As the rest of the students at Las Positas College are in their classrooms pursuing their science and business degrees, a few rare gems are tinkering away in the welding workshop at the rear of the 800 building.
Fortifying their skills to produce our structural essentials, the Welding Technology Department is adding spark to student life.
Observe the innards of your car. The stoplight that tells you when to go. The bridge that you drive on.
What many may not realize is that the art and skill of welding is all around them. And those who have the heart and work ethic to put into the program can acquire the skills and knowledge that will turn a simple blueprint into a standalone entity, whether it be something for practical use such as a metal stool, or a piece of metal art.
Scott Miner, Welding Department coordinator and instructor, pointed out a few of the items at Las Positas that were provided by the school’s Welding Department.
“Here’s part of the play set that we’re helping to build for the Drama Department,” Miner said in reference to the upcoming play “Fahrenheit 451.” He gestured toward a railing in the middle of the workshop.
“Eventually it will be a piece of handrail that is going to be a part of the firehouse set,” he said.
In the Mertes Center for the Arts, the giant “LPC” statue with red yarn spooled around it is another piece of work displayed by the Welding Department. Some student artwork can also be seen in the 800 quad, as well as the foyer to the welding and auto workshops.
But before anyone can produce their first handrail or even create their first metal ninja turtle, the basics must be learned and built upon. Welding projects must be as precise as possible in order to have functionality.
Holding up a technical drawing near the set production, Miner said, “You see a handrail here, but in reality it’s a whole bunch of math where we have to add numbers and subtract numbers and figure out how we’re going to build it.”
Math is not the only foe that welding majors must defeat. There are various techniques in the welding industry that are specific for certain projects.
According to Miner, the welding program at Las Positas focuses on four types of welding: Shielded Metal Arc Welding (also referred to as “stick welding”), Gas Tungsten Arc Welding (also referred to as “TIG”), Gas Metal Arc Welding (also referred to as “MIG”) and Flux Core Arc Welding.
“We also teach gas welding, gas cutting, plasma arc cutting and carbon arc cutting,” Miner said.
While it may look intimidating on text, there is plenty of help along the way to smooth your learning journey.
“There are different processes. And different classes for each process,” said first year Dan Springer, who formerly used to work for Tesla motors.
“At first it is extremely frustrating. It is a lot harder than it looks,” Springer said. “(But) after a few weeks and months you start to get good at it, and it gets really fun because it was so difficult when you started.”
Though the hardworking students in the welding program tend to agree that it gets easier and more fun as you go along, Miner stressed that welding is not for everyone.
“I try to tell students it’s more than just a bright light,” said Miner. “There’s many other aspects of it that involve things like metal energy and chemistry, electricity, mechanical parts and gears and things that move and such. It’s more than just a one dimensional career or class that we take here.”
“It’s a trade,” said second year Evan Eacret, who plans to enter the PG&E program after completing the welding program at Las Positas. “I mean, not anyone can just come in here and be an amazing welder. It takes a little practice, but other than that, you just have to stick with it.”
But the program isn’t all hard work and no play, or else the students probably wouldn’t continue to return. The concentration that it takes can also help provide some peace of mind.
“To me, it releases some stress,” said second year Rahim Lawless who is an Iraqi veteran on the Veteran’s Affairs program. “It’s just something that I can kind of be creative in my own right, but at the same time I can get things done that I need to get done.”
Welding can even provide a rewarding experience, according to Eacret.
“It’s kind of creative to be honest,” he said. “You can sit there, work on a piece and you end up seeing your finished product right there. And if it’s good, you’re proud of it.”
Las Positas College is recognized by the American Welding Society as an Educational Institution Member. Those who complete the welding program will either earn a certificate of completion or get their associate’s and possibly move on to earn their bachelor’s in an engineering program. According to careersinwelding.com, the salary range for a welder, depending on skills, knowledge and experience can range from $37,000 to $85,000.
If the mechanical side of welding is not exactly what a student is interested in but still the skill they want to pick up, they may be in luck. Once upon a time, the standard welding type classes were not all that Las Positas had to offer.
“We’re trying to reinstitute a class that we offered called ‘Welding 71’. So if you look on the GE list here at the college, under the area of humanities and the arts, there’s a welding class there,” Miner said.
Though males typically dominate the main welding classes, in the art welding class mentioned by Miner, they are usually the minority.
“It’s a class that’s interesting to females, where they’re not going to come down here and take a welding class to learn how to fix the fender on their car,” said Miner, “but if they think ‘Oh, I can come make a nice, cool table out of a rock to put in my backyard,’ that appeals to them.”
The art welding class has been dormant for about three to four years because of budget cuts, but those with a different aesthetic may soon be able to choose to take the class once again. It will allow students who want to branch away from traditional media such as pencils, charcoals and paints to use a more contemporary method to express themselves. Or those who have mastered the skill of welding in one way can now have another outlet.
“We’re hoping that from Proposition 30 money and some of the other things that happen here on campus, that as the state releases more funds, allows more classes to be offered, we’re hopeful that we can offer that art welding class again,” Miner said.
An alumnus from the school himself, Miner is a living Las Positas College success story. After completing the welding program at Las Positas, while doing some work in between, he eventually went on to Cal Poly where he earned his degree in Materials Engineering. From there, he moved his way up in his career from being a welder in the shop all the way to business unit coordinator for Clorox.
“A lot of engineers would come out of school. They’re in that office piece of it. And they just look out the window and they see the bright light of the shop,” said Miner. “I came the other way. I came from the shop floor and then went and took engineering and then came back into the office.”
After the company that Miner was working for shut down, he started teaching part-time evening classes at Las Positas. After some time, a full-time welding instructor position became available at the campus.
“I always enjoyed teaching, so I applied, and have been glad with my decision ever since,” Miner said.
And his students couldn’t agree more.
“He’s really good. Not only does he know how to weld, but he knows why certain things happen when you weld and why you want to do certain things,” said Springer, who plans to follow in Miner’s footsteps by becoming a certified welder before pursuing his engineering degree, though he does not have any plans set in stone.
Lawless also praised his instructor.
“He’s a straight shooter. He’s really hands-on as far as his teaching methods. And I think he’ll be missed around here whenever he decides to retire,” he said.
According to Miner, hundreds of students are in the welding labs and take multiple sections every week. It’s a really career driven program that can open many doors for students. In the future, he’d like to pursue grants and partnerships to provide more funding for expanding the welding program’s resources.
“For a student that studies hard and applies themselves, there’s many varied opportunities that they can pursue from employee to employer. It is a challenging and rewarding career that pays well,” Miner said.
“Without metal and welding, the modern world we know would be made out of wood, concrete and stones. Many of mankind’s greatest achievements would have never occurred. Putting a man on the moon, breaking the speed of sound and diving to the bottom of the sea, and returning to tell about it, don’t happen with wood and rocks,” he said.