The STARS welding class includes, front row from left, Kenny Snyder Jones, Xander Cox, Cordell Self, Alayna Swearingen; back row, Justin Stevens, Luke Slater, Brock Chapman, Dylan Rogers, Ethan Raines, and instructor Shane Kern. Abby Stone, Dre Flores and Cooper Snyder also attend the class but weren't available for the photo. (Roger Sims/Linn County Journal)
By Roger Sims, Journal staff
PLEASANTON – A three-day trip to a high school welding contest in Garden City in southwestern Kansas was a morale boost for a dozen students from the Southeast Technical Academy for Rural Students (STARS). But it was also a much-needed accomplishment for the small-but-growing technical school in Pleasanton.
Faced with competition from larger Kansas schools like Dodge City and Liberal as well as schools from Oklahoma and Texas, STARS welders did more than hold their own in the event on Thursday, April 20.
They swept the competition, winning four out of the five top spots in the individual contest and winning the team competition by more than 30 points.
On Monday, April 24, welding instructor Shane Kern was still ecstatic over his students’ performance, despite having to buy steak dinners for all because his four students placed in the top 10. The prize for none of them placing in the top 10 would have been harsh: a tofu dinner.
Seniors Kenny Snyder Jones and Xander Cox tied for first place with 392 points apiece. The decision on who will take first-place honors went down to a quick game of rock, paper, scissors, and Snyder Jones won.
STARS welder Kenny Snyder Jones is graded by one of the judges at the Garden City contest. (Submitted photo)
Senior Brock Chapman placed fourth with 375 points and senior Cordell Self wasn’t far behind in fifth place with 369 points.
Contestants competed in four areas:
Layout and cutting torch
Fit-up and fabrication
Written test that covered general knowledge, safety and math
The four seniors earned the right to compete in the contest by scoring on a test that Kern devised. Students who did well enough earned a STARS Welding Team jacket.
He pointed out that a weld test is an industry standard that most welding companies use to determine if a candidate gets hired or not.
Kern said that he made the decision to take all of the team to Garden City to give them a taste for the contest. That included seven seniors and six juniors.
“If I could have, I would have taken a team of juniors, and they would have been in the top 5,” Kern said.
This is the first year for the STARS programs, which include emergency medical technician (EMT), heavy equipment operator, and heating/air conditioning classes.
Kern said all of his welding students during the fall semester learned basic welds, including those used by ironworkers, pipe fitters, and boilermakers. In the second semester, students concentrate on doing welds for the trade in which they are most interested.
He said that four of his seniors have submitted applications to be in the apprentice program of Pipe Fitters Local 533 in Kansas City, Mo. Another is interested in starting his own business.
But Kern, who has ties to the pipe fitters union, said that several unions and companies have reached out to the STARS program and expressed interest in hiring welding graduates.