Penn College women welders help serve the greater good

WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — Three talented female welding students from Pennsylvania College of Technology didn’t win their national competition, but the result of their effort will endure much longer than the shine of any medal.

A rocket stove manufactured by welding and fabrication engineering technology students Erin M. Beaver, of Winfield; Joelle E. Perelli, of Bath; and Natalie J. Rhoades, of Weedville, earlier this summer at the SkillsUSA National Championships in Louisville, Kentucky, is in the process of being donated to a family in the developing world. 

“You don’t realize what you have until you find out what other people don’t have. That made me appreciate the competition even more,” Rhoades said.

WaterStep, a Louisville nonprofit dedicated to enhancing access to safe water, teamed with SkillsUSA to earmark all the rocket stoves produced during the welding fabrication competition for international distribution. Rocket stoves are small, efficient and eco-friendly stoves used for individual cooking.

The organization is working with its network of international partners to determine the most useful destination for the stoves and to coordinate the distribution.

“Realizing that with my trade I can do something for others is a cool thing to think about. It gave me a separate sense of pride besides the competition,” Perelli said.

The competition gave teams approximately six hours to build a rocket stove based on blueprints and materials provided on-site. Penn College — the only all-female team competing in the event — finished seventh out of 23 entrants with their 31-inch-high stove made mostly of carbon steel.

“The time went by fast. It felt more like three hours,” Rhoades said. “The competition built character, that’s for sure.”

“We had to control our nerves and emotions,” Beaver said. “It definitely helped us experience working under pressure.”

“We had to make decisions quickly. If something didn’t go as planned, we had to figure out the next best way forward,” Perelli said. “I think that skill is invaluable.”

As the only all-female welding team, the Penn College trio received significant attention during the national championships, which showcased the nation’s best career and technical education students. They were interviewed by several outlets, including the WorldSkills podcast.

The team qualified for nationals by winning district and state competitions.

“We are very proud of the performance of our welding fabrication team at all levels of SkillsUSA competition,” said David R. Cotner, dean of Penn College’s School of Industrial, Computing & Engineering Technologies. “Natalie, Joelle and Erin did an outstanding job representing their school and future profession. They also are excellent role models for young women interested in technical fields.”

The team members believe they could have done better than seventh at nationals and admit that they were initially disappointed in the standings. But the true result of the competition makes them smile today.

“Once we got to WaterStep and saw all the rocket stoves sitting on pallets and it was explained to us where they were going and how they were going to be used, it completely changed our perspective,” Perelli said.

“You usually don’t have too many opportunities to help people far away. It was a small thing that we made, but it will impact a family more than we can imagine,” Beaver said.

In addition to a bachelor’s degree in welding and fabrication engineering technology, Penn College offers associate degrees in welding technology and metal fabrication technology and a certificate in welding.

This fall, the college plans to break ground on an approximately 30,000-square-foot expansion to its welding instructional facility. The expansion will enable the college to increase traditional fall semester welding enrollment by up to 60 students.

For information about the welding program and other majors offered by the School of Industrial, Computing & Engineering Technologies, call 570-327-4520 or visit www.pct.edu/icet.

Penn College is a national leader in applied technology education and workforce development. Visit www.pct.edu, email admissions@pct.edu or call toll-free 800-367-9222.

Last Updated August 31, 2018