North Westmoreland student wins state welding competition and advances to national

Kiski Area High School junior Grace Wilferd showcased her welding knowledge to win big in a competition this past weekend in Hershey.

Wilferd, 16, of Allegheny Township won first place in the welding demonstration contest at the SkillsUSA State and Leadership Conference, held April 6-8.

Additionally, she received a $2,500 scholarship to the Pennsylvania College of Technology.

Wilferd is in his second year of the welding technology program at North Westmoreland Career and Technology Center in New Kensington, which also educates vo-tech high school students from Burrell, Franklin Regional and New Kensington-Arnold. SkillsUSA is a national, nonprofit organization that promotes vocational and technical training.

During the three-day competition, Wilfred’ demonstration was judged on the elements required to become a qualified bridge welder. It was his first competition at the state level.

While audiences might view welding as a purely technical skill, Wilferd takes a creative approach. “I fell in love with the art of welding,” she said.

She loves to listen to classical music when she lights her welding torch. “I love ballet music. It helps me stay calm and breathe,” she said, adding that she also enjoys painting in acrylics.

Wilfred has earned multiple welding certifications from the American Welding Society Bridge Welding Code. She is qualified to create flat, horizontal and vertical welds with the shielded arc welding process (stick welding).

With his victory at the state level, Wilferd will represent North Westmoreland this summer, competing with 6,500 other students from across the United States at the 58th Annual National Leadership and Skills Conference Championships on 20 to June 24 in Atlanta.

“I had my doubts, but when they called my name I was thrilled,” Wilferd said. She said it had been 17 years since a student from the Kiski region had competed at the national level.

Wilferd said her father encouraged her to consider a career in the trades. Some of her friends were shocked when she decided to pursue a career in welding.

“They said they would never have guessed it. But I’m not a girly type girl,” Wilferd said. “My dad did trades—motorcycle mechanics—so he knew it would be best for me than having all the college debt.”

Wilferd thinks some people have misconceptions about enrolling in high school trades.

“You don’t have to go to college to be happy. Trading is really fun. I understand it’s not for everyone, but I feel like a lot of people look down on trades,” Wilferd said.

North Westmoreland Career and Technology Center welding instructor George Kirk praised Wilferd’s work ethic, describing her as a hard worker with a positive attitude.

“Kids like Grace are the backbone of our country,” Kirk said. “She has an eye for detail and is very mature.”

He pointed out that welding is a viable career choice, with salaries ranging from $40,000 to $100,000, depending on individual welding skills and experience.

Northern Westmoreland enrolls 67 students in the welding technology program, including 10 women.

Chad Roland, principal of Kiski Area High School, said he had the opportunity to observe Wilferd’s welding skills.

“Grace is a great example of a student performing at a high level at NWCTC and here at Kiski Area High School,” Roland said. “We are so proud of his accomplishments and look forward to his future successes.”

Wilfred said his career plans could focus on underwater welding.

“There’s a huge demand for underwater welders,” Wilferd said.

Joyce Hanz is editor of Tribune-Review. You can contact Joyce at 724-226-7725, or via Twitter .

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