The continuous drone of ventilation systems echoes across the room. The sharp scent of burning metal fills the air. Dozens of blinding sparks illuminate the welding booth as Zack Farnham’s welding torch merges metal pieces on his worktable.
As a child, Farnham used to watch one of his uncles weld at home as a hobby. He also enjoyed hearing stories of another uncle, a former Craven Community College (Craven CC) student ambassador who graduated from the B/S/H/ Apprenticeship Program and excelled at welding.
While Farnham thought it was interesting, he never thought of it as a career until Nov. 6, 2015. That was the day he discovered the welding program at Craven CC during a middle school tour. It immediately sparked his interest. Now, at just 17 years old, Farnham has discovered his passion is also a viable career choice.
“I was given the opportunity to weld hands-on for the first time ever by Eric Braddy, who is now my instructor four years later,” said Farnham. “Having that hands-on experience and listening to him talk to us about the endless welding career opportunities there were what really got me attached.”
He is in his fourth year at the Early College of Eastern Applied Sciences and Technology (EAST), or ECE. The early college program, established through a partnership with Craven CC and Craven County Schools in 2006, is divided into two branches. Craven Early College is located on the New Bern campus and ECE is on the Havelock campus.
The five-year early college program enables students to earn a high school diploma while also earning college credit. Students have the opportunity to complete the program with an associate degree in the arts, science or engineering, or 60 hours of transferable college credit toward a bachelor’s degree at a four-year university. There are also options to earn certificates, diplomas and degrees in a variety of career programs available through Craven CC.
Farnham chose the latter. He will graduate in 2021 with an associate in applied science in welding technology and hopes to join Cherry Point’s apprenticeship program for welding.
“Early College EAST has really changed my life these past few years,” he said. “I’ve had to put in a lot of work and I’ve had many stressful days, but it’s all worth it in the endgame. Now I’m doing something I enjoy—welding.”
Craven CC’s Career Programs department offers a Welding Technology program that allows students to earn a certificate, diploma or associate degree. Students receive safety instruction while working in a welding environment, interpreting welding symbols, determining the quality of welds, implementing safe and correct operation of welding equipment, improving metal fabrication skills and learning how to weld various metals in a variety of challenging positions.
Students also learn about different processes, including shielded metal arc welding, tungsten inert gas welding, metal inert gas welding, consumable and non-consumable electrode welding and cutting processes, as well as math, blueprint reading, destructive and non-destructive testing, metallurgy and welding inspection. Successful graduates of this program may find employment opportunities in welding and machine shops, construction, manufacturing, fabrication, quality control and assurance and self-employment.
The college’s Workforce Development (WFD) program also offers Welding Levels I and II, in which students can become nationally certified welders through the National Center for Construction Education and Research.
“The classes themselves are exciting for me, especially helping on projects and really getting that hands-on experience I’ve dreamt of all these years,” said Farnham. “I’ve always done good work in my normal classes, but once I can actually physically get my hands on something, I feel I can wrap my head around it easier and just let my imagination fly.”
Farnham has led three groups on a tour of the college’s welding department, two of which were for early college students. After hearing about the tours, he immediately asked Braddy if he could help demonstrate and talk about activities in the welding program. Farnham, Braddy and Ricky Meadows, dean of career programs, also led presentations about welding opportunities.
“It was awesome to be at the front of the crowd with an awesome instructor and an amazing dean,” said Farnham. “A week or so after, the middle schools came on their tours, and Mr. Braddy pulled me aside one day to present to a group of them again.”
Farnham’s favorite part about the welding program is the multitude of projects he is able to work on. He has welded a few metal racks with his class, and they are currently working on making personal tool crates for their welding booths. He is also working on a special birthday project for his father, noting that with an open imagination, welders can create just about anything.
“When I’m welding, I feel free,” he said. “It’s relaxing; it’s an art. It’s something that, thanks to Early College EAST and Craven Community College, I am able to achieve sooner in my life so that I can get where I want to go as soon as possible. We strive for achievement, and this program has given me the accessibility to endless opportunities.”
Farnham has fused a strong bond with his welding passion. He is thankful for the freedom to explore possibilities and excel at something he enjoys. Now, he is sharing that interest with others who are in the same position in which he started, hoping to instill in them the same enthusiasm for the program that is shaping his future.
“I have and will continue to recommend welding as a career choice to my fellow peers and others that I see have common interests,” he said. “I am always telling my friends and family about my experiences in welding.”
For more information on the Welding Technology program, contact Meadows at 252-638-4550. To find out about welding certification through the WFD program, contact Eddie Foster at 252-638-3919.
This article was originally published in the New Bern Sun Journal on November 6, 2019.