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Student welders step up to the plate with community projects


Student welders step up to the plate with community projects

April 16, 2024

Community leaders recently turned to OCM BOCES welding students in Cortland for projects that improved residents' quality of life near Owasco Lake and added a little fun to the Greek Peak terrain park for ski and snowboard enthusiasts. 

They also sought help from a welding student at the Thompson Road Campus to fix a batting cage at Westhill High School.

For the first project in Cortlandville, students designed and welded a large, rectangular-shaped catch basin to sit near a ditch at a campsite off Owasco Lake. The project was necessary because debris from the lake had floated down a waterway and plugged the culvert, peeling up nearby blacktop and pushing the mess into people’s yards.

Cortland welding students stand atop the catch
basin they built to collect debris near Owasco
Lake and prevent flooding.

One of the camp owners reached out to Kevin Auyer, the welding instructor at the OCM BOCES Cortlandville Campus. Students were equipped with design plans and materials to do the job. The structure was 6’8 X 10.’

Auyer said 6-8 students worked two hours daily in class to finish the project in four weeks.

“I didn’t have to hover,” Auyer said of his students. “They worked independently, figured out problems and moved on.”

Gracie Jo Homza, a Cortland senior, liked the challenge of the project. She sat on top of the box and welded the rebar, a challenging task.

“You get to help people with what you’re doing in class, and that’s pretty cool,” she said.

For the second project, students worked with the Central New York Freeride Team to design and create ramps for skiers and snowboarders on their terrain park at Greek Peak. Students welded a “flat down” structure and an “A-frame” ramp for snowboarders and skiers to ride on. The Freeride crew consulted with the class, reviewed the students’ design and material proposals, and picked up the finished projects to use on the mountain for the winter season.

Travis MacDowell, founder of the Central New York Action Sports Foundation, thanked the students and staff at Cortlandville.

Welding students in Cortland pose with Travis
MacDowell, founder of the CNY Action Sports
Foundation, and two of the ramps they built
for snowboard enthusiasts at Greek Peak.

“We love this program,” MacDowell said.

“It doesn’t get any more real-world than this,” Cortland welding teacher Kevin Auyer said.

At the Thompson Road Campus, Westhill Superintendent Steve Dunham happened to be visiting one of his students in the welding program, Joseph Pirong. Dunham asked Pirong if he could help fix a broken batting cage for baseball players at Westhill High School.

Pirong was happy to take on the challenge. He not only worked hard to fix it, he later saw the refurbished batting cage in use during a sports practice at school.

“I loved seeing it in use and being able to say I did that,” Pirong said.

Pirong's instructor, Duane Debejian, said he was proud of Pirong and also surprised to see that a student from his first year of teaching, Zach Patapow, was now working for the Westhill maintenance department. Patapow was one of the Westhill employees who picked up the batting cage at OCM BOCES when it was done.

“It was a full-circle moment for me,” Debejian said.

In the photos below, Superintendent Steve Dunham poses at left with welding student Joseph Pirong. In the middle, a piece of the batting cage sits inside the Thompson Road welding lab. At right (far right), Westhill maintenance worker Zach Patapow helps a co-worker pick up the batting cage. Papatow was in Duane Debejian's welding class during Debejian's first year of teaching.