By Dana Delgado
Life on a small family farm in Oklahoma taught Mike Rempe a lot.
He was handling hay and working on machines and in his words, “loved it.” It was so rewarding that when his high school Agriculture teacher approached him about becoming a part of the vocational program, saying “no” never crossed his mind. He went on to get his degree to “hopefully reach kids” just like his teacher had in Oklahoma.
For the last 15 years, Rempe has been doing just that. He has been a mainstay in the welding, building trades shop program as well as applied agriculture science in the Career and Technology Department at Liberty Hill High School. This year, in much smaller quarters but with state-of-art equipment in a new high school, Rempe leads another group of students.
“It’s a great program,” he said. “Students get to learn about small engine repair, metal fabrication, basic wiring and welding. They also get to do a lot of projects to apply their skills. Right now, the kids are working on repairing a trailer and a picnic table as well as a barbeque pit. We are always doing projects around the school and do metal art.”
Justin Becker, a senior who also played football for four years, andshowed a hog as part of Future Farmers of America as a junior, is one of those students who bought into the program four years ago.
“It’s something I was interested in trying and really liked,” said Becker. “I like seeing projects come together. I even made some metal art as a gift for my girlfriend.”
The senior said he had talked to some people and learned it was a good career choice. Coupled with his experiences in the shop program, Becker says he would like to become a welder. Following high school graduation, he says he plans to work and attend Austin Community College to take coursework toward his career.
“These have been great guys in the shop,” he said. “I have enjoyed working with them and hanging out with them.”
Brandon Jarrell says he was influenced by his uncle, who had been a welder in the US Navy, to get into the program and has always enjoyed working with his hands.
“I took the class not knowing,” Jarrell said, “but it’s really been fun. I like learning and helping out with the projects. I’ve learned a lot of real world skills.”
Jarrell hopes to become a welder or aircraft mechanic in the military.
“It’s just my calling,” he said. “I’m in the process of joining the US Marines. There’s a long line of military service in my family. It’s what I want to do.”
Another senior who has been in the trades program for four years is Alexander McClean, one of the class leaders, according to Rempe. The senior says his family background was a major reason for getting into the program.
McClean admits, however, that at the beginning he thought it might be an easy class. He was already heavily engaged in the school band as a tuba player, having played since sixth grade, and was helping out with the family business.
“Being in the shop,” however, turned out to be great experience for him he said. The senior said the projects made the program. He plans to begin his studies at Austin Community College and eventually earn a degree in business.
Another class and program leader is senior Kenny Alexander, a four-year football player and powerlifter, who readily admits he likes to work with his hands.
“I’ve learned so much since I was a freshman,” he said. “You learn something every day. It’s a good feeling to be in the shop. It’s so much fun and has been kind of a rush.”
Alexander, who has been in the program for four years, says the experience taught him the “love to work and work hard” and to help and lead others. He said he will take the life lessons learned to the real world. He plans to become an automotive mechanic.
Rempe, an NCCER certified instructor, said students earn recognized credentials upon completion of their instruction.
“It validates their knowledge,” Rempe said. “The program builds a safe sustainable workforce in careers that will never go away.”
A number of students who have completed the program have gone to advanced training or have gone to work in various fields of the industry.
“Some have gone on to work on pipelines in the oil fields,” Rempe said. “Another has become a welding inspector. All left with life skills.
“We have excellent support from administration who recognizes that there is a need for options for students,” he added. “We all want to see it continue to flourish.”