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Celebrating National Welding Month with Student Successes

Missouri, New York, Oregon

Celebrating National Welding Month with Student Successes

No one knows the true difference an excellent teacher can make better than their students. In honor of National Welding Month, we reached out to a few welding graduates of Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence winners to see where the skills their teachers imparted have taken them in their careers, and the enduring impressions they left:

Brent Trankler, 2019 Prizewinner
Sikeston Career and Technology Center – Sikeston, MO

Caden Bailey graduated from Trankler’s welding program in 2017. After high school, Bailey enrolled in school to become a mechanical engineer but ended up pivoting to a career in welding.

In 2021, Bailey established his own welding, fabrication and repair company called CB MetalworX just 15 minutes north of Sikeston, MO. As the main operator of the business, he takes on a variety of jobs in general assembly, adding trailer jacks to vehicles, pipe and steel fencing, structure welding, and excavation. On larger jobs, he’ll contract teams of three to five other workers, using the networking and people skills Trankler emphasized just as much as the technical work. Bailey and Trankler still talk on a weekly basis, and Bailey tries to help make industry connections for Trankler’s current students whenever he can.

“If it weren’t for Brent Trankler, I wouldn’t be doing what I am today,” Bailey said. “Being in his class and going to different welding competitions, I quickly realized that the welding trade was the one thing that was going to get every aspect of what I wanted to do in a career.”

Bethanie Payne graduated from Trankler’s welding program in 2023. Less than a year out from graduation, she started putting her knowledge to use with a job at Butler’s Welding and Machines in Charleston, MO. The shop focuses on maintenance and repair of tractors and farm equipment, giving Payne many opportunities to apply techniques Trankler taught. “It definitely puts my knowledge to the test. Every day, I’m welding on something different—new materials, shapes, taking things apart and putting them back together—I love it.” For Payne, the learning process continues on the job, and it helps when she recalls one of Trankler’s more grounding teachings: making mistakes is still part of learning. Even experienced welders like himself can still have days where he can’t seem to lay a good weld. To other young women in high school welding programs, she advises, “Learn as much as you can before you get out of high school because once you go out into the field, you have to be able to show you know what you’re doing. Be assertive, and be confident, but also be open to constructive criticism.”

Jacob Leair, 2019 Prizewinner
Grants Pass High School – Grants Pass, OR

Mike Burris graduated from Leair’s welding program in 2016. “We learned everything from learning to use a tape measure to identifying materials and finishing techniques,” Burris said. “I learned so much, but I feel the most valuable thing Leair teaches kids is work ethic, to be honest.”  The three years of classes he took from Leair made a lasting impact, leading him to open his own local metal fabrication shop, Burris Custom Fab, in 2020. Most of the shop’s work is producing stairs and metal handrails for apartment complexes and residential housing. Burris loves the opportunity to contribute to his local community, and even employs a couple of Leair’s other graduates. “Many of his students go to work in the industry, especially in our community.”

Andrew Saweikis, 2021 Prizewinner
Rockland BOCES CTEC – West Nyack, NY

Peyton Hudson graduated from Saweikis’s welding program in 2023 after an impressive run of wins through SkillsUSA competitions. Progressing from regional to state to national competitions in 2023, he even qualified to compete at the WorldSkills Pre-Trials with the American Welding Society. Following these wins, Hudson cites Saweikis and the robust Rockland BOCES program for feeling prepared to start a career in welding, “Coming out of the program, I felt like I had a lot of knowledge, so I decided to open my own welding company and it’s been going fairly well. Mr. Saweikis taught me to always keep on task, stay dedicated, and continue to learn how to go somewhere with the knowledge you’re given.”