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Dual enrollment program sparked high school buddies to embrace welding

When Alyssa Shepherd and Christopher Newbill graduate from Wilson High School in June, they will have a credential in hand and a leg up on a promising career.

The Olive Branch neighborhood buddies, friends since they were 8-year-olds, each earned a Career Studies Certificate in Maritime Welding from Tidewater Community College. They attained the 19 credits thanks to a dual enrollment partnership between Portsmouth Public Schools and TCC.

“Yes, it’s a huge deal to walk in a college graduation before your high school one,” said Newbill, who will participate in TCC’s commencement on May 12. “Then I’ll be able to take my certificate from TCC and walk with it at Wilson.”

Newbill is hopeful of landing a job as a welder at Chesapeake tool manufacturer American GFM before he graduates.

“I did blacksmithing before that so I love working with metal,” said Newbill, a member of Tidewater Blacksmith Guild. “Being able to melt metal and put stuff together is an amazing thing to me. I love working with fire.”

Shepherd already works at her family’s business, Anchor Room, where she welds sports car accessories. She is considering attending Old Dominion University to major in marketing, but she is also considering welding as a full-time career.

“I’ve always been interested in getting my hands dirty,” said Shepherd, who grew up tinkering on cars. “I like seeing progress when I do things.”

Christopher Newbill and Alyssa Shepherd will earn Career Studies Certificates in Maritime Welding before they graduate from Wilson High School.

Neither had welded prior to junior year of high school when the pair signed up for the three-semester dual enrollment program that includes classes on the Portsmouth Campus. It’s heavily detailed work, though one plus is the lack of homework.

“Unless you have a welding lab, you can’t practice at home,” Newbill said.

That leaves time in the welding lab under the supervision of TCC’s instructors, many of whom work at local shipyards, critical for developing the proper technique.

“The first time you ever try welding you have to set yourself up for disappointment,” Shepherd said. “There’s a hump in the beginning and once you get over that, it’s trial and error. And a lot of patience. It’s mentally challenging more than anything.”

Newbill and Shepherd weld in adjoining stations at the Portsmouth Campus, venting to each other when they need to and celebrating in each other’s accomplishments. Both tout their prized welds. Shepherd keeps the tee joint she perfected in her F-250 truck and Newbill’s is his groove weld from last semester – “the first 100 on a final I’ve ever gotten,” he said.

“It’s so pretty,” Shepherd noted.

Both intend someday to achieve certification in underwater welding. They encourage anyone with the slightest interest to consider learning the trade, especially given the growing employer need.

Some 45 percent of the welding workforce is age 50 or older, according to the American Welding Society, which projects a need for more than 111,000 welders over the next five years. Wages range from $18 to more than $30 or more per hour.

“Take the first class, and if you’re good at it, you can continue,” Shepherd advised. “Try it out.”

While Shepherd and Newbill didn’t get started until their junior year at Wilson, if they had to do it over again, they might’ve started even earlier. “Start early and you can get your associate degree,” Newbill said. “Get into dual enrollment as soon as possible.”

For more information on dual enrollment opportunities and the Career Studies Certificate in Maritime Welding, contact Katina Barnes, coordinator of Dual Enrollment Academies on the Portsmouth Campus, at