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Industrial Arts brings out the talent in teacher Steinberg’s students

May 4th, 2017 under Features
(staff photos by NICK WINCHESTER) Josh Steinberg runs through the particulars of student Nano Ornelas’s weld.

(staff photos by NICK WINCHESTER)
Josh Steinberg runs through the particulars of student Nano Ornelas’s weld.

By NICK WINCHESTER

nick@bigbendnow.com

MARFA — Industrial Arts is a pretty broad umbrella term for what Josh Steinberg teaches at Marfa High School, he tells me as we stand outside the workshop space. I’m impressed. It looks well-equipped; more like a professional garage than a high school workshop. There are welding booths, saws, tanks of oxy-fuel, multiple welders for the different welding types Josh teaches: mig welding, tig welding and arc welding. There are also examples of students’ and Josh’s work placed around the workshop. A rocking chair that one student repurposed from a vintage tractor seat and the old springs out of Josh’s Jeep stands out from the rest.

“There’s a lot of things that fall under Industrial Arts: wood-shop, auto mechanics, welding,” he tells me as we find a quiet place to chat in his classroom, “Primarily what we do here is metal shop. We’re trying to grow a really good program.”

Talking to Josh, his passion for what he teaches, as well as for the kids he teaches, is obvious. “It’s not just welding that I bestow on these guys and girls,” Josh says, “it’s promptness, it’s being prepared.” Josh tells his students at the beginning of the year that he wants to treat this as if it is a job.

But like a job, Josh says, some students find it hard. “A lot of students hear it sounds great and then they get in here and it’s dirty, it’s hot and you’ve got to wear the proper protection. In August and May, it’s not pleasing to be in all leather and a hood,” he adds. “It’s not for everybody. A lot the students will find out in their first year whether they want to do this or not.”

We’re interrupted by a senior who’s working on his welding certification, one of Josh’s most dedicated students, Nano Ornelas, who’s going to welding school once he graduates. He brings to the table a weld he’s been working on. Nano shows Josh his weld plate, two 4×8 sheets of steel welded together, like an I-beam cut in two. Josh explains to me that they use a gauge to check the toes of the weld. Later, once it has cooled, the weld will be tested by cutting off the sides, putting acid on it, and finally breaking it to see inside. Before heading back to the workshop to carry on working on his weld, Josh and Nano chat briefly in technical terms. When Josh talks with his student he does so like he would a fellow employee.

Five more seniors are currently working with Josh on their certifications, a qualification that is accepted nationwide and is based on the American Welding Society D1.1 Structural Welding certification. Even if many of students don’t go on to work in industries that require welding, they are equipped with skills for life. “The world is built on welds,” Josh says.

The qualification isn’t easy, Josh admits. “If they don’t get it they do it again. They can do it as many times as they want or until they throw in the towel. If half of them get it I’ll be real happy with that.”

As well as teaching the basics of welding through to getting his students certified, Josh took teams to two Agriculture-Mechanics competitions this year.

Held the last weekend of the San Angelo Stock Show and Rodeo, the Junior Agricultural Mechanics Show sees Texas high school students compete to design and construct agricultural mechanics projects. “There are trailers and BBQ pits, restored tractors and furniture, spurs and belt-buckles, you name it you’ll probably end up seeing it at these shows,”Josh tells me.

After going over the safety aspect of welding, the students who will compete at shows later in the year will spend time designing their project. “Then they do everything, all the fabrication, then paint, and we haul all the projects to San Angelo.”

At the show, judges grade the projects by handing out colors. A blue means they have a chance of gaining a top-3 position in their division. White means there is some room for improvement left in the student’s work, while red marks failure.

The work bench in Steinberg’s Industrial Arts workshop

The work bench in Steinberg’s Industrial Arts workshop

All of Josh’s students received blue from the judges, one went on to win first in their division and another came third. Sophomore Jacob Martinez received the John Kearney Rising Star Award. Picked out of around 1,100 students from across the region, judges gave Martinez a buckle and a scholarship.

Marfa students also received three first place spots, a second and a third place at the Agriculture-Mechanics show in Sul Ross. Josh says he’s “real proud of the kids this year that went to the shows.”

Judging isn’t just based on the quality of their weld, Josh says, “but how the project is presented, how professional the student is. So, we have shirts made up with our logo that say ‘Marfa welding.’”

“’Tuck your shirt in, don’t wear your hat sideways, and represent the school. Be respectful’,” Josh says he tells his students.

Prior to coming to Marfa High School to teach, Josh owned a company that built off-road trailers. He’d moved to Alpine in 1993 for college, where he got a taste, albeit elementary, for welding, He married an Alpine girl, who he moved to outside San Antonio with for 13- 14 years, before returning to Alpine three years ago.

When Josh first started, he didn’t have the great workshop he does now. He and his students watched the empty gravel car-park transform into what stands today. However, the building, due to be completed for the start of the school year wasn’t ready until January, which Josh says was really tough.”

Josh had to deal with that while working on his teacher’s certification and trying to teach class all at the same time. “It was definitely a challenge my first year. Once we got in here we just really started rocking and rolling. Every year it gets a little better. We’re getting close to being dialed in.”

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