Lighting a fire

Article by Kelly Lynch of KPC Media

Students earn professional welding certifications

LIGONIER — Teaching trade skills is vital for Ligonier’s growing manufacturing industry, but more than that, West Noble High School welding instructor Edmund Muehlfeld wants students to gain confidence through their work.

He sees it happening in his classroom every day, and now he has evidence of the program’s success after learning that 10 of his students passed one, if not two, professional certifications through the American Welding Society. The certifications allow students who are over the age of 18 to work on bridges and buildings throughout the U.S.

“You won’t see this in high school … It’s too advanced,” Muehlfeld said. “It’s growing here because the industry needs it, but they’re not used to seeing kids this advanced. They’re doing a good job.”

Muehlfeld has worked in the industry for more than 40 years and has been teaching the course at West Noble for three years. He said his students’ accomplishments are something he’s never seen at their age.

Ten students passed the overhead groove weld test, while seven of those 10 also received certification in vertical up groove. These are skills that some colleges won’t teach because of their advanced nature, Muehlfeld said.

Even so, instead of being satisfied with those accomplishments, Muehlfeld encourages the students to continue to build on what they’ve learned.

The support and accomplishment has fostered a new confidence in the students.

“It’s built their confidence where they actually are doing better the following year, not only in welding but in other classes,” Muehlfeld said. “What I’m hoping for is that some of them get into welding and then go to a factory where they can get further education and move up … and eventually get into engineering and challenge themselves.”

For those in his classroom, the benefit to taking the course is easily seen in the amount of jobs available in the area for such work, and the wage attached to it is a definite attraction, too.

“You can make good money welding,” said student Edgar Hernandez, who plans to further his education in technical school after graduation for a career in mechanics.

Muehlfeld sees a lot of potential in Hernandez’s work.

“He’s done so well in welding. I think his mechanics could be far superior to what he ever thought he could do in his life, because if he succeeds here and he’s interested in mechanics, he can clearly succeed in mechanics,” Muehlfeld said.

Learning these skills in high school also means students can start in the profession directly upon graduation, getting a leg up on those who may not have taken advantage of such a program. It’s also an alternative career route to the usual two- or four-year college education.

“I’m pretty glad to have this experience coming out of high school. Most people don’t, and we got pretty lucky to have Muehlfeld, a person with experience,” Travis Koss said. “It’s nice to have a plan for after high school, especially one that can get you so well paid.”

Muehlfeld credits Warsaw Engineering and Fabrication with making the program possible through its donation of steel, and also the West Noble School Corp. Board of Education for its endorsement of the class. He said the course has seen tremendous support from the school board all the way down.

But at the end of the day, it comes down to the students’ commitment to learning the skill that makes the course worth teaching.

“They’ve got to have the drive. If they don’t have the drive, it doesn’t happen,” Muehlfeld said. “They really performed.”