Welding competition: All it takes is a spark

A student takes part in the Welding Competition and Showcase at the Blong Technology Center in Davenport. CREDIT EICC

The air crackled with anticipation as the rhythmic hum of welding machines filled the Blong Technology Center in north Davenport. 

Sparks flew like miniature fireworks, illuminating the determined faces of more than 55 high school and college students competing for top honors Wednesday, May 15, in the third annual Welding Competition and Showcase. The event is hosted by Eastern Iowa Community Colleges (EICC) and the American Welding Society (AWS) – Eastern Iowa Section 162. 

Young welders gathered to demonstrate their prowess in shielded metal arc welding (SMAW – Stick), gas metal arc welding (GMAW – MIG), and gas tungsten arc welding (GTAW – TIG).  

More than 55 students took part in the event. CREDIT EICC

“Students are learning what it’s like to be put under pressure, just like when going out into a career,” said Megan Edens, a welding instructor at EICC’s Scott Community College. “This is likely the only time a student will get competitive with welding. It’s a very independent skill set. You’re against yourself and time.” 

Judged by local welding inspectors certified by the American Welding Society, the event showcased the students’ technical abilities, connected them with future employers, and provided a glimpse into some real-world opportunities.

“It’s important for students to know what opportunities are out in the real world,” said Joseph Buresh of McLaughlin Body Company. “We demand quality out of our operators, and we want welders who care about the work they are doing. This event is a great way to find that talent.”

Among the competitors, Alen Gowan stood out. Freshly graduated from EICC with an Advanced Welding Certificate, he clinched first place in the GTAW – TIG category.  

“It feels so good to have won today,” he said. “I was a bit nervous on the second round, because the top three welds were very close. It was anyone’s game for who would win, but I was happy with my performance.” 

Mr. Gowan added: “It’s better to not think when you’re welding. Just kind of let it be natural. Don’t try to constantly correct every minuscule moment, because change is inevitable.”  

Organizers were spearheaded by Ms. Edens and the AWS – Eastern Iowa Section.

“There’s about six months of planning that goes into this event,” she said. “It’s all hands-on deck, with a lot of support from EICC faculty and staff, AWS members, and the college’s foundation.” 

Participants demonstrated not only their technical skills but also their composure and camaraderie. 

“They were inspecting each other’s welds, dissecting blueprints, adjusting machines, and networking with so many new people,” Ms. Edens said. 

Scholarships and prizes – including welding equipment – were awarded thanks to support of the local sponsors: SSAB, Lincoln Electric, Silver Hawk Fabrication, Musco Sports Lighting, Miller Electric, S.J. Smith, and the AWS – Eastern Iowa. 

Noah Mizelle from Indian Hills Community College won first place in the SMAW – Stick category, while Kylie Daily from Davenport West High School took the top spot in GMAW – MIG.

“We’ve had a few McLaughlin welders come from EICC and recruited from this event, specifically,” said Brian Thorndyke of McLaughlin Body. “They are very good kids and their skill level is getting better. It’s so helpful to have opportunities like this.” 

John Deere’s James Hotchaiss emphasized the importance of nurturing talent and providing pathways to employment. “We participate in various programs like this welding competition to see how students stack up against their fellow classmates. We’re just looking for future employees who want to learn, will show up on time, and will try their best while they’re there.” 

The competition is one of Ms. Edens’ “favorite days of the year.” “I’ve had a lot of high school students go through this competition and decide to take classes here at EICC afterwards, so it’s just really cool to see. This event really can shape a student’s future in welding.”

All it takes is a spark. In addition to showcasing local talent, EICC’s welding competition is paving the way for the next generation of skilled welders.  

For more information on EICC’s welding program, visit eicc.edu/welding.  

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