Whether it’s helping Navy SEALs with tactical training, supporting the U.S. Department of Homeland Security with bomb-dog instruction, or assisting local firefighters with scenario-based exercises, the USS Midway Museum has long provided the ship as an unparalleled platform to help military units and first responders develop critical real-world skills.

The ship’s education department has advanced Midway to the next level as an important community asset by partnering with the San Diego College of Continuing Education (SDCCE) on a pilot program to help welding students.

As part of SDCCE’s tuition-free welding certificate program, students are now gaining practical experience while contributing to the restoration of Midway.

“San Diego College of Continuing Education’s welding department has long made an impact in the community of Southeastern San Diego,” said Tina King, president of SDCCE. “We are proudly embarking on the critical work to preserve the USS Midway Museum, a landmark of our great nation.”

Students selected for the Midway pilot program are enrolled in advanced shielding metal arc welding or gas metal and flux cored arc welding courses. The courses are taught by master welder Brad Dorschel.

An SDCCE welding student prepares a new railing for Midway.

“The benefit for the students being on the Midway is they’re exposed to an environment we can’t recreate in the lab,” said Brad, who is also a SDCCE faculty member and the program chairman for all skilled and tech trades. “They work on projects we can’t simulate that offer them hands-on training. To see them succeed and be so well equipped to go out into the workforce and achieve living-wage jobs, career paths with tremendous growth and opportunity is the most fulfilling thing for me.”

Ariana Espinoza is one of the welding students training on Midway.  Although the path to become a welder wasn’t always clear, she’s now excited to be following in her grandfather’s footsteps, a former welder at the National Steel and Shipbuilding Company (NASSCO) in San Diego.

“I did not know what I wanted to do, but I was always passionate about learning how to weld and I know this industry needs more women,” said 23-year-old Ariana. “By learning here on the Midway, I want my career to take off and that I am making my grandpa proud.”

Welding is one of the highest paying skilled trades in the country. In San Diego County, welders are annually earning more than $73,000 on average, according to the California Employment Development Department, which projects nearly 43,000 job openings for welders and similar professions over the next decade.

SDCCE and Midway have plans to expand the partnership to more students enrolled in the college’s HVAC and plumbing certificate programs this year.

“This program is exceeding all of our expectations,” said Tina Chin, Midway’s director of education. “It gives Midway an opportunity to be connected to our community, to be of service, to create safe and real-world spaces to learn, to provide mentorship and support, and bolster the trades in an industry in dire need of workers. The students themselves also get the opportunity to be part of a historic icon like Midway and have a key role in the ship’s preservation for years to come. It’s a win-win for all those involved.”

The pilot program quickly proved to be a tremendously successful training initiative and very beneficial for each of the welding students.

“Welding is almost like an art because it’s about your hand movements,” said Liam McGeheath, a 24-year old student who views the museum as more than just an important training ground. “A lot of people come to the Midway when they are in San Diego, so it’s cool to know that my work and the projects we tackled will be here for a majority of the life of the ship.”

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