Seven Madison Consolidated High School students are participating in a joint program between the school corporation, Ivy Tech and several local manufacturing companies that will lead to careers in welding when they graduate from MCHS. They are, from left: Keith Sikes, Isaac Kappes, Darius Wilking, Josh Rowlett, Amber Renecker, Taylor Colwell and Dezeray Neff. The only senior in the program, Colwell plans to work part time after graduation this spring and continue his education at the college. (Staff photo by Phyllis McLaughlin/pmclaughlin@madisoncourier.com.)
Seven Madison Consolidated High School students are participating in a joint program between the school corporation, Ivy Tech and several local manufacturing companies that will lead to careers in welding when they graduate from MCHS. They are, from left: Keith Sikes, Isaac Kappes, Darius Wilking, Josh Rowlett, Amber Renecker, Taylor Colwell and Dezeray Neff. The only senior in the program, Colwell plans to work part time after graduation this spring and continue his education at the college. (Staff photo by Phyllis McLaughlin/pmclaughlin@madisoncourier.com.)
Last year, Taylor Colwell didn’t have a plan for what he would do after graduation.

“I figured I’d live at home, have a 40-hour work week, buy a house or something,” said the Madison Consolidated High School senior.

Apparently, that didn’t sit well with his girlfriend’s father.

“He was like, no, that’s not going to work,” Colwell recalled.

Enter guidance counselor Jennifer Hensler, who encouraged Colwell to sign up for a new program that would allow him to finish high school with at least two welding certifications and the path to gainful employment after graduation.

Cowell and six juniors signed up for the program, which evolved from a partnership between Madison Consolidated Schools, Ivy Tech and several local businesses. By the end of their senior year, those students – along with five students from Switzerland County Schools – will have four certifications, each accredited by the American Welding Society, and will be ready to go out into the world and find good-paying jobs.

They will also have completed 10 hours of safety training to meet OSHA standards.

Five days a week, the students attend morning classes at MCHS and then go to Ivy Tech for afternoon classes in welding for four of those days.

One day a week, they attend a class in communications. The class focuses on building students’ “soft” skills, such as writing resumes, speaking effectively with others, proper attire, reporting to work on time – everything they need to help them be successful employees. This class included last Friday’s luncheon at River Terrace Health Campus, where the students practiced dining etiquette with residents.

Another class, IVYT 111, focuses on boosting reading, writing and study skills to help students be successful in their college courses. 

The impact of the program on the students – some of whom may not have stayed in school without it – has been obvious to their Ivy Tech teacher Steve Lawyer.

“From August to now, I’ve seen a big change in the students,” he said. “At first they were somewhat disorganized; they weren’t into studying that hard. So it was a change for them to come into a college environment, where they get assignments and have a lot of work to do.”

There is still room for improvement, but Lawyer said he’s also heard comments from teachers at the high school who have noticed the changes.

Isaac Kappes had an experience similar to Colwell’s, when a discussion about the future with his girlfriend’s father forced him to think more about his future.

Kappes had worked with Ryan Lab at Cub Manufacturing last year. “I loved it,” he said.

And he loves the Ivy Tech program, adding that it has given him a lot of confidence and the desire to finish school. 

“I was always in trouble,” he said, explaining that he was frequently suspended from the high school because of poor behavior.

“And it was simple things, like not sitting in your seat, talking to much or not turning in your work,” Hensler said, recalling Kappes situation. “But this has given him organization and study skills he didn’t have.”

Dezeray Neff said she also enrolled in the program after seeing what was happening at Cub Manufacturing. She has cousins that work as welders, and thought she’d try it, too.

Recently, Neff competed at the state FFA welding competition. She was the only female competitor among 30 students in the two-day competition. 

Lawyer said Neff came to the college over her spring break to prepare for the competition on her own time.

“I did pretty well,” she said.

For Amber Renecker, “welding just became something I wanted to do,” she said. “I never actually picked up a welder until I had this class.” She hopes to get a job at SuperATV after graduation in 2018.

Today, Colwell has a plan. He has applied for a scholarship and an internship, and plans to get a part-time job after graduation so he can enroll in adult welding courses and finish his certification. 

After that, he plans to get an associate’s degree in applied science for industrial maintenance and, eventually, become a certified welding inspector.

Kappes plans to go into the pipeline industry. “After I get a taste of that, I don’t really know,” he said, adding that he knows the program has opened the door to hundreds of options he didn’t have before.

Darius Wilking said he became fascinated with stick welding while working with Lamb at Cub Manufacturing, but he isn’t sure that welding will be his lifetime career. He said he wants pursue a degree in athletic training so he can work with sports teams as a physical therapist. 

But, he said, his welding skills will help him pay for college, in the meantime, he said. And it’s a “fall-back plan” if he discovers that athletic training isn’t for him.

Keith Sikes said he has wanted to be a welder, like his grandfather, since he was a young boy. 

“Welding comes in really handy, and it’s really respected in manufacturing,” and offers good-paying jobs, he said. He hopes to enlist in the Air Force and learn aircraft maintenance, then take those skills and work for airplane manufacturers, like Boeing.

“I honestly don’t know why I joined the program,” Josh Rowlett confessed. “But it’s giving me the skills I need to mature and grow. And I get a trade for the real world. ... It worked out.”

Dustin Stewart, director of Ivy Tech’s K-14 Initiatives in Madison, credits the school districts and local companies – including SuperATV, VSG and Koehler Welding Supplies – for the success of the program.

“We couldn’t have done it without them. They’ve met with the students; the students know who they are,” he said. Both VSG and SuperATV have guaranteed that any student completing the program will have a guaranteed job interview and chance for employment at either company.

“This is what sets this program apart from any others that are out there,” Stewart said. “We’ve got these local employers who really bought in. They’re understanding that these kids are going to acquire these skills, they’re going to get the appropriate technical training and earn certifications. At 18 years old, they have a chance to go out and make a good living. Right out of the box. … There’s a need out there for these positions.” 

Stewart also credited the school corporations. “They’re funding the tuition for these students to be a part of the program.”

The students, who each earned their first AWS certification recently, will be honored by the Madison Consolidated school board at today’s meeting at 6:30 p.m. in the administration building.