Minnesota State College - Southeast student Catherine Slimmer practiced TIG welding last week. The welding program just received an 11,000-pound donation of raw materials.
by CHRIS ROGERS
Like a hunter posing with a trophy buck, Casey Mann smiled for a picture in front of the yawning semitrailer door. Inside were 11,000 pounds of steel, aluminum, and other metals — raw materials for his welding students to practice their skills. Another semitrailer was packed with components bound for Minnesota State College - Southeast’s (MSC - Southeast) auto body, auto mechanic, and tool and die classrooms. Altogether, the materials were worth $420,000. The school got them for free.
MSC - Southeast Truck Driving Instructor Tom Gierok and a driver from Rihm Leasing (formerly Lawrence Leasing) made the long haul to Kentucky and back to bring in last week’s six-digit donation of materials from Lockheed Martin’s Lexington plant. They were excess materials from a U.S. Department of Defense project that, under federal protocol, were put up for reuse or disposal. MSC - Southeast jumped at the chance, and Rihm Leasing contributed the use of two trucks for the pickup mission. It is one of the biggest single windfalls the school has received, but just one of many donations of materials and equipment various companies have made to MSC - Southeast. Shark Industries of Rockford, Minn., donated $80,000 in welding equipment last year, and Fastenal, Mississippi Welders Supply, Lawrence Trucking, Neufeldt Industrial Services, and Werner Electric have made in-kind gifts. It is a partnership, school and company officials say.
“Without truck drivers there would be no demand for our product. So it just behooves us to work with people who are training the people our industry needs,” Tim Carroll of Rihm Leasing explained. His company leases semi trucks to the school for its truck driver training program, as well. While a truckload of welding materials will not directly help the truck driver training program, Carroll’s company loaned its trucks out to benefit MSC - Southeast in general. “It just makes sense that we would partner with an institution that is training the people we need for our business,” he stated. “It’s a great example of how things should been done,” Thul said.
“They just want to keep the program going,” Mann said of what motivates various industrial shops to donate goods to MSC - Southeast. “There’s so much need out there for anyone who wants to get their hands dirty. The Baby Boomer generation, we’re kind of aging out, and someone has to replace us.”
Inside Mann’s classroom, welding students Catherine Slimmer and Donovan Cardy flipped their hoods over their faces, fired up TIG welders, carefully manipulated their torches and foot pedals, and then compared their handiwork. They and their classmates will use some of the newly donated materials to make things other departments need, such as tables for the tool and die shop or a trailer for the auto repair program to pick up junk yard cars. Cardy and Slimmer are nearly done with MSC - Southeast’s welding program and about to enter a field that is projected to add 22,500 jobs nationwide over the next decade with a median hourly wage of $18.73 in Southeast Minnesota, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Learning to weld requires some trial and error. “They’ve got to burn some up,” Mann said. The cost of that material comes out of students’ tuition, he explained. “I get a little bit here and there donated, but I usually have to get that out of my budget,” Mann stated. Getting donated material helps MSC - Southeast keep tuition prices down. Mann nodded to the semi loads from Kentucky. “That’ll help a lot,” he said.