Breckenridge students taking unique class in Wahpeton

Results are electrifying when Breckenridge students take their welding classes in Wahpeton. It's unique and the partnership's continuation will require an act of the Minnesota Legislature. Above, Senior Jake Snyder is at work in the lab.

Countless people cross the Red River from Wahpeton to Breckenridge, Minnesota, and vice versa. That’s normal.

It’s unique, however, to be a Breckenridge High School student receiving instruction through North Dakota State College of Science in Wahpeton.

Thirteen Breckenridge students are currently being taught welding technology. The year-long course, first introduced this semester, fulfills high school credit requirements. It also has two college classes embedded, allowing students to receive college credit.

“Eleven of the 13 students are taking these classes for college credit,” said Clint Gilbertson, associate professor of welding technology.

Jake Snyder, a Breckenridge senior, is one of several students with new access to equipment and materials. The results are electrifying.

“Our students are highly engaged and motivated to go to their welding classes,” Principal Craig Peterson said.

While it is uncertain how many students will go on to pursue welding careers, NDSCS nevertheless is enthusiastic about its work as a career academy.

“What I’m most satisfied with is the collaboration,” said NDSCS President Dr. John Richman. “These programs are very expensive and it is challenging for any of us to have them by ourselves. But when we collaborate, having a shop and equipment to educate high schoolers, college students and the incumbent workforce, we’re sharing the resources.”

In spring 2017, NDSCS received a National Science Foundation grant for its North Dakota Welds program. Gilbertson anticipates both an extension for his program’s grant and the opportunity for more programs to receive grants.

“We’re going to survey the students and see if there’s interest in a full-blown welding operation,” Dan Rood, Jr. said.

The Southeast Region Career and Technology Center, which Rood directs, has long benefitted from a partnership with NDSCS. Classes were first offered to SRCTC students in 1973.

Automotive technology, one of those original classes, remains popular. NDSCS reports a 35 student participation increase this semester. Students have the option to take up to eight classes over two years. Some classes are also available as early entry courses for both high school and college credit.

“We value and appreciate the relationship we have with NDSCS,” Rood continued.

Breckenridge High School feels the same way, but it’s facing an uphill climb in 2019. Peterson explained that for the BHS-NDSCS relationship to continue, the Minnesota Legislature will need to pass a law.

“No other school in the state of Minnesota is doing what we’re doing,” Peterson said.

The Breckenridge students, meanwhile, are weighing their options. Some would consider a career in welding. Some would consider using their skills as a future hobby.

Gilbertson isn’t surprised. He recalled a female NDSCS student who studied welding en route to employment with Bobcat, her computer science degree and her career as head of information technology for San Antonio, New Mexico.

“It’s been unbelievable for this opportunity, the partnership,” Peterson said. “Our next challenge is to expand.”

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