Women Wield Torches
Women Among Welders Being Trained at Abbeville Career Center in Piedmont Tech Dual Enrollment Partnership
Unlike many high school girls, the last thing 17-year-old Ashlyn Gordon worries about in class is the condition of her manicure. No. This girl is not afraid to get her hands dirty, to sweat a bit under her welder’s mask. She is one of three young women pursuing welding diplomas as part of Piedmont Technical College’s Dual Enrollment partnership with the Abbeville County School District. In all, 12 high school students are enrolled in the welding certificate program.
“Ashlyn is one of the top students in the class,” PTC Welding Program Director and Instructor Jim Ladd said. “You show her one time, and she has it. She really has the aptitude and hand-eye coordination to be a really good welder.”
No one might be more surprised at this talent than Ashlyn herself. She initially had no desire to learn welding, but an open schedule led her to choose something different to fill the spot.
“Since taking this class, I have absolutely fallen in love with it and am thinking about pursuing a career in it,” she said. “I caught on to it so quickly. It’s one thing I am really good at.”
Ashlyn and 11 of her classmates take welding at the Abbeville County Career Center. Welding has increased in popularity among female students. Of the 12 enrolled in the welding technology program, three are girls.
Career Center Director Dorinda Bell says that welding technology is just one of many programs available across 16 career education clusters. Some operate out of the high schools, and others are taught at the Career Center.
“We have taught welding before,” she said, “but this is the first school year that we have offered welding as a stand-alone program.”
“The Abbeville County School District did an impressive job of setting a lab up quickly last fall,” said Josh Black, vice president of student affairs and communications at PTC. That work involved upfitting an existing mechanics lab at the Career Center with additional welding booths and equipment to convert it to a full-service welding facility.
Student Nic Nance, 18, seized the chance to get his welding certifications.
“I am the type of person who sees an opportunity and wants to learn more about it,” he said. “I just like to learn, to take in everything I can.”
Nic already has used his welding skills outside the classroom, using them to build cages and to fix trailers and lawn mowers at home.
Both Ashlyn and Nic attend Abbeville High School. They had nothing but good things to say about their instructors, adjunct instructor Blake Miller and Ladd.
“Blake makes it fun,” Ashlyn said.
“He and Jim both, they don’t dumb it down,” Nic added. “They get it on a level where you are most comfortable to understand it.”
Ladd is pleased with the caliber of students in the class and impressed by their creativity.
“For a high school group, this is one of the most mature groups I have ever had,” he said. “Everything we do in welding is repetition. We do it over and over and over again until they get it just right. They can kind of get burned out on it. As an instructor, you usually see it starting to happen. So I try to tie in their course work with a project on which they can apply their skills.”
For their projects, the students do detailed drawings of designs that tie in with a blueprint. From this, they build a scale model with cups and straws. Then they can revise their drawings and put their learning into practice by building their design. “Ashlyn took a hammer, a horseshoe and a giant spring to weld together a weenie dog,” Ladd said. “Nic built a scorpion and also a heart sculpture from chain material. These were really good art projects.”
The relatively new program already has received notice and recognition. ACT, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people achieve education and workplace success, recently named program instructor Ladd an ACT College & Career Readiness Champion. The award honors educators who are making a positive impact on their communities through their efforts to advance college and career readiness.
“I was happy to help develop the welding program at the Abbeville County Career Center,” Ladd said.
“We are very thankful and gracious of the help and assistance Tech has rendered with this program,” Bell added. “We are hopeful that we can continue with our relationship.”
Looking to the future, Ashlyn said she may attend PTC and later apply to the Citadel because she is interested in opportunities in the Air Force. Nic plans to enroll in PTC’s Mechatronics Technology Program. Both are happy to show the results of their sweat and grit.
“We leave here every day with soot on us,” Ashlyn said. “It doesn’t bother me a bit.”