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Students with the Fremont High School Welding Academy recently competed in a welding competition at the Fort Omaha Campus at Omaha’s Metropolitan Community College — and they returned with impressive results.

Of the eight students who competed, five placed in the top 10, and Fremont students scored first and second place.

Devin Roschewski placed in first and Zach Strobel placed in second. Meanwhile, students Ivan Esparza, Austyn Gard and Quentin Cisler finished in the top 10 during the Feb. 2 Inaugural Metro Omaha Trades Invitational, which featured competitions in a broad range of vocational skills.

The students will now go on to represent Fremont High School in state-level welding competitions hosted by SkillsUSA, a national organization that focuses on skills that help students get career ready. The SkillsUSA program has grown in Fremont High School, according to Fremont High School’s Welding Academy Instructor Brad Ryun. It now has 28 members of SkillsUSA, but Ryun can remember a few years ago, when there were only three or four.

“I’m just proud of [our students’] recruiting,” Ryun said. “We’ve increased our numbers every single year that I’ve been a part of this. They’re coming in and working, they’re staying dedicated toward the skilled trades and working toward their careers, and it’s awesome to see the work they’ve put into it.”

Fremont SkillsUSA students will be participating in around 11 different competitions in welding and beyond at the state-level events in April, Ryun said. Those include machining, welding, criminal justice and competitions based around job interviews or technical team problem solving.

The welding students at this month’s competitions spent long hours preparing for the Omaha competition, Ryun said. They practiced two days per week, beginning at 3:10 p.m., with some staying as late as 10:30 p.m. or 11 p.m.

During the competition, students participated in Gas Metal Arc Welding, Shield Metal Arc Welding, Oxy-fuel welding and had to take a written test. They were judged and received a cumulative score.

Ryun added that students were excited about the results.

“It’s great for them to see that their hard work’s paid off, that the time and dedication that they’ve put into it — they really reaped those benefits,” he said.

Ryun is an instructor of Fremont High School’s Welding Academy, which is hosted in conjunction with Metropolitan Community College and allows students to perfect their craft and also take courses for dual credit with the college.

Metropolitan Community College’s Rob Hocking is the co-instructor for the course. Ryun argues that programs like the Welding Academy and SkillsUSA help make students career ready.

“He’s been welding for decades and bringing that experience in really helps with the students,” Ryun said of Hocking. “Being able to see what it’s like to be getting direction from a foreman, or a former foreman and somebody who knows all the processes and is able to take them to that next level so that when they go in to get a job, they’re already ready to go.”

Ryun noted that skills-based jobs like welding offer students the opportunity to make a decent salary at a young age. Students from the Welding Academy have gone on to work at Valmont, Smeal and other companies. Others have pursued more education.

Events like the Inaugural Metro Omaha Trades Invitational and the state events in April also give students an opportunity to network with potential employers.

“The people that are grading these competitions are industry experts, they’re looking for employees,” Ryun said. “And so we’re working with them on the soft skills, how to look somebody in the eye, shake somebody’s hand, get direction from somebody, punctuality is a huge one, so when they go into the industry they’re ready to go.”

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