Welding Without Sparks

A virtual welding machine at Rogue Valley Youth Correctional Facility is helping youth learn a new trade.

New Bridge High School doesn’t have a welding machine on campus. But that didn’t stop Principal Lynn Eccleston from adding welding to the curriculum.

In April, she purchased a virtual welder for the school, located at Rogue Valley Youth Correctional Facility in Grants Pass. She asked Anthony Knight, a welding instructor at Rogue Community College, if he’d come to the facility to teach.

The result: students are getting hands-on experience in a high-demand profession. And they’re having fun along the way.

They practice their skills during the week using the virtual machine. On Sundays, Knight brings his portable welding machine to the facility so students can practice with the real thing.

“The nice thing about the virtual welder is it gives them practice with technique, and it gives them instant feedback on how they’re doing,” Eccleston said. “It also doesn’t require any supplies.”

Knight said the virtual machine is great for helping students learn the fundamentals without worrying about things like restrictive protective gear or burns from flying sparks.

“Any product you use, anywhere in the world, welding has some part in that, from little electronics to huge ships,” Knight said. “Whenever you have the skill to run a welder correctly and in a safe manner, that’s what employers are looking for.”

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Welding is the latest in an array of RCC programming that Eccleston has brought to New Bridge during her tenure. Last quarter, 10 students were enrolled in classes at RCC. Nine of those enrolled in RCC’s Career and Technical Education Academy, and each of them earned seven credits.

M.C. and B.R., two of the welding students, were excited to show off the virtual welder on a recent school day.

Their helmet housed virtual reality glasses for viewing a computer-generated image of a welding job. They “welded” on a plastic plate, using a virtual welding stick.

A computer showed statistics about their speed, consistency, arc length, and travel angle.

“I was interested in this because I see welding everywhere,” B.R. said. “I see this can help me for my future when I get out. It’s a good skill to learn, and it’s a good trade.”

M.C. took the welding class to diversify his résumé. He has already participated in gardening and barista programs, and he’s enrolled at Rogue Community College.

“I feel like the more things I’m experienced at, the more successful I’ll be on the outs, because I’ll have choices,” he said.

Knight has been impressed with the students’ dedication to their lessons, and how respectful they have been during class.

He gave kudos to Eccleston for continuing to expand opportunities for New Bridge students.

“She has really been the backbone of getting this program started,” he said. “She makes sure that her students are taken care of and that they have as many opportunities as possible.”

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