Chris Williams is not a teacher, but when students at Marion High School voiced interest in taking a welding course, the Hupp Electric Motors welder ventured out of his comfort zone and into the classroom.
Williams had never taught before, or even thought about teaching, until an email from the Marion Economic Development Corp. to area businesses asked if someone would be interested in teaching welding.
“Somebody has to teach this. Somebody has to because there’s a need for it and there always will be. Building, fabricating, design and welding, it’s all important,” Williams said.
During spring semester this past year, Williams taught welding to nine students three days a week. Hupp Electric, where Williams has worked for 14 years, paid him his regular salary for the hours he spent teaching. A small stipend he received from Kirkwood Community College covered the doughnuts he brought to class each morning.
“I know how it is to be a kid in class,” Williams said with a smile. “You wake up and you’re in a scramble. They need to eat.”
Williams will teach a beginners welding course for a second year and will add Welding II starting mid-January at Marion High School.
Earlier this year, MEDCO applied for and was awarded a $3,500 Marion Independent School Foundation grant to purchase newer, industry-standard welding equipment for the class. In the application, MEDCO used suggestions made by Williams, said Emily Russ, business engagement specialist at the economic development organization.
“This spring, when students start class again, they will have a new TIG welder,” Russ said. “It’s super exciting that they can see what’s actually being used in the industry among professionals.”
Cooper Sprague, 16, a sophomore at Marion High School who took the welding course last year, now is enrolled for Welding II.
Sprague said welding “felt right,” and Williams made the class a fun experience.
Before signing up for the welding last year, Sprague took a metalworking class that piqued his interest in the profession. He has already spoken with his school counselor about how he can get a welding certificate before he graduates high school.
“Welding will be my future,” Sprague said.
Marion High School Associate Principal Chad Zrudsky said while there is opportunity for high school students to take classes like welding at Kirkwood while they still in high school, some students prefer to stay on campus or are not able to get transportation to go to Kirkwood.
“By giving them the training they need within the walls of our high school, they can walk across the stage, grab their diploma and be work force ready,” he said.
Of the nine students who completed the welding class last year, three are employed as welders, two went on to college and four are still students at the high school.
Zrudsky said Williams’ passion for welding and teaching is inspiring to students.
“When you display that passion, kids are going to buy in. They’re going to look at this as a potential career,” he said.
Welding changed Williams’ life, he said, and it’s both a career and a hobby. After working as a welder for nine to 10 hours a day, he comes home and works on race cars for other people.
Now, as a high school welding instructor, Williams hopes he can make an impact on his students’ lives and teach them a skill that can never be taken away.
“There still is a need for welders,” Williams said. “It’s just not taught any more. You’ve never seen kids work so hard. I totally enjoyed that part of it. They did, too.”
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