts in welding without actually using a piece of metal.
According to Farmer, the virtual welding eliminates the risk of electrocution, fume inhalation, excessive noise and saves prep time and money on material.
"When students learn how to weld, typically, a lot of problems occur and a lot of material is essentially wasted. You just push a button on the VRTEX and you have a brand new piece of material right there," Farmer said.
The computer program acts much like a video game and includes a helmet with a screen in the goggles into which students can see a piece of metal in a virtual environment. Using a "welding tool" controller, the student then welds a piece of metal on the screen and gets graded on the performance based on set parameters including the student's arc length, weld placement and rate of travel.
After gaining the basic step from virtual welding, students then move on to the welding lab where they apply the concepts to actual raw materials.
"VRTEX is just step one, it does not take the place of actual hands-on learning by any means. It just accelerates the learning process," Farmer said.
The welding program follows the National Center for Construction Education and Research curriculum, a universal program that allows students who transfer schools to join any NCCER program anywhere in the country and still be in step with the class.
In addition to welding technology, the high school also offers automotive technology, collision repair technology, carpentry, machine tool technology, electrical technician, computer systems and technical support, graphic communications, graphic design, health occupations science technology, business education and restaurant management in their career and technical programs.
"To learn a skill when you leave here is important. Eventually you are going to have to fix a car, you are going to have to fix a meal. Every career and technical program here can help you in your every day life in some way," Stephanie Bugaj, WPHS career and technical director, said.
According to Bugaj, Wheeling Park High School is unique in the state in that they are a "comprehenive" high school where the vocational programs are located in the main building instead of at a satellite career center. Having these classes in the school allows students to still be involved in school events such as pep rallies and concerts, she said.