Ag Pride 2023 | Welding Students Fund Program Through Projects

Callie Hanson for Tri-State Livestock News

In the heart of cow/calf country, Valentine, Nebraska FFA is no stranger to the needs of the ranching community in which they live. Situated in the largest cow/calf county in the country, students in the welding program have the unique opportunity to serve their neighbors all the while funding and earning valuable certifications in the process.  

Students in the Valentine FFA welding program work together on a year long project to help fund their program. Pictured are Sage Schrunk, Cole Simon, Bryan Keller, Jack Lancaster. Courtesy photo. 

According to FFA Advisor and Welding Instructor Brent Nollette, the program hosts about 70 students each year, with about nine of them being a part of the program’s capstone welding course. Students in this course have the opportunity to sit for a certificate test at the end of the school year. However, with all expenses factored in, this test can cost up to $600 per student.  

“The funds from selling these projects go directly towards the cost of taking the welding certificate exam,” Nollette says. “This year we had seven students sit for the exam and I am proud to note all seven students passed the exam and will have their welding certificate.” 

To help offset this cost, students build projects throughout the year? 
to sell locally. Given the density of farming and ranching in the area, many of these project.s cater to the needs of that community. For the 2022-2023 school year, the students chose to build a load out chute.  

“We are in a ranching community in the largest cow/calf county in the country. We are located about nine miles from the South Dakota border so we base a lot of our projects off of local needs,” says Nollette. “The load out chute we built this year is the first project we have offered on an online auction platform so we are excited to get a national audience interested in our project.” 

According to Nollette, they have done similar projects in the past including trailers, portable panels, and even a branding trailer.  

“One year when we had a really small group, we built just the cattle panels and then bought a trailer for the panels to sit on,” he says. “Other years we have just built stand-alone panels. It really just depends on the year.” 

The load out chute built by the 2022-2023 welding students will be sold on the Big Iron auction platform. Proceeds will help offset the cost of the welding students’ certification exams. Courtesy photo. 

“Steel prices went up and that has made things a little more complicated. I got some drill stems last year at a reasonable price and bought them ahead of time. I told the students we had to use that for whatever project they decided on. A lot of years we have to make those choices based on what types of materials we have in the shop and what kids are in the class. This year we had a great group.” 

Senior Bryan Keller explained they decided as a class what they wanted to do and began planning their project early in the year. 

“Mr. Nollette just oversees what we do and it’s up to us to figure the rest out,” Keller says. “We started by researching measurements for load out chute and got our plan together, then we just jumped into it. Two of the guys in our class have a grandpa who owns a welding shop where I worked last summer so we had a decent idea of what we wanted to do and how we wanted to go about the project.” 

“This year we just did one big project, but depending on the group, we may choose to do a handful of smaller projects throughout the year. We are a very small school so most of the students are involved in other activities and it can get tricky getting things done in a 45 minute class period.” 

Although not all students in the class will pursue careers in welding, the certificate can greatly benefit them down the road.  

“About half of the kids in our senior welding class will pursue careers in welding after high school,” he says. “Even if they don’t, they can take this certificate to a shop and have a good paying job while they are in school for other things. If nothing else, that certificate adds a couple dollars per hour to their pay.”  

The value of this program is not lost on the students.  

Senior Jack Lancaster notes even if students in the class don’t plan on welding full time, they can still gain a lot of good experience and skills from the class. 

Following graduation, Lancaster has a scholarship from a South Dakota-based company to pursue a degree in progressive welding technology from Mitchell Technical School. Following graduation, he will pursue a career welding mining equipment.  

Logan Witte will also be pursuing further welding education at Mitchell Technical School. 

“The welding certificate lasts for six months before it needs to be renewed,” he explains. “I work in my grandpa’s shop and plan to do that until I leave for school.”  

Witte will be pursuing a career testing welds with ultrasonic equipment.  

Even students who plan on pursuing four-year degrees and careers outside of welding can reap the benefits of this program.  

Senior Lee Major is pursuing degrees in agribusiness and agronomy upon graduation from Valentine High School.  

“Even though I know I don’t want to weld full time, these are skills I see myself using in the future,” he says. “I plan to get a job in a welding shop to help fund my college degree and having the certificate is super helpful.” 

Valentine FFA welding students Cole Simon, Jack Lancaster, Payton Witte, Logan Witte, Lee Major, Bryan Keller, Austyn Kieborz were all named certified welders after passing their certification exam. Courtesy photo. 

For more information on supporting Valentine FFA, contact Brent Nollette at The load out chute will be available at the May 10 Big Iron Sale at  

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