- J.T. Crawford
The Arc of Education
Morgan Mayo and Ethan Rix know the difference the Innovation Hub can make. Both have been welding for three years. The first two years of their education was at the old trade school. Now, they are capping off their senior year at the Hub.
“We are working with all new technology,” says Morgan. “It’s taken a while to get used to, but it will be good to have this experience.”
The pair highlight just one of many possible paths afforded by an education at the Hub.
Ethan will graduate high school, fully prepared to enter the workforce with a good-paying job. “I’ll get my certification here,” he says, “and I plan to join the local millwright union.” There, he will be an apprentice, earn additional certifications, and get an associate’s degree through the union.
Morgan will continue his welding education at a school in Tulsa, Oklahoma, earning the same additional certifications in school. “I’ll be done in seven months. I really want to do pipeline work in Texas. This welding program and Mr. Wilber taught me a trade that, in my freshman year, I didn’t even know that could happen.”
“This program and all the other programs are good for kids who may not know exactly what they want to do or they don’t have people in their lives giving strong direction,” adds Ethan. “They can do something like this and do their own thing.”
“And for those not great at academics,” says Morgan, “but they want to make something of themselves, they can take one of these trades. It’ll get you somewhere, and you can make some big bucks.”
Even though the Hub offers students the best of the best when it comes to equipment and technology, welding instructor Brandon Wilber is an example of the difference instructors can make. “Mr. Wilber is a mentor,” says Morgan. “He helps with job placements. He’s advised me. I talked to Mr. Wilber about going to school in Oklahoma, and he let me know it was a great idea if I wanted to go down to the pipeline. He’s helped us a lot through the years.”
Mr. Wilber’s passion for his vocation and the students is always evident. “It can change lives,” he says. “I see some kids come from impoverished backgrounds, and I let them know that if they aren’t satisfied with life right now, they have the opportunity to change that. I’ve seen it. I have former students who are now about 21, and they are buying their own homes. I let my students know life is all about choices.”
Once they reach their senior year, Mr. Wilber, who has already been preparing them for adult life, helps them make the transition after graduation, doing things like mentoring them in creating meaningful resumes that catch the attention of employers.
Like Morgan and Ethan, Mr. Wilber came over from the old vocational school. “I started in 2016,” he says. “Enrollment had fallen, and there were about 25 kids in the program. I went through all this equipment that was 40 to 50 years old. I got established with the kids and then we came over to the Hub. The new shop opened a whole new world. I can teach on updated equipment. And I still have some of the older stuff. So they can learn on just about anything, and that helps them step into just about any job anywhere.”
Mr. Wilber’s engagement and recruitment efforts since 2016 have paid off. He’s presented at events for middle-school-aged students, letting them take a go with a virtual welder. “I just want to plant a seed to check it out so they can see if it might be for them. I see the results now. Some of the kids starting the program remember me from middle school. And I want to make this as diverse a program as possible. I try to get the girls involved. I’ve had few in the program, and honestly, they make some of the best welders.”
Now, the program is running at 65 plus students. “We’re now having to set requirements for students wanting to get into the program because we can’t get everyone in at the moment,” says Mr. Wilber. “It’s been good. The biggest thing is to teach these kids a skill they can take anywhere in the world and make a living at it. My goal is to help as many kids as I can and that they are as successful as possible.”