Real-World Lessons in Planning

Students at the LaGrone Advanced Technology Complex enter cutting and welding contest, prepare for lifelong careers in welding and other technical trades.

For five students at the Sarah and Troy LaGrone Advanced Technology Complex in Denton, Texas (locally called Denton ATC), the opportunity to compete in ESAB's 2014 "A Cut Above" student contest provided real-world lessons in teamwork and planning, as well as tested their technical skills in welding, cutting and blueprint reading.

Denton ATC welding instructor Rebecca Hendricks, AWS CAWI, says that such lessons better prepare these high school students for careers in professional metal fabrication.

"Activities such as the ESAB A Cut Above contest motivate young welders by offering a healthy sense of competition while fostering skills that will them transition into successful careers," says Hendricks. "The cash prizes also provide great motivation."

As a result of winning for a team prize for their "Fish Tank" project — a metal aquarium with sculptured fish and other aquatic life — earned each student a $500 cash prize. Denton ATC won a cutting, welding and gas equipment package valued at $4,000.

Planning for Success

Denton ATC is a 120,792-square foot specialized facility designed to prepare students in trade-specific technical and professionals skills necessary to compete for technology-related careers. Students take academic classes at the other schools in the Denton Independent School District for part of the day, then attend Denton ATC for their technology classes.

The school works closely with local post-secondary institutions, including North Central Texas College (NCTC), Texas Women's University, Collin County Community College, Dallas County Community College and North Texas University. In fact, prior to coming to Denton ATC two years ago, Hendricks' background included teaching blueprint reading at NCTC, located in nearby Gainesville. Drawing on that background, she encouraged the students to design their project in 3D CAD programs to make sure that all parts fit together before they ever started cutting steel.

"If you know where you're going and you have a map, it's a lot easier to get there," says Hendricks. The thoroughness of the students' project binder, which included blueprints complete with welding symbols for each joint and documentation of fabrication steps, set Denton ATC's project apart from other entries.

Hendricks believes such planning supports welding careers. She encourages high school juniors and seniors to set goals early and learn what it takes to move into typical welding jobs.

"I believe in teaching a skill that doesn't require students to complete post-secondary education," says Hendricks. "Knowing that they can leave ATC prepared to go straight to work, make good money and support themselves and a family is very rewarding. I know that I am giving back to the students."

Colby Wenger, a high school senior and part of the winning team, says that that preparation has already paid off. "I was planning to go on to welding school, but I was able to get a job at a company that manufactures precision aircraft components. With them, I can get licensed and everything else I need," he says. His teammates considered Colby the strongest welder on the team.

Post-Secondary Preparation

For students continuing their education, Denton ATC's welding program stands in articulation with the AWS SENSE program, a set of standards and guidelines for welding education that are incorporated into the school's curriculum (SENSE stands for School Excelling through National Skill Standards Education). The school's AWS SENSE Level I program allows students to leave ATC's program, even if only partially complete, and transition to a post-secondary school without losing class standing.

Denton ATC offers Welding I, where students get an introduction to welding, and Welding II, where students learn more advanced welding and complete the SENSE Level I program. Welding I covers welding safety, oxy-fuel and Stick welding. Welding II covers MIG and TIG welding, as well as provides the opportunity to work on larger projects.

Even if they don't pursue careers directly in welding, the welding program prepares students for careers in the industry. For example, Lane Stewart and Turner Osbun, both seniors and members of the winning team, expect to go to NCTC after graduation.

"I learned a lot here at ATC," says Stewart. "I'm excited to move on and focus on engineering."

Senior Garrett Williams, who took on the role of lead project manager for the Fish Tank, also plans to move on to post-secondary coursework in industrial engineering. In the meantime, he has an internship lined up at a huge bakery, where he will help maintain the equipment required to bake and package millions of pounds of bread.

Whether it's for a welding contest or welding career, Hendricks knows the value of proper planning in order to achieve a goal.

"Welding is awesome, and planning makes it better. High school students want to see something they create with their hands materialize before their eyes, then go on to last, and that's what we did here with the Fish Tank project," she says.

View Video




Winners of ESAB's 2015 "A Cut Above" student
contest (L-R): Turner Osbun, Cory Wenger,
Garrett Williams, Lane Stewart.
(L-R) Turner Osbun and Lane Stewart describe the tank's sculptured fish and aquatic life.
Cory Wenger explains how the students fabricated the Fish Tank using ESAB cutting and welding equipment.
Preston Simpson displays one of the
plants from the group's winning
"Fish Tank" project.

Garrett Williams and his team each
earned a $500 cash prize for fabricating
the winning project. Denton ATC won a
cutting, welding and gas equipment
package valued at $4,000.
Students demonstrate welding on one of the tank's sculptured fish using the Tweco® Fabricator® 211i .


One student gets ready to plasma cut
using the Victor® Cutmaster™ 42
plasma cutter.


Using a Victor Medalist cutting outfit,
Preston Simpson demonstrates his
oxy-fuel cutting skills.