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When Rick Hastings first joined the Arkansas State University – Mountain Home Welding Technology program as an instructor in 2013, the program was little more than a two car garage with a dirt floor.
An experienced welder with years of experience underneath his belt, Hastings was switching it up, and using his knowledge to train others in an industry that he loves.
At the time of his arrival, he was told that building up the school’s welding program would take time to expand.
Little did he know that a mere decade later, the tiny welding program would boom, quadrupling in size, while helping to create an entire technical campus for mechanics and welders alike.
“We went from a two-car garage on the main campus with a dirt floor to what you see here,” said Rick Hastings, welding instructor at ASUMH. “This is the second major construction of this building. This was a Chevy dealership.”
Hastings first took up welding as a young boy, around age 11, after a farmer offered to pay him cash if he could replicate what he was doing.
The young Hastings jumped at the opportunity and took his very first steps in what would become a lifelong career.
Since that fateful day, Hastings has worked as a welder on everything from factories and pipelines. At one point, he even took up underwater welding along the bottom of the Mississippi River.
“It didn’t take me very long to realize that I didn’t have the trust in the person above to feed me air,” Hastings jokingly said. “Now clear water diving, that’s a different story. It’s fun. But when you have stuff bumping into you and you’re like what was that? Might be a catfish. Might be a log.”
Following his career switch to education, Hastings, along with the other instructors in the Welding Technology program, have devoted themselves to ensuring that the next generation of welders are ready to join the industry.
ASUMH currently offers welding classes to both high school students and college students seeking to learn how to weld. The school offers students the opportunity to receive their Certificate of Proficiency in three different types of welding, a one year Technical Certificate in welding, and a full Associates degree in welding.
Those seeking their certificates can expect to put in one semester at ASUMH, while those seeking an Associates degree can expect to put in a full two years on campus. A Technical Certificate will see students spending a year in the classroom, while covering some general education topics and courses like CAD blueprinting. High school students looking to shave time out of their college career can participate in ASUMH’s Secondary Center, which focuses on getting high school students a head start at the school’s technical center.
ASUMH’s high school to college pipeline for its welding program currently covers seven school districts within the area.
“I’ve had them literally graduate high school and only have a semester left to get their Associate degree,” Hastings said.
While attending course in the Welding Technology program, students can expect to receive hands-on instructions in shielded metal arc welding (SMAW), gas metal arc welding (MIG), and Gas Tungsten Welding (TIG).
Students were treated to a completely revamped welding workshop this semester, featuring up to 40 individual booths for students to perfect their new trade in. Each booth is equipped with all the equipment needed to learn each style of welding offered by the program.
Hastings said that the welding facility currently has around $1 million in welding equipment for students to learn and practice with. The shop also features an air duct system to remove welding fumes from the air and is currently in the process of building a new expansion for ASUMH’s new boat manufacturing program.
Students who graduate from the program can expect to earn about $16 an hour as a “green horn” in the local economy here in Mountain Home. As their experience grows and new opportunities open, welders can earn up to six figures a year by taking contracts on oil rigs, pipelines and major construction projects.
“I’ve been doing this for 28 years. I’ve never gone hungry, no matter if the economy was up or down. I’ve been through them all and I’ve never went hungry. It’s a great paying job,” Hastings said.
This semester marks a return to the classroom from Hastings following surgery complications with his hand.
He said he was excited to return to the classroom and proud of the fact that the community has continued to back the expansion of ASUMH’s welding program.
“The good Lord shined some light on me and I’m back here now,” Hastings said. “I missed my students. I learned something about myself. The trade is a wonderful thing, I love it, but I’ve come to enjoy the students. You get to actually watch them change their lives.”
For more information on ASUMH’s Welding Technology program, call 870-508-6160. ASUMH’s Technical Center is located at 4034 Highway 62 West.