- Associated Press - Thursday, May 5, 2016

STERLING, Ill. (AP) - Now that the students in Steve Bierdeman’s welding and manufacturing technology class are coming down the school year’s homestretch, they’re finding more ways to have fun.

You know, like laying in a skid steer bucket and painstakingly trying to fix a welding job gone awry. Hey, that’s the job Erie High School junior Ben Grimes didn’t hesitate to jump on April 11 at Whiteside Area Career Center.

He got into welding a couple of years ago and would like to be a pipefitter, but said he’ll do anything in welding and machining.

The students have been honing many skills by rotating between MIG welding, TIG welding and machining stations each Monday, Wednesday and Friday. On Tuesdays, they learn computer-assisted design skills.

A farmer from north of town recently brought the hollowed-out bucket by, and the students have been working on fixing it up with sheet metal.

“I really enjoy doing stuff like this,” the 16-year-old Grimes said in between showers of sparks. “It’s just something different from what we do every day.”

A little more than a spark’s flight away, Erie classmate Logan Eggers, 17, was meticulously machining valleys on handles of the tap wrench project that’s due Thursday. He relied on two digital panels’ readouts to make sure everything was dead on.

“You can’t be a thousandth too high or too low, or it won’t look right, or work right. It’ll slip out of place,” Eggers said. “You could be liable for the part you made. Tiny details means everything.”

He plans to work in welding and manufacturing. He caught the bug in 4-H, and while helping his grandfather on his Iowa farm, where welding skills constantly come in handy.

Nearby was Erie senior Kyle Haan, who is planning to go through the 7-month program at Midwest Technology Institute after high school. The WACC class visited MTI on Thursday and Friday, and got a glimpse of a potential next step. Connor Smith of Rock Falls won a written test competition, and Jace Snyder of Fulton took second in Thursday’s individual welding competition.

As for Haan, he’s honing skills for work and play. When he was 10, he bought a junker for $50 and turned it into a demolition derby car.

“I broke the windows out and started messing with it,” Haan said. “There’s nothing better than after you finish welding, looking at a finished product and seeing really nice welds.”

This weekend, he’ll be helping out a buddy at the Spring Explosion demo derby event in Champaign-Urbana.

Over 2 years, the course can fulfill six dual credits at Sauk Valley Community College.

Bierdeman has been teaching it for 30 years.

“I can’t say there’s anything different about the kids today … except the cellphone,” he said.

More than a third of the kids who sign up take the skills they hone into the work field, he said. Second-year students are required to work an internship 4 days a week, and Bierdeman focuses on getting them into jobs near their hometowns.

About a third of his students don’t go into welding and manufacturing, per se. Newman juniors Luke Furr, 18, and Jacob Heiderscheit, 17, plan to work in excavating, and automotive and diesel, respectively.

“I signed up for the class basically just because it’s a beneficial skill to have in life,” Heiderscheit said before returning his focus to grinding smooth surfaces for the handles of his tap wrench. Their next stop would be the station Eggers had just vacated.

Heiderscheit worked two wheels clockwise simultaneously, then counter-clockwise, then in opposite directions to grind the metal.

“You’ve got to get the hand motions down,” Furr said.

“You’re doing two different things with your hands, so it’s kind of complicated,” Heiderscheit said.

Bierdeman urges his students to go as high as they can - into engineering, robotics, wherever their interests might lead. He won’t, however, dissuade a student who loves welding, and who’s eager to get into the field, to do just that, even though other jobs pay a bit better.

He takes immense pride in preparing kids for a variety of careers.

“The kids learn a great diversity of skills in here. It allows them to go in a lot of different directions.”

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Source: The (Sterling) Daily Gazette, http://bit.ly/1Yuwb6Z

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Information from: The Daily Gazette, http://www.saukvalley.com

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