Training & Education

Welding Without Borders

By Lynn Stanley

Professor crosses cultural and geographical boundaries to bring skills to young people

September 2012 - When it comes to metal fabrication, Samuel Colton, Sr., a professor at Arizona Western College, Yuma, Ariz., professor with more than 30 years of experience, is capturing the imaginations of his students by drawing on the excitement of a NASCAR event and the elements of a reality show. Coordinator for the college’s welding and manufacturing processes and technical programs, Colton founded Welders Without Borders in 2000 to provide an environment where members of the welding community could share their experiences with students.


Welders Without Borders is based on Colton’s belief that knowledge has no physical or geographic borders. The program attracts welding professionals from around the world who are eager to advance manufacturing by passing on the secrets of their skills to young people.

Growth keys

“Some say the way to stabilize the economic climate is to cut spending,” says Colton. “I believe the only way we will truly move past this recession is to increase growth. The way we grow is through our young people, by getting them excited and motivated about welding and other fabrication skills.” Colton nurtures interest into passion through a variety of activities like the biannual Welders Without Borders program. This year’s theme is Welding Thunder Welding Fabrication Team Invitational. The invitational is held on the college’s main campus and open to professional, college and high school welding fabricators.

One of Colton’s early projects, Fix My Ride—a take-off on the reality show “Pimp My Ride”— charged a team of students with the task of transforming the campus photographer’s broken-down golf cart into a custom, state-of-the-art ride. The team stripped the cart of its doors and roof and fabricated a 50s-style steering wheel and hot-rod foot pedal out of a solid piece of aircraft-quality billeted aluminum. A sleek custom grill made from ¼ in. diameter .095-in. thick wall steel replaced the boxy look of the original piece. An AM/FM radio with CD changer and speakers were molded into a custom fiberglass headliner.

welding-borders090412-lead2The team also fabricated a safari rack and roll bar, machined a custom wheel adapter and made plans to build a new suspension high enough off the ground to help the cart clear sand dunes situated near the college’s volleyball area. Maroon paint with gold flames and metal fleck finished the look.

“Part of what makes our program unique is that we combine welding and manufacturing technology skills,” says Colton. “We have an integrated training center that requires students to take courses that include CNC machine shop and AutoCAD software as well as shielded metal arc welding, gas tungsten art welding, gas metal arc welding, welding design and fabrication and quality control and inspection.”

Integrated training

The college recently received a $4.3 million Science, Technology, Engineering and Math grant for its automotive and welding programs. The funds will allow Colton to expand the center to include robotic technology, welding simulators, additional CNC and increased use of state-of-the-art pulsed and multi-processed inverter power sources produced by American manufacturers.

Colton’s Welders Without Borders programs have enjoyed support in the U.S. and South America from the Soldexsa Corp. headquartered in Lima Peru as well as industry partners such as Lincoln Electric, Miller Electric, ESAB, Thermadyne Holding and MK Products. This year’s invitational, to be held in October, will challenge teams to build a themed barbeque with a twist.

In addition to traditional students, one of the Welding Thunder teams will be made up of four military veterans who have enrolled at the institute. Working off a drawing, each team must complete the project using equipment they bring to the event. A special piece of material will be given to each team to be incorporated as a secret “component.”

Teams work from their Welding Thunder road rig using one oxy-fuel torch or plasma cutter powered by a single engine-driver welder. Projects must be completed within a specified timeframe. Awards will be determined by a panel of judges as well as audience votes.

“On Friday, teams will have piles of steel,” says Colton. “They will literally fabricate magic and make some of the coolest grills you can find. The clincher is that by noon Saturday they have to actually cook a meal on their grill.”

The event will include breakout sessions where participants can meet with industry leaders. “It’s our hope that these students will want to continue their education and become part of the American manufacturing family,” says Colton. “Our program also supports extracurricular activity for students as members of the American Welding Society Student Chapter and the SkillsUSA Student Chapter.

A model

In addition to the upcoming invitational, Colton’s AWC SkillsUSA team will be competing in the Skills USA National Welding Fabrication Contest in Kansas City, Mo. “We are also making plans to put on a Boy Scout welding merit badge clinic and we’ll have an education booth at Fabtech 2012 in Las Vegas,” says Colton. “We have a lot of activity here at the campus,” says Colton. “We’re not your run-of-the-mill welding program. There’s interaction between young and older students. We actually have some of our first graduates, from 1967, who are still involved with our program.”

Colton is taking his message beyond the campus where he works. He’s travelled as an unpaid volunteer to Bolivia and Peru and is the only American welding educator invited to be a presenter at the 2012 CESOL Spanish Welding Association conference in Madrid later this year. Colton is presenting the American education model for welding and will work with teachers and welders while in Spain as a welder without borders.

Colton also wants to expand the boundaries of the campus invitational competition. “We look at the Welding Thunder Welding Fabrication team concept as an intramural activity,” he says. “We want this activity to be for welding students what NASCAR is to race car drivers. It’s got technology, competition and sponsors. We’d love to take the invitational to other campuses—like a football team that has home and away games. Competition is the life blood of America, but one of our core values is belief in oneself, and this is the message we want to instill in all our students and the young people that participate in our activities.” FFJ



  • Arizona Western College, Main Campus
    Yuma, Ariz. 
    phone: 928/317-6000


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