Metal and sparks: welding as an art form

By Isabel Loos

Whether you are a welding professional or know absolutely nothing about the industry, the Welding Rodeo has something for everyone.
The two-day community event held May 15 and 16 at Bellingham Technical College includes a sculpture competition, a skills challenge, booths to browse representing companies in the industry and other schools, food, and fun activities for the whole family.
The Welding Rodeo is an event that brings together the people of Bellingham, various sponsors, professionals in the industry, and BTC families to build a sense of community.

“A lot of people don’t know anything about welding, so it gives them a peek into the industry,” said Don Anderson, a welding instructor at BTC.  “It’s a nice chance for the public to interact with the college.”

Welding rodeo pic
Members of a welding team work on their sculptures for the competition at the annual Welding Rodeo hosted by Bellingham Technical College. Pictured above is a metal sculpture of a salmon. Photo by Isabel Loos.

The event serves as an “active billboard” for educational opportunities at BTC. When students and people from other colleges come to the campus for the event, they leave informed about what BTC has to offer. Many of the teachers in the program are fresh out of the industry and can draw from their experiences to teach students practical skills that they are sure to use, instead of just the basics straight out of a textbook.

“Every day I push my comfort zone,” said Christina Homolka, a student in the program. “The welding program is a collection of really awesome people.”

Many students agreed that it is a great experience and a big confidence builder to go from never welding before to mastering many unique skills.

Although the event originally started to bring exposure to BTC’s programs, it has morphed more into a scholarship event in the last 14 years. The scholarships from the money raised are awarded to students in the program to help pay for their costs.

When walking around the rodeo, you will see big sculptures being built in enclosed outdoor stations that are part of the sculpture competition. The teams have 8 hours to make a sculpture from scrap that is donated by about forty sponsors. The judging of the sculptures is based off of a few things: safety, durability, artistic quality, and workmanship. Additionally, the sculptures have to incorporate the theme of the event, which this year was “Fire and Ice.” Each team was given a 300-pound block of ice to incorporate into their sculpture. Prizes for the winners include welding tools, scrap metal, and even some cash prizes.

Once finished, the sculptures are then auctioned off to the public and the proceeds go to provide scholarships to students in the welding program. There are teams made of people of all ages and skill levels from high school to professional. Some of the professional teams have been coming back to the event for over 10 years.

Welders weld at BTC Welding Rodeo.
Bellingham Technical College students in the welding program work on their project for the skills challenge at the annual Welding Rodeo May 15 and 16. Photo by Isabel Loos.

“It’s kind of like a family reunion,” said Wendy Reidy, the Welding Rodeo coordinator. “It’s great to get to see everyone once a year.”

However, the sculpture competition isn’t the only event going on. There is also a skills challenge, which provides an opportunity for people of all ages and skill levels to try their hand at various challenges. In addition, the public could also try out the free welding booth assisted by student welders. There is fun for people who are experienced in one area and want to try something different, or for someone who has never made a weld in their life to try for the first time.

“It’s cool that all the stuff we learn can be shown to the public,” said Kristina Alvaran, a welding student, adding that her favorite part of her first year in the welding program has been preparing for the rodeo.

The Welding Rodeo is clearly not an event to miss out on, but if it is too late, there is always next year. Many people return every year and look forward to it for months.

“I’m kind of addicted to it I guess,” said Reidy when asked about planning the event, adding that it is always worth the effort that everyone from the students to the community puts into it.

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