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June 2007
Volume 2, Number 6

Bellingham Tech’s Welding Rodeo: A Promotional and Recruitment Tool

Patricia McKeown

Finding ways to provide excellent instructional programs and bring new people to college campuses is challenging. When Bellingham Technical College made plans to expand its welding program to address critical skilled labor shortages, the greatest need was finding additional ways to draw students. Recruiting for the industrial welding program has been a challenge, especially since high schools keep discontinuing these programs because of their high cost. Making matters worse is the public’s lack of understanding about what welders do and what career opportunities are available in this field, and little awareness that careers in trades and industrial occupations can be very rewarding and multidimensional. Bellingham Tech had to get people’s attention and interest with an interactive, exciting activity to showcase this excellent program and the multiple career opportunities it can offer.

Try This at Home

In an attempt to move beyond recruiting fairs and brochures, the college took a cue from the phenomenon of reality TV. Applying the concept of televised competitions such as Junkyard Wars, Monster Garage, Top Chef, and Top Designer, the college devised the Welding Rodeo.

The Rodeo is the brainchild of Bellingham Tech’s welding faculty. The ingenuity and dedication of instructors Don Anderson and Jere Donnelly, both skilled industrial welders and noted regional metal artists, combine to direct the event’s overall activity. For five years it has featured a vendor fair, a welding skill competition, and a scrap metal sculpture contest. In addition, the concept of welding sculptures crossed over into the college’s fabrication program when teams of students created pieces for a welded quilt, which now adorns the exterior of the welding building. Other parts of campus have also become involved, with Culinary Arts providing an ice sculpture display and Instrumentation showcasing a fountain. A campuswide art exhibit, a mechanical bull, and music provide a festival feeling. The Industry advisory committee is very active in supporting the Rodeo, donating money and time, and over 20 private businesses back the affair’s expenses by providing prizes and equipment.

Metallurgic Match-Up

This year’s sixth annual showdown primarily features the metal sculpture contest and has expanded to two days. The competition mimics a scrap-yard war, in which teams gather scrap metal and have six hours to complete a finished metal sculpture, limited to six feet tall by six feet wide, and suitable for public display. Each day, there is a separate competition for each group, one for novices and one for professionals. The amateurs are welding students from high school and college, while the professionals include artists, industrial welders, and skilled college students. The Rodeo achieved international status in the last three years with teams of students and faculty from EUC-Vest, a two-year college in Esbjerg, Denmark, from Bellingham Tech’s exchange program.

Each day, ten teams of four produce sculptures around a common theme. Last year’s theme was water and included ships, pilings for a pier, a replication of the Water Works Monopoly card, sea creatures, fountains, and a humorous composite sculpture of dogs around a hydrant with a fountain feature. This year’s Wonderful World of Bugs theme emerged from the adoration of The Cricket (see photo), a sculpture piece resulting from the second Rodeo, which now has a permanent home on the Bellingham’s campus. The sculptures, which range from whimsical to abstract, are judged by a panel representing the professional art community, the welding industry, and the Bellingham community.

Rewards Across the Board

Awards are provided in a variety of categories. Members of each winning team receive welding equipment ranging from welders, plasma cutters, helmets, and more, to cash prizes. The sculptures are sold to the public through silent auction for $200 to $3,000 each. The city of Bellingham’s library, parks, and road departments, as well as individuals and businesses, have purchased and proudly display these pieces of art. Proceeds finance the Rodeo’s continuation and welding student scholarships.

The event produces a great deal of excitement in the community, has been recognized as part of a Washington State Best Workforce Practice by the Governor, and was featured in and on the cover of Cool Community Colleges: Creative Approaches to Economic Development, an AACC publication.

College and program promotion as well as recruitment are excellent outcomes of the event. Not only does it provide priceless publicity to the college and the welding program, each year over two thousand people travel from a wide area of the Northwest to watch the competition and bid on the outdoor art pieces. Booths provide information regarding career opportunities, giving prospective students a clearer picture of welding careers and showing how industrial welders can be creative and artistic, and earn high wages while they’re at it. The amateur welding teams include high school students who travel to the college from all over the state for this event. These students often return to the college for their education. The high school faculty and students who participate in the event have proven to be our best recruitment tools.

As a result, Bellingham’s welding program is doubling next year. Moreover, Rodeo teams are often gender mixed, which encourages women to apply by illustrating that they can be successful in this career. Consequently, the college has one of the highest percentages of women in a welding program in the state.

This year’s competition will be held in Bellingham Tech’s new state-of-the-art, 30,000 square foot welding facility, the David and Joyce Morse Center, providing an opportunity to show off Bellingham’s growth.

To see more photos of this colorful and effective event, visit the website at http://www.weldingrodeo.com.

Photographs provided by Bellingham Technical College

Patricia McKeown is Vice President of Instruction at Bellingham Technical College.

Cynthia Wilson, Editor