Preparing Tomorrow’s Welders
Eastern Wyoming College welding instructor Stan Nicolls grew up on a farm/ranch operation near Newcastle, Wyoming. “There was plenty to do when we were kids,” Nicolls said. “There were lots of chores.”
When he graduated from high school and turned 18-years-old “I needed a job,” he said. Nicolls found one, with Goshen County.
“I packed up my stuff and moved here (Torrington) in June and got married in July,” he said. “Been here ever since.”
But that wasn’t the plan. “We (Stan and his wife, Linda) said we weren’t going to stay,” Nicolls added. “We missed the Black Hills. But I worked for county for 34 years.”
During that time, he took welding courses at Eastern Wyoming College and after graduating was asked to return as an adjunct professor. “I taught on nights and Saturday for a good number of years,” Nicolls said.
The welding program at EWC was founded in 1980. Its vision was to provide a high quality and versatile basic education in welding as a foundation to build a career on.
“Stan is responsible for procurement and inventory of welding and machine shops, equipment, consumables, metal, welding, cutting gasses, welding and machine shop maintenance, equipment troubleshooting and repair,” EWC welding department director Lynn Bedient said. “He is a Certified Welding Inspector, Educator, and Weld Test Supervisor for EWC’s Weld Test Center. He teaches 26 to 30 credit hours of welding and machining classes a year, manages welding work study students, and is the sponsor of a very successful SkillsUSA team.” Nicolls’ knowledge, experience and skill sets are hard to find in one person”, Bedient said.
The welding and joining program at EWC is “well rounded,” Nicolls said. It gives students experience in almost every type of welding from stick, to pipe and beyond. “If a student wants a job more than likely they will have a job before they graduate,” Nicolls said. “We have companies come in to do a noon lunch, meet the students, share with the students about their company and what they are looking for.”
Students Nicolls has taught are working at gas companies, pipelines, power plants, heavy fabrication shops, Alaskan pipeline repair, oil rig support, railcar services, teachers, welding engineers, weld inspectors, welding instructors, coal mining, energy production and support, private business employees and owners.
Nicolls remembers one lady who graduated, worked as a welder on an Alaskan fishing boat, worked pipelines, before coming back to the Torrington area, he said.
The program offers students the opportunity to earn a one semester Plate Certificate, a two semester certificate, a four semester Welding Specialist Certificate, or a four semester AAS Degree. Students can also earn, in conjunction with the Welding and Joining Technology AAS degree a Machine Tooling Certificate.
Over the years Nicolls has watched the program grow, moving into the new CTEC building in 2017 which opens up three welding labs and a machine shop lab. There has also been an increase in the number of students.
“When I started we used the chalkboard, now it’s PowerPoint and computers . . .We also have dedicated classrooms for what we teach and dedicated labs,” he said. “Today, it is a more well-rounded technical college feel.”
There is also greater interaction between different departments at the college. One thing that hasn’t changed is the one-on-one work with individual students. “I’ve had third generation kids,” Nicolls said. “I taught grandpa, dad and now them.”
Many of his students have come into the program with some knowledge and experience, others have had none.
“Everybody has the ability, you just have to find it,” Nicolls said. “You work hard and it will come around.”
Working with the students, being able to interact with them and hear their stories is one of the biggest rewards to teaching, he said. “It also keeps you, half-way young.”