U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Springfield, was at Hampshire High School on Tuesday to tour the school’s accredited welding program and learn about opportunities for students studying these skills.
One of the former students he spoke to was Zack Baumgartner, 18, who recently became one of two nationally accredited welders out of the school and now works for Omni Containment Systems in Elgin.
There are 105 students enrolled in the welding program at Hampshire High School, said Anthony McGinn, Community School District 300 director of public relations and communication services.
“I can’t get over the number of students [participating],” Durbin said.
Durbin said some data suggest that two-thirds of high school graduates are not ready for college, which is why it is important to see high school courses where students can pick up skills in class to broaden their opportunities after graduation.
“Students need to be counseled and cared for,” he said.
Durbin also visited machinery and automotive classrooms at the school, which instructors said have growing interest.
The industrial education program at Hampshire includes career and technical education courses that cover welding, automatic technology, manufacturing and computer-aided design.
The welding lab is an accredited testing facility from the American Welding Society, making it one of three high schools of its kind in the country. Elgin High School, which opened a newly renovated welding lab earlier this year, has one of the other accredited programs.
Representatives from the American Welding Society examine the structure and resources of eligible schools’ welding labs and compare them with AWS standards to ensure students are receiving a level of training that will help them succeed in the industry.
On his recent endorsement of 14th Congressional District candidate Lauren Underwood, who challenges Rep. Randy Hultgren, R-Plano, Durbin said her campaign really has caught on, especially for someone who has never run for office.
“When I go around her district, she has these spontaneous meetings – they just ask everybody who’s interested in helping to show up at a coffee shop, and she’ll walk in the door and see 30 or 40 people ready to knock on doors she’s never met before,” Durbin said. “So there is a spark in her campaign that I think has caught the attention of Washington.”