A Walker County Schools student enrolled in the system’s Walker LAUNCH Dual Enrollment partnership with Georgia Northwestern Technical College (GNTC) recently boosted his commitment to the welding profession.
When LaFayette High School student Garrett Rollins graduates May 27 with his diploma, he will already have multiple welding certificates and a full-time job waiting for him at a Metro Boiler Tube, where he currently works part-time. Walker County Schools and GNTC officials hosted a ceremony on May 5 in which Rollins signed a job offer from Metro; the signing was in conjunction with SkillsUSA National Signing Day, which celebrates high school seniors and college/postsecondary students who have chosen to pursue a career as a professional in any of the skilled trades.
“At age 14 my uncle, who was already a welder, said, ‘You will be a welder,’” Rollins said, explaining that his uncle spotted his aptitude early on. “Welding is something you either can or can’t do. It is mostly based on skills and the patience to learn. The knowledge clicked immediately that this would be my career.”
Rollins was also Walker County Schools’ first student to compete in the regional high school welding competition for SkillsUSA. He said he found the competition in December 2021 “nerve-racking.”
He took his time, stayed calm and focused on doing what he needed to do. “It’s all about quality, not speed,” he explained.
“Once my welding hood drops, I just think about that next weld,” he said.
He admits he sometimes still experiences frustration that he takes longer to prep his work than more experienced welders do to prep their welds, he said. His coworkers encourage him by reminding him that he will get faster with more experience.
Professional knowledge and personal growth are goals of the Walker LAUNCH program, said Julie Portwood, coordinator of Secondary Instruction and Walker LAUNCH for Walker County Schools.
“Garrett learned time management, advocated for himself and set himself apart as a leader among his peers,” Portwood said. “His communication skills have improved. He now knows the right way to say what needs to be said.”
The high school senior has several professional goals. After earning his high school diploma, he will take six welding classes this fall and expects to earn his welding diploma from GNTC in either fall 2022 or spring 2023, he said.
Rollins takes all of his classes on GNTC’s Walker County Campus in Rock Spring. He said that environment differs from a traditional high school because “college treats you like an adult, not a high school kid.”
While college instructors expect more of their students, his welding instructors believe he has delivered in the Walker LAUNCH program.
“If Garrett doesn’t know how to do something, he will learn how to do it,” said Tayler Davidson, instructor of Welding and Joining Technology at GNTC. “He’s trustworthy, dedicated and very respectful. He listens well, follows directions and is everything an instructor is looking for in a student.”
Jeremiah Cooper, program director and instructor of Welding and Joining Technology at GNTC, said as an early graduate of the Walker LAUNCH program, Rollins demonstrates to other students that they, too, can take college and high school classes simultaneously so that they can enter the workforce at a high wage.
“As a business decision, dual enrollment is a no brainer,” Cooper said.
SkillsUSA National Signing Day celebrates high school seniors and college/postsecondary students who have chosen to pursue a career as a professional in any of the skilled trades,” according to skillsusa.org. “Local SkillsUSA chapters are encouraged to host a signing day event by inviting business partners, school administrators, teachers, elected officials, SkillsUSA alumni, family and friends to honor students signing ‘letters of intent’ for a job offer, apprenticeship or advanced technical training.”
Dual enrollment courses are free to Walker County juniors and seniors. Tuition is paid for through the program’s funding, books are provided and most of the related fees are covered.
Since the Walker LAUNCH program kick off in 2018, students have earned a total of 64 certificates and the necessary industry certifications and soft skills to go directly into a job, Portwood said. Career pathways include Automotive Technology, Air Conditioning Technology, Welding and Joining Technology, Logistics and Supply Chain Management, Networking Specialist, Allied Healthcare, Medical Assisting and Cosmetology.
For more information on Walker LAUNCH, go to https://sites.google.com/walkerschools.org/readyforwork/launch?authuser=0.