New welding lab helps Southeast students forge their futures

Southeast High School students are gaining valuable experience and sparking excitement this semester in a new welding and machining lab.
Dozens of Knights are fueling their future careers through an expanded skilled and technical sciences (STS) curriculum. The state-of-the-art lab features 12 welding stations, six mills, six lathes and multiple other precision machining items. The tools and equipment are allowing STS classes to flourish on campus.
Southeast sophomores Dayshaun and Reese said they have enjoyed learning about the welding craft. The lab has helped them explore the career pathway for the first time.
“I’ve never welded before, but it’s been a lot of fun,” Dayshaun said. “I thought it would be really interesting to do. I’ve learned a lot from the class.”

“When I first heard about it, I thought it would be something awesome to do,” Reese said. “I like the trades because they’re hands-on and interactive. Having the lab here has been a good opportunity to learn more about welding and everything it offers for the future.”
Erik Sutterfield teaches a full portfolio of STS classes at Southeast. He said it was exciting to watch students forge new options for their futures. This semester marks the first time the school has offered welding courses.
“We’re off to a great start,” Sutterfield said. “The kids have been very engaged with the welding projects and they’re having fun. This is an awesome space, so it’s been great to see what the students are doing with it.”
The lab is lifting off at the same time as National Career and Technical Education (CTE) Month, which takes place every February. The CTE umbrella at Southeast includes STS courses like welding, precision machining, construction, architecture, woodworking and computer-aided design.
Dayshaun and Reese have both jumped into their new adventures with enthusiasm. Dayshaun is making a metal sculpture that will be a vase of roses. He began working on the project in early February and has enjoyed seeing the different pieces come together.
Reese said she has been happy exploring the technical parts of welding. One of the lessons she and her classmates have learned is how to form a lap welding joint. These are created when two pieces of metal are placed in an overlapping pattern on top of each other.
“You have to glue two pieces of metal together, and if you don’t do it correctly, then it won’t look very good and won’t stay together very well,” Reese said. “You need a lot of precision to do that, and that’s something I really like.”

Classroom C130 had formerly been a computer lab and storage room, but Southeast leaders felt they could use it to meet the rising labor demand for welding and machining trades. To meet this demand, they also wanted to ensure that the lab was equipped with industry-standard equipment. 
A September 2023 report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) said 42,600 people will become welders, cutters, solderers and brazers each year over the next decade. Machinists and tool and die makers also have optimistic career outlooks. The BLS is projecting approximately 38,200 annual openings in both fields through 2032.

The first machines and tools began arriving at Southeast this past summer and fall, and items such as tables, workbenches and drill bits are continuing to flow in. Students began using the welding stations in January and will likely be able to operate mills and lathes by late March.
Sutterfield said it is rewarding to know all of the hard work setting up the lab will help many people. He currently has two full classes for welding and there is a waiting list of additional Knights who want to enroll.
“There’s a lot of opportunity and room for growth,” Sutterfield said. “I anticipate that we’re going to have three or four full classes for different levels of welding, and we’re going to have several classes for students to learn about our precision machines too. Our goal is to have this space full of students all day long. I’m very confident that we’re going to meet that goal.”

Sutterfield said students who learn welding and machining may be inspired to try other STS classes. This can help them strengthen their career possibilities by becoming well-rounded in many skilled trades.
The lab is also allowing Southeast to expand its SkillsUSA chapter. SkillsUSA is a national CTE organization that includes more than 380,000 students and teachers. There are dozens of state and national contests in fields ranging from architectural drafting to medical terminology. Sutterfield is leading Southeast’s chapter this year.
Dayshaun is one of nine Knights in the group. He has already learned many career-readiness skills such as problem solving, communication and project innovation.
“I heard about SkillsUSA from a school announcement, and I thought I would try it out,” Dayshaun said. “It’s been really good. I never really knew much about it before, but they do a lot of things with different trades, and you can get scholarships for doing well in contests. I’m happy I joined.”
Sutterfield said he is thrilled to see how the lab is sparking excitement among Southeast students.
“All of the trades are looking for employees, so for students to get that type of experience here in high school is great,” Sutterfield said. “You can live a really good life by doing trades. I think they’re seeing that firsthand in these classes.”
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Published: February 28, 2024, Updated: February 28, 2024

Southeast High School students smile as they work on one of their welding projects this semester. The school has opened a new welding and machining lab on campus. It will help many students collect valuable career skills that they will use in future trades.