College of The Albemarle unveils welding lab

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Students ensured training for high-demand occupation

Instructor Mike Lopes stands beside one of the school’s high-tech welding booths.

Instructor Mike Lopes stands beside one of the school’s high-tech welding booths.

ELIZABETH CITY — When we visited the COA welding lab, we did not quite know what to expect. We had been invited to attend a ribbon cutting ceremony earlier in the week, but a conflict had arisen. Thereafter, we had heard comments by people that had attended, that they were pleasantly surprised.

Nevertheless, we were reticent.

Once we entered the facility, we were greeted by Michelle Waters of the COA staff and Welding Department Director/Instructor Mike Lopes. We had a brief discussion with Ms. Waters who soon departed, leaving us in the capable hands of Mr. Lopes.


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The welding lab, was the direct result of a $350,000 grant from the Golden Leaf Foundation. When construction of the lab began, instructors had 10 booths where the students could learn to weld, but they were primitive at best. Now the booths are state of the art, with individual tables and accessories, many made by the students themselves.

Originally students could weld steel, but now they weld with aluminum as well using all methods. They have discovered sources for scrap tube and flat metal so they cut the metal with various machines — then use the pieces for welding projects. Some of the equipment is recycled from the original lab.

The new lab offers a Diploma as well as two Certificate Levels of completion. The diploma course requires 39-40 hours of instruction, which includes numerous classes in welding, plan reading, and math. The Basic and Advanced Certificate courses each require 13 and 17 hours, respectively.

The instructor has been in communication with Technico Corp and the International Iron Workers Union #79, both of have expressed willingness to employ every student/welder that graduates the program.

When COA decided to start this program, school officials sought the right person – someone with the practical experience and qualifications to make this a success for both college and students.

Fortunately, they found Mike Lopes, who graduated high school in 1978 and managed to secure a position in the Norfolk Shipyard immediately thereafter. He later transferred to the Norfolk Air Station where he worked on aircraft for nine years at which time he moved to Elizabeth City to work for the Coast Guard.

There, Lopes practiced his trade for 22 years before retiring. In the course of his career, he worked on everything — with every material and machine! Two years ago, College of The Albemarle hired him as a welding instructor.

There is no doubt that his practical experience, has made him the right man in the right place in order to train students and impart his knowledge that will help his students make something of their lives.

He is very proud of this achievement, but, there are some students who lack the aptitude and find that this is not for them. But for those who apply themselves, with the able help of Mike Lopes, these students have a bright future ahead.

There is an overwhelming need for welders, all over this country. These jobs are high paying and welders are in great demand. So not only is COA filling a great need in the marketplace, but they are offering hope to young people all over our area. Thank goodness for COA and Mike Lopes!

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