January 26, 2024
Rylan Pinkham, Dover high school senior, will earn his certificate in welding from Great Bay Community College while still in high school through their Early College program.

When Great Bay Community College awards welding certificates this spring, a half-dozen students receiving them will have just graduated from high school.

In a unique partnership with Dover High School, Great Bay’s Early College program welcomed the cohort of seniors in the college welding program after they had completed all the high school welding classes available to them.

Stephanie Riotto, Great Bay’s Early College coordinator, worked with Dover High School welding instructor Nicole Witham to arrange the students’ early release at 11 a.m. to attend welding classes two afternoons a week at Great Bay’s Rochester campus. In addition, Great Bay restructured its sequence of classes so the high school students could complete all three by the time they received their high-school diplomas.

“They are taking the third and final welding class we offer in the spring, and as soon as they graduate from high school, we will give them their welding certificate,” Riotto said. “They will graduate from high school with a completed welding certificate from Great Bay.”

Some of the students are also interested in taking Computer Numeric Control (CNC) courses at Great Bay. In doing so, they can accumulate credits toward a second certificate or associate degree, or both.

Great Bay’s Early College program allows high school and home-schooled students to take college-credit courses that satisfy high school graduation requirements and that count toward degree requirements at Great Bay and colleges and universities nationwide. At the same time, they acquire skills that will benefit them in the workplace.

The Dover welders embody the potential of the program.

“They are learning work-based skills while earning credits toward their college certificate,” said Witham, who credited Great Bay for accommodating Dover High’s schedule. “To make this work, Great Bay catered to our start times and our semester schedule, and they worked with our guidance counselors so all the students could have early release and go to college.”

For these students, the Great Bay welding program is “a nice segue into the real world,” she said. The students are getting a step up on the job market with their Great Bay education, which makes them even more employable when they graduate.

“They go into the workforce with much more experience than a high school graduate with little experience,” Riotto said. “They are smart kids for taking advantage of this.”

Students who continue their college education are closer to completing their goals. Rylan Pinkham, one of the Dover high school seniors, is among them. Based on his positive experience with welding, he enrolled in Great Bay’s two-year associate degree program, which means he will have one more year to go by the time he earns his high school diploma and welding certificate this spring.

Upon graduation, he intends to work as a pipe welder or welder of exhaust systems on automobiles. Long term, he hopes to operate his own welding business. “I don’t know what that business will consist of, but I know I want to be a self-employed welder,” he said, noting that he is taking a business class at Great Bay as part of his associate degree in addition to welding. “The class is very informative, and I feel like it will put me in a much better spot to reach my career goals.”

Pinkham credits Witham’s high-school welding classes for setting him up for success and Great Bay’s program for helping him visualize his future. “My high school welding instructor set a great base for my welding career with a good solid understanding of the trade. But my certificate has helped me really hone my welding skills and put me in a much better place to go out directly into the field.”

Tristan Nash, also a Dover high school senior, said he appreciated the opportunity to learn more about a trade that he’s been around much of his life. “My grandfather and uncle use a lot of heavy machinery, and every once in a while, they have to weld on the machines and fix them,” he said.

He’s unsure about his career track, but he knows it will be better with his time at Great Bay. “Having the experience and certificate will definitely be a big help in the future,” he said.

Great Bay’s Early College program also works with welding students at Portsmouth High School and Seacoast School of Technology in addition to Dover. What makes the partnership with Dover unique is the large cohort of students who participated at once and Great Bay’s ability to accommodate their schedules.

Riotto hopes it serves as a pilot for partnerships with other schools. “We are hoping to repeat this model, so any student from any high school who has been able to get an introduction to welding can take advantage of it.”

Pinkham urged his peers to do so.

“Great Bay has been nothing but accommodating of me and my school and work schedule,” he said. “It makes learning something new easy when people around you are understanding and care about what they are teaching you. My experience at Great Bay has shown me nothing less than exactly that.”