“By expanding my program from the classroom, to the lab, to industry connections; the sky’s the limit for both my students and myself. Even now after having taught more than 3,000 students, there is still not a day I don’t want to teach.”

Don Murrell runs the welding program at Garden City High School in Garden City, Kansas. He credits past teachers and trades mentors for both giving him the skills to weld his way through earning his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees, and for inspiring him to become a teacher.

Over the years, Murrell has built his program into one of the largest high school welding programs in the nation, aided by support from his school system, industry partnerships, apprenticeship opportunities for his students, and post-secondary articulation. His program serves over 100 students each year, including the children of some of his former students. His courses, which utilize curriculum by the National Center for Construction Education and Research, help students work toward college credit, certifications, apprenticeships and full-time jobs. As an American Welding Society (AWS) Certified Welding Educator and AWS Certified Welding Inspector, Murrell is able to provide the certifications to his students as well.

The school also has an Industry Advisory Council to keep up with the newest industry trends. Murrell most enjoys seeing his students learn by giving back to their local community. Students are given the freedom to choose who they want to assist and are responsible for communicating and coordinating with their contact throughout the project. They are also responsible for raising the money needed to complete the project, giving them complete ownership from beginning to end. Past successes have included restoration projects to the Windsor Historic Hotel, creating and installing handicap rails for senior citizens, and designing and constructing a mobile office for a local business.

Students who participate in Murrell’s program are set up to pursue multiple pathways upon graduation. Approximately 30 percent of his students annually go directly into industry via apprenticeships developed with numerous companies, and another 40 percent go on to postsecondary training. His established partnership with Empirical, for example, provides apprenticeships that pay students $18 per hour for part-time jobs while they go through a two-year technical program. Past graduates have also come back to visit Murrell’s class and share their experiences and current jobs, getting students excited about the many opportunities and connections ahead.

Murrell previously was a finalist for the 2017 Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence.

“I am fortunate to teach a series of courses in which students work toward certification, apprenticeships and full-time jobs. These certifications and skills help make a financial difference to the student and their future families by raising their standard of living.”