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Walla Walla Community College
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Thanks to two generous grants received last year, Walla Walla Community College’s Welding Technology program has expanded to enroll more students, simulate more real-world working conditions, and offer more flexibility for students to specialize their studies.

WWCC was one of 19 recipients of the 2023 Welding Workforce Grant from the American Welding Society. The nearly $25,000 grant inspired matching funds from Washington state designed to boost enrollment in training programs for high-demand fields like welding.

Using that money, WWCC created a year-round outdoor welding lab with five generator welders, the same type of equipment found on real infrastructure projects and construction sites. Students began using the outdoor lab in the fall of 2023, learning both how to maintain the machines and how to cope with conditions like variable temperatures, wind, rain and even snow.

Learning to weld in all weather is a key part of a well-rounded welding education. It was a missing piece in WWCC’s program, says Welding Instructor Kristopher Margart. “Now we have our students in the elements, getting comfortable being uncomfortable,” he says.

WWCC also hired a second instructor, Ricardo Escareno, and a full-time instructional tech, Ryan Bull. That has allowed the program to expand from enrolling 18 students to 32 students at a time.

In addition, the program has increased its floor space by about 50%. “We’re setting up a manufacturing lab and materials handling lab,” Margart says. And the extra space has allowed the program to create larger training stations that can accommodate bigger projects like truck bumpers and roll cages, he adds.

The growth in the program has allowed for some specialization as well. Students who are interested in construction welding, for instance, can take Commercial Truck Driving courses to earn their commercial driver’s license as part of their Welding Technology degree. Meanwhile, students who are more interested in fabrication can take courses focused on skills like material forming, fit-up and weldment. “It’s less of a cookie cutter welding program,” Margart says. “Now students can be a little more self-motivated too.”

American Welding Society President Michael Krupnicki was impressed with the program’s progress — and especially its students — when he visited WWCC last fall, Margart says. As he toured the program, welding students shook his hand and introduced themselves, something he said he’d never experienced in a welding school before.

Instilling students with that kind of confidence and camaraderie is a big priority for the program, Margart says. They often eat lunch as a team and meet up outside class. He wants to help students feel comfortable sitting down with future colleagues and supervisors on job sites. “We’re focusing a lot on building self-esteem in addition to welding skills,” he says.

That inclusive atmosphere is having an impact. The Welding Technology program is fully enrolled for the summer quarter. But Margart expects more slots to open up in the fall. Interested students can reach out to Margart at [email protected] or to WWCC Workforce Navigator Gwen Dentinger at [email protected] to find out more.

image of student welding