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Eight PHS students earn national certification for plate welding


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After three days of welding in Sitka under supervision of welding inspector Alan Puckett, eight PHS students earned a certification from the American Welding Society last week. PHS shop teacher Nick Popp said this is the first time PHS students have had the opportunity to take the exam, which tests students on welding together steel plates in flat, vertical and overhead positions. Certified students include (front row, from left) Cole Young, Cina Martinez, Dustin Galaktionoff and Aaron Murph. (Back row, from left) Kirk Evens, Mallory Nilsen, PHS shop teacher Nick Popp, Casey Bell, Ethan Cummins and AWS welding inspector Alan Puckett.

Petersburg High School shop teacher Nick Popp took eight students to Sitka for a three-day welding performance exam April 15-17. All eight students passed at least two of three positions tested as part of the American Welding Society's steel plate credential.

"It's a real-world test that a welder would take if they're going to work in a shipyard or work construction," Popp said. "It's not a written test, it's all just welding skills."

Students were assessed on flat, vertical and overhead steel plate welding techniques by Allen Puckett, a Certified Welding Inspector and assistant professor of welding technology at the University of Alaska Southeast in Sitka.

Puckett said he was impressed with the group's performance. "I just couldn't have been happier with them as a group," he said. "They were taught real well."

Several students said they were nervous going into the exam and were uncertain if they'd pass.

"I didn't think I was going to pass at first. It looked really challenging on paper," said senior Aaron Murph. "But then you get in and start laying the metal down. You can get a little more confident, and you kind of get on a roll."

Sophomore Casey Bell said he also had his doubts about passing. "I really wanted to pass though because I was kind of thinking this was really a one-time thing for everyone to go over there," he said.

Popp said this was the first time PHS students have had the opportunity to get certified in welding. He also said his students had to work hard during the three-day exam, which required focus, patience and attention to detail.

"It definitely takes a lot of focus. Like I told these guys, this is never a test you'll pass by accident," Popp said.

Students first made a "root pass" to fuse two steel plates together and with a backer piece. This is subject to a visual inspection for complete fusion before students can proceed to the next step, several more hours of welding to fill the groove between plates, inspecting and making necessary adjustments along the way. After the final "cap passes," the resulting welded steel is subject to another visual inspection. Passing this step means there are no defects greater than 1/8 inch.

"You've gotta then pass the destructive bend test," Popp said. "That's when your heart really starts pumpin'."

In this final quality control test strips of the welded steel are cut and bent in a hydraulic machine, revealing how well the weld holds up under pressure. Students are subject to a small margin of error: no single defect can be greater than 1/8 inch and the sum total of defects cannot be greater than 3/8 inches.

Because of these stringent requirements, Popp said, "I was expecting maybe one or two kids to pass." Instead, he said, "most everyone passed the hardest two positions, which was vertical and overhead. It was unbelievably successful."

Cina Martinez, a junior, said nerves got the best of her the first day, but she was able to pull through and pass the flat and vertical tests on days two and three. Mallory Nilsen and Dustin Galationkoff were certified for vertical, and Murph, Bell, Cole Young, Kirk Evens and Ethan Cummins were certified in vertical and overhead.

In addition to earning the certification, students said the trip was fun and "it was a great learning experience, too," Bell said.

Students each had different ideas about when and how they'll use the new credential. Murph said he plans to use it this summer working for Tamico as they rebuild the ferry terminal in Kake. Martinez said she's interested in gaining further certifications at a technical school and potentially working in underwater welding.

Popp said the test is the first of many possible certifications offered by AWS. "This is pretty much the starting point for every welder," he said.


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