What was once an old, greasy, run-down trailer with rotted floors, is now the newest workforce training mobile lab for high school welding students in Columbus County. A ribbon cutting ceremony was held July 31 on campus to celebrate its restoration and Southeastern Community College’s expansion into the county.
“We’ve been really excited to partner with Columbus County Schools,” said SCC Executive Vice President Dr. Sylvia Cox. “It’s been amazing this journey we’ve been on since Dr. English has been here to reimagine everything and take workforce education on the road.”
SCC President Dr. Chris English discovered a trailer in disarray on campus and in need of repair. Cox explained that welding instructor Paul Starnes and his students repaired the floors, reskinned the exterior and equipped the trailer with the tools necessary to teach welding classes. With the help of Gore Trailers making repairs to the brakes, lights and roof, the trailer was ready for class use.
“It’s probably 90-plus percent student done,” Starnes said. “This is a product of the students here at Southeastern Community College. Thanks to Dr. English and Angie Ransom for finding the time, finding the money and allowing us to do this.”
Starnes explained that space was a barrier to teaching welding classes to high school students. With six welding stations inside the trailer, Starnes said that was no longer an issue.
“With the support of our county commissioners, we’re going to be able to go to each of our high schools,” Cox said. “We know from research that when students get a chance to dip their toes into a college course and get that college feel before they graduate high school, they are way more likely to persist and actually come to the college.”
Dr. English explained that the welding lab will help high school students expand on the welding skills they may already have or help them figure out if that is right career path.
“The one critical piece that had to happen in order for this to work was the support from our county commissioners, our County Manager Eddie Madden and working with the schools in making sure we were able to get in there,” English said.
The county commissioners allocated $100,000 to build power stations at East, West, South Columbus High schools and Whiteville High School for the welding trailer to plug in and use the school’s electricity to power the trailer. Starnes advised English on having this power access because costly generators would not fit on the trailer.
“Had we not had that, we would not be looking at this trailer today,” English said. “This has created a workforce pipeline right before your very eyes.”
SCC Foundation Board President and owner of Gore Trailers Brett Gore said he was impressed with the repair work of the SCC students and having to make minimal touches on it. He said he was excited to see the result of an old trailer “stuck in the woods.”
“From the county schools’ standpoint, we are very pleased with the partnership we’ve been working on with Southeastern Community College for three years now,” said Tom McLam, Career and Technical Education Department director. “We now have approximately 25 courses in our high schools that we’ve worked with the Southeastern staff to articulate agreements with. That means that our kids can go straight from high school to college, get college credit and earn credentials to go straight into the workforce.”
McLam described the welding lab as a “game changer” and the continued programming from CCS to SCC as a “seamless flow.”
The welding lab courses will launch this fall at South Columbus High School.