Playing with fire

Women get basics of welding technique with Community Ed class

TORRINGTON – Sparks flew and metal glowed red-hot Saturday at the welding shop in the Eastern Wyoming College Career and Technical Education Center here.
That’s nothing new, as the state-of-the-art facility is in full swing, training the next generation of welders to enter the workforce. But this class had one thing the average EWC welding student doesn’t.
It was all women, receiving their first exposure to the tools and techniques of joining metal, in a one-day crash course through the Ladies, Start Your Welders class hosted by the college’s Community Education
“I’m the only member of my family who doesn’t know how to weld,” said 63-year-old Skylar Loeffler, who lives on a rural Mitchell, Neb., crop and cattle operation. “I wanted to learn something new.
“This was my first real exposure to welding,” she said. “My beads show it, too – they’re hideous.”
EWC welding instructor Stan Nicolls led the class, with the help of full-time students Keyvin Rauscher and Tommy Alder. Together, the trio introduced the four women in the class to two different welding techniques – Stick metal arc welding and gas metal arc welding.
Stick welding, or S-MAW, uses a flux-wrapped metal electrode, or stick, connected to a power supply. Electricity passes through the stick, heating the metal inside and the surrounding material to be joined laying down a layer – or bead – of super-strong metal and making a nearly permanent bond.
The principal behind gas metal arc welding, or G-MAW, is similar. Instead of a stick, the business end of the welding tool feeds a thin wire, which initiates the arc to melt and join the metal. The difference is the introduction of an inert gas through the tool, which forces the surrounding air – and any possible contaminants contained in it – away from the weld.
The Ladies, Start Your Welders program started four or five years ago, Nicolls said. The Community Ed department typically offers two classes annually, one in the spring and one in the fall.
“It started in November, when the men went hunting,” Nicolls said. “We made it so the women could come in and have something to do. We set it up so the women could have a little fun.”
The fall class gives the students the basic techniques. For the spring class, students are invited to bring in any metal items. They’re guided through the process of creating a “found-item” art project, the only limits being their
“And some of the students have gone out and purchased their own (welding) power supplies,” Nicolls said. “They’re able to do small jobs around the home. We’ve had one or two come back and take
more classes.”
Helping around the ranch was probably in the back of Loeffler’s mind when she signed up for the course, she said. But the real inspiration was the new experience.
“If I can help out on the farm, I will,” she said. “But, I’m going to have to get a
lot better.”
Another student, T.J. Mechem of Torrington, also embraced the challenge of learning a new skill. But, as a vocational rehabilitation counselor for the state of Wyoming Workforce Services Center in Torrington, an exposure to the welding arts may help her with her clients, many of whom are in the welding program
at EWC.
“This may help me understand their program better,” Mechem said. “There’s chemistry and physics – a lot of stuff involved. It’s not just melting metal.
“I just wanted to learn something new, pick up a new skill,” she said. “I think we should all be willing to try something new.”
The response from students has been overall positive, Nicolls said. The idea isn’t to turn out fully-trained welding techs in one day, but to introduce student to a new, and useful, skill.
And there’s just something about the process of welding, of creating something, that resonates in the students, he said.
“We give them the experience of welding,” Nicolls said. “And they enjoy seeing the sparks and the arcs.”

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