Area high school welders compete in Ridgewater 2021 SkillsFest Distant Version
May 18, 2021
WILLMAR and HUTCHINSON, MN – Testing your technical skills is a great way to celebrate what you know and build awareness of greater possibilities.
When the global COVID-19 pandemic put a halt to large group events like the popular Ridgewater SkillsFest, Ridgewater College Welding instructors took their technical contests on the road to seven interested high schools. More than 30 students participated in the 2021 SkillsFest Distant Version, with 12 students earning award recognition while first-place winners also earned $1,000 Ridgewater College Foundation scholarships.
Participating schools included Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City (ACGC), Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa (BBE), Eden Valley-Watkins (EVW), Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg (KMS), New London-Spicer (NLS), Sauk Centre, and Willmar.
Ridgewater faculty visited the schools, provided demonstrations and instructions, distributed tacked together weldments for the competition, and shared a bit about the Ridgewater Welding program. Each school was invited to select two competitors in each welding category. Students had two weeks to perform a print reading test and complete the designated weldment. Ridgewater faculty then collected the projects for judging by Ridgewater Welding students.
Earning top welding honors were:
Gas Metal Arc Welding (GMAW, mig/wire): 1st – Jake Elliott, KMS; 2nd – Hayden Larson, NLS; 3rd – Ben Clark, KMS
Gas Tungsten Arc Welding (GTAW, Tig): 1. Nick Rohlik, NLS; 2. Derek Lueze, Willmar; 3. Alec Larson, NLS
Stick Metal Arc Welding (SMAW): 1. Chris Stadther, Sauk Centre; 2. Charlie Haug, KMS; 3. Brad Hastling, Willmar
Oxy Acetylene Welding (OAW): 1. Gavin Johnson, NLS; 2. Dylan Medford, NLS; Caden Carlson, Willmar
“This year’s distant version of SkillsFest turned out to be a great event and way to involve both high school and college welders,” said Cody Sarsland, Ridgewater Welding instructor. “High schoolers accepted the technical skill challenges and college welders developed their eye for excellent welding as they judged the projects.”
During a typical SkillsFest event, 250-300 career and technical education students from about 20 schools compete in a wide variety of technical challenges at Ridgewater. Skills might include anything from changing tires or painting car parts to taking photographs, drafting parts, or creating electrical circuits.
Although the 2021 Distant Version of SkillsFest had about 30 welding competitors compared to the normal 60-80, Sarsland said the event was a great success. “We had a good time making a more personal connection by visiting the students at their schools during the initial steps of the event. It was fun showing them techniques on how to set up and adjust their equipment and welding positioning, and showing them professional-looking welds made with all kinds of equipment.”
“This was a great activity,” said Neil Pearson, Willmar High School agriculture shop instructor. “Something good came out of COVID. This contest also helped prepare my team for the Minnesota State FFA Agricultural Mechanics contest. Thank you, Cody!”
Craig Dischinger of KMS agreed. “Students were disappointed last year when SkillsFest was cancelled,” he said. “When the opportunity arose this year for a modified SkillsFest, the students said, ‘Yes!’ They were super excited to compete in the contest this year.”
Many involved said it was a real win for students.