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North Carolina School Celebrates 40 Years of Educating Welders Day and Night


The motto at the Vance-Granville Community College (VGCC) welding program is, “We’re making sparks fly.” VGCC has set to flight the careers of hundreds of certified welders since the inception of the welding program 40 years ago. The school offers traditional one-year certification programs along with a non-traditional two-year night program.


More than 625 students have been nationally certified since the doors opened at VGCC. The school has educated certified welders working today in the school’s North Carolina backyard and all across the country. VGCC began offering TIG certification in 2010.  


“My job is to prepare them for the first day of work and beyond,” says Rusty Pace, lead instructor, VGCC Welding Technology Program. “It’s not just performing a weld, but having the skills to set up the machine, to understand the materials and to understand the process.”


Pace, a VGCC graduate from the early ’80s, says his Welding Technology curriculum provides students a sound understanding of the science, technology and applications essential for successful employment in the welding and metal industries.


Instruction includes welding and cutting processes. Courses in math, blueprint reading, metallurgy, welding inspection, and destructive and non-destructive testing provides the student with industry-standard skills developed through classroom training and practical applications. Graduates start out as entry-level technicians in welding and metalworking industries, but prepared for employment opportunities and rise quickly within the organization. 


Pace’s desire to prepare his students has led him to outfit much of his classroom welding cells with equipment from Miller Electric Mfg. Co. The Dynasty® leads the TIG area, while a host of Millermatic® machines receive heavy student use throughout the MIG portion of the lab.


“The majority of my day students have never touched a welder before, so the ease of use of the Miller® machines is perfect,” said Pace. “And at night, we get guys who do have some experience, so they appreciate machines they don’t have to mess with — they set it and go.”

Instructor David Bullock heads the evening class curriculum and is also a graduate of the program. He learned his craft in 1981, which led to his employment as a welding engineer at nearby Newton Instrument Company.


“I have a unique perspective because I work in the world of welding every day,” says Bullock. “What I see in the real world are companies starving for welders who can weld pipe.”


And Bullock has seen his share of students hungry to learn and earn. Two former students credit the VGCC curriculum and the equipment for preparing them for employment and hitting the ground welding.


“When you’re laying the bead down right, you know it — I learned that in class,” says Newton Instruments welder and former student, Chris Currin. “I learned with the same equipment at school that I use at work. It’s great: I am able to get right at it and put down that perfect bead.”


Currin’s passion has focused on TIG and Stick welding. But without the night class offering at VGCC, he might not have ever tapped into his newfound career. It is very likely could have been stuck in work mode without the clear welding path he has today.


“The instructors were great; they opened our eyes to all of the possibilities,” says Currin. “I was a general employee before; now I have goals and my employer sees me as an asset with a bright future.”


Riley Deane decided to become a welder because he likes the challenge of a good weld.  In particular, he loves to TIG weld because it feeds his desire to be precise in his work.


“That’s why I like the Miller machines,” says Dean. “The easy digital interface means I’m spending more time welding and less time fiddling around with the machine. I get more work done.”


The job market for welders has created a sense of urgency to the education that Pace and Bullock deliver every day. What hasn’t changed is the top-to-bottom instruction that VGCC students receive. With 40 years of experience teaching students how to weld — and weld right — they will continue to set flight to the careers of hungry future welders.

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