Welding students at Palm Beach State College’s Belle Glade campus will find their names on a plaque as the creators of a sculpture set for installation at Glades Central High School this fall. The nearly 11-foot, 1,000-pound sculpture will be the centerpiece of a garden at the school, and while the installation date is pending, the finished sculpture is on display at the Belle Glade campus for PBSC students to enjoy.
Smaller metal sculptures created by PBSC welding instructors are part of the landscape of the campus. When Glades Central High School instructor Dorn Gordon brought a group of her students to the campus for a tour last October, she admired one created by welding instructor Anton Pastuszak, who is also a recognized metal artist. She instantly envisioned acquiring such a sculpture for the garden she was planning for Glades Central. Pastuszak wouldn’t consider charging for a sculpture. Instead, he saw the real value in having his students make one.
“I saw the opportunity for my welding students to do a good deed for the community and develop some skills,” he said. “The skills that are used in making that sculpture are the same skills that are used in the welding profession. It was just a good thing for us to do, and personally, the Glades region has given me so much, it was an honor to give back.” (See the photo album of the sculpture’s creation from start to finish.)
The garden is a schoolwide initiative driven by the students in Glade Central’s AVID program. AVID, which stands for Advancement Via Individual Determination, is a college readiness program adopted by more than 6,000 schools in 47 states. It complements the curriculum by teaching skills that students can use to succeed at any level of school, college, or in a career.
“One of the AVID initiatives is community service,” said Gordon, an AVID elective instructor. “The students will plant flowers and vegetables to give to the elderly or community organizations. Planting a garden takes time, it takes work, and I wanted my students to see that through hard work, people can benefit. The sculpture will be the focal point in our garden.”
Gordon and Pastuszak bounced ideas back and forth, but it was the availability of an eight-foot steel beam that inspired Pastuszak to go big. “I felt we should do something that’s really going to make a statement and stand out.”
On and off over the ensuing months, the students in his evening welding class worked on the sculpture. If Pastuszak wanted his students to focus on a particular skill, then they headed out to the sculpture.
“A lot of skills that are used in the fabrication industry don’t get developed if you are just welding coupons [test plates] all day long,” he said. “Not many students in welding programs, even nationwide, get to play around with giant steel beams.”
Student Jessica DiTaranto, who has worked in power plants from Florida to the Northeast, enjoyed seeing the sculpture come together from an I-beam to what it is now. “I’ve never really been too big into art, but now seeing the final project, it makes me want to build some for my own yard.”
Besides the welding and cutting, the math was the highlight of the project for Gabriel Gaedtke, an electrician and mechanic who joined the class to add to his skill set. “When I came into the program I did not know that you could take one solid beam and heat it up to temperatures where you could bend it, sculpt it and cut it out and actually make a human arm from the dimensions that you took off a classmate’s arm.” The sculpture project has inspired Gaedtke to do more artistic work with metal and large themes.
“Just like our school district AVID students, our PBSC students are determined to advance and are focused on success,” said Dr. Maria Vallejo, vice president for growth and expansion and provost of the Belle Glade and Loxahatchee Groves campuses. “The partnership is an excellent way to have our PBSC students be role models of what is possible when you stay the course.”
Delighted with the work of Pastuszak and his students, Gordon thinks the sculpture captures her vision perfectly and embodies the power of AVID.
“The arm shows the strength of AVID, and so students rise from the earth and are propelled into the world—symbolized by the globe with the AVID student inside. AVID teaches organization, self-discipline, college readiness and goal-setting, and so all of that is within that arm. With AVID supporting you, you can’t help but be successful. The sky’s the limit.”
Gordon sees the sculpture collaboration as the beginning of a long-lasting relationship between the College and Glades Central. The project introduced her to the Welding program, which made her realize it’s a viable career for some of her students.
“We have a pipeline of students wanting to go into the Welding program,” she said. “Welding is big right now. There’s going to be a great need due to those retiring from the industry, and we want to fill that need.”
Meanwhile, one welding student credits the sculpture project for powering his motivation to stick with the program.
“It was a great learning experience,” said Nate Stevens, a bartender and server reigniting a past interest in welding. “We started doing the sculpture when the program began, and basically, that’s what caused me to fall in love with welding and torching and everything that goes along with it. I’m grateful that we were able to do it.”