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Sparks fly in Yuba College at Weld-Ed
She's welded in Antarctica and inspected metal seams in South America, but when Sarah Patterson wanted to boost her teaching skills, she headed to Yuba College.
A teacher at South Puget Sound Community College, she said that despite her many years of welding experience, she sometimes feels like an impostor.
"We always feel like who is letting us do this?" she said. "We can weld, but who is letting us teach?"
Patterson is among 16 teachers from around the country congregating at Yuba College in Linda this week for Weld-Ed, a national professional development course for welding education and training. The weeklong course includes best practices, teaching methodologies and welding demonstrations led by Yuba College instructor Dan Turner.
If teachers are not teaching students the skills they need to be viable hires, students are not being taught, he said. Students need to be able to use old equipment, as well as modern technology.
"You have to be leading the industry while still teaching traditional methods," Turner told the teachers.
Renee Newell, 50, is new to El Camino College and said to call the existing welding program outdated is an understatement. She's hoping to take ideas from Weld-Ed back to Southern California and create a first-rate program.
"I want to tie in to industry. I want them to come shop my college for welders," Newell said, a few hours after a contractor stopped by Turner's office to ask about potential student hires.
She and Patterson, 33, said they were excited to learn new ways to explain lessons to students, about grants to procure state-of-the art equipment, like that at Yuba College, and about the automatic welding technology used at Texas State Technical College.
The teachers pay $99 to attend Weld-Ed and their transportation costs to get to Yuba College. A National Science Foundation grant pays for their hotels and most meals, and with the help of sponsorship from Lincoln Electric, Gerlinger Steel and Yuba City Airgas, they are provided with textbooks, gloves, posters and a variety of other tools.
Krystal Thomas just graduated from Chico State with her agricultural science degree and plans to student teach at Corning High School this fall. Welding will undoubtedly be part of her lessons, but only three weeks of her college coursework was geared toward the trade.
When she heard about Weld-Ed, she thought it would be a great way to boost her skills and knowledge.
"I know absolutely nothing about welding," said Thomas, 22. "If I'm gonna be teaching it, I need to learn more about it ... It's really cool to be with all these people who know everything."
On Wednesday, the teachers watched a demonstration of a computer program called My Welding Lab that could replace textbooks and save money and time. A marketing representative showed how students can use avatars to simulate proper welding technique and that instructors can tweak lab manuals to suit their courses.
Later, students donned welding jackets and safety goggles and went outside for a demonstration, sparks flying as they practiced in-booth welding teaching techniques.
Just before the end of the day, Turner showed off a new welder simulator. The technology was so advanced some older instructors were skeptical of its educational value, but Turner told them his young students line up to use the machine before class.
"It's the Y Generation," he said. "This is like welding Wii."
Teachers said a major benefit of the Weld-Ed is networking and learning what's happening around the country.
"It's good to see what other people are doing in their classrooms so we can judge ourselves and see if there is anything I want to change," said Seth Broach, 27, from Texas State Technical College.
About eight years ago, John Goss suffered an aneurysm that robbed him of his hand-eye coordination and forced his retirement as a welder. When his sight and motor skills eventually returned, he decided it was time for some retraining.
He enrolled in the welding program at South Puget Sound Community College in Olympia, Wash., and never left.
For the last eight years, he found himself in the surprising position of instructor and recently decided a Weld-Ed course would help him and his students.
"I was a welder all my life," he said. "Now I'm teaching, and I need all the help I can get."
One of the most encouraging components of the weeklong class, Patterson and Newell agreed, is women made up a third of the class.
The welding industry is 93 percent male, but women's patience, rhythm and fine motor skills make them better in many areas. It's a job that takes hard work but pays well, and they hope the female instructors' students will realize they can break the cultural barriers.
"That's what it takes you to change the industry," Patterson said. "A role model."
CONTACT reporter Ashley Gebb at 749-4783.