86-Years of Welding at NDSCS

Diverse team of educators trained the region’s farmers, builders and manufacturers.

Arnold Olson’s repair shop housed the first six NDSSS welding students in 1930. The department eventually moved to Haverty Hall and later to the Trade Tech II building. By 1936, the number of students had swelled to 78 and Mr. Olson added John Fradet, a former NDSSS student, as a second instructor. They even added an evening session from 7 p.m.-midnight, to accommodate more students.

In the 1940s Julian Szczur, a former employee of the Olson’s repair shop, joined the staff. After a year, the war effort drew Szczur to the Manitowoc, Wisconsin shipyard building war ships, he then went to Washington State to repair bombed out ships–about the time that welding replaced rivets. He also worked in pipe fitting and on aircraft carriers. He returned to NDSCS as Welding Department Chair, bringing with him his new skills and continued in that role until 1986.

Initially, demand for welders came from farms and the new sugar beet factories up and down the Red River Valley. Today, welding is an integral part of many manufacturing and building construction fields, and most graduates have numerous job offers prior to graduation. Working conditions and opportunities have improved, as well as the perception of the welding industry. These factors, along with salaries starting at the around $42,000 (based on Placement Department figures) for welders with one-year certificates, make welding a viable option for students of all ages.

Enrollment continued to grow on campus as the instructors traveled to high schools around the state to recruit potential students. As the industry became more technical, a second year welding program began in 1985. Many students enrolled to learn robotic and advanced welding skills.

In 2004, the program was renamed Manufacturing Technology and expanded to NDSCS-Fargo. The Welding Department, now in two locations, has six
staff members, all of whom hold college degrees, advanced welding certifications and diverse industry backgrounds. The educators of the past and present built a department that now enrolls approximately 70 students a year. Lee Larson was hired as the Welding Technology Associate on the NDSCS Fargo campus. The Fargo North High School shares the welding lab, which encourages post-secondary enrollment with NDSCS. The college now offers 1st and 2nd year welding at both NDSCS locations. Joel Johnson is the current coordinator of the Wahpeton Welding program.

Today’s NDSCS welding department produced one of the school’s top 2015 one-year graduate program salaries of $62,400. However, the industry still faces an immense challenge of replacing the 50,000 welders who retire each year. Only 20,000 certified welders are entering the field on an annual basis.

Growth built on diverse welding experience
For 86 years, the NDSCS Welding Department has trained generations of welders and hired instructors with diverse backgrounds. “We hired individuals who knew the trade and then helped them become good teachers,” says John Cox, instructor and Welding Department Chair from 1979-2007. New welding instructors learned to become teachers from Odin Stutud, a NDSCS Vocational Instructor for many years. Each welding instructor is an AWS Certified Welder and attends continued education workshops with written and hands-on testing. Cox, who brought sales and welding business ownership/operational experience, joined a diverse team of instructors with varied industrial skills.

Recent Successes
The workforce shortage in the welding field has created the need for a collaborative effort between NDSCS, industry, state and the Federal Government.  Since 2014, over three million dollars of Federal Grant money has been applied for and received by the Manufacturing Technology Department.  The NDSCS Welding department has been able to secure the latest in equipment and supplies by leveraging these dollars with a newly developed partnership with Lincoln Electric Company.  Partnerships with industry is becoming a necessity for all trade programs.  The relationship with LEC has provided faculty and student uniforms, deeply discounted materials which allows todays NDSCS students to train on the very best equipment available in the field. 

Another example of how industry, government and the college are working together is the SkillsUSA Championship series.  These are competitive events showcasing the best career and technical education students in the nation.  Contests begin locally and continue through the state and national levels.  The multi-million dollar national competition occupies a space equivalent to 16 football fields.  In 2015 there were more than 6,000 contestants in 100 separate events.  Nearly 1,500 judges and contest organizers from labor and management make the national event possible.  NDSCS has qualified contestants for the 2016 Championships which are being held in Louisville, KY.  The NDSCS Welding program will have competitors in the individual Welding competition, the Welding Art/Sculpture and the Welding Fabrication three person contests. 

Two current instructors, Chance Pausch and Vance Harthun, both former students at NDSCS are the highest national placers for NDSCS in the SkillsUSA competition to date, placing 3rd and 4th respectively.

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