For the past few weeks, a group of Boy Scouts from area troops have been working to earn a merit badge by learning basic welding skills from Texas A&M University-Kingsville agricultural students training to become future teachers.

About 20 Boy Scouts, representing Troops 811 and 186 from Kingsville, Troop 53 out of Bishop and Corpus Christi’s Troop 2, have been participating in the project, which meets every Tuesday afternoon at the Agricultural Mechanics Building on the TAMUK campus.

“This is a five-week project,” Steve Chumbley, assistant professor of agricultural mechanics at TAMUK, said. “We started on March 20 and it’ll end in mid-April.”

Chumbley said the project is part of a service-learning grant sponsored by the university and designed to give pre-service agriculture science teachers real-world, practical teaching experience.

“These are all future ag teachers,” he said. “And they are all applying skills learned in my welding class to teaching these (scouts) so they can earn their welding merit badge.”

Arturo Valdez, assistant scoutmaster with Troop 53, said the project allowed many of the participating scouts to earn a badge they would not have an opportunity to obtain otherwise.

“It was a very good opportunity for these kids, and they seem to enjoy it a lot,” Valdez said. “I know my son was very interested and excited.”

Chumbley said while the university’s ag department has held welding training for adults in the past, this project is the first time they’ve offered the training to youth.

“And this will not only help them get that merit badge, but we’re also hoping that it’ll get them interested to become involved in some vocational training. If we can spark a little interest, maybe they’ll join us here one day.”

Russel Kinseo, a Boy Scout with Troop 53, said he has been looking forward to earning his welding badge. With the help of TAMUK ag student Lupe Betancourt, Russel learned basic arc welding, which utilizes electricity to apply intense heat in order to join two metal objects.

“I need to work on keeping it slow and steady,” the 11-year-old said about his technique. “I was just nervous.”

Russel said in the future, he hopes to apply his welding knowledge to “building race cars and stuff,” although he admitted that would likely be much later on.

“I want to try and build a small grill,” he said.

Betancourt, a TAMUK freshman from Edinburg, said welding is a valuable skill that can be utilized in day-to-day chores, such as mending fences, as well as in professional work.

“I mean, not everyone wants to be an oilfield worker, but there are a lot of careers or just everyday tasks where welding knowledge can come in handy,” he said.

Betancourt said through the program, he has learned a lot about teaching and working with children.

“I’m starting to figure out better ways to approach (teaching), and that will definitely help me in the future,” he said. “Right now, I’m not only teaching these kids. I’m teaching myself as well.”

Chumbley said once the project is completed, the scouts will have constructed small camp stoves to take home and use. He said he hopes to bring a similar project to his students and the community next year.

“We want to keep doing projects like this every year,” he said.

Anthony Ruiz can be contacted at aruiz@king-ranch.com or (361) 221-0251.

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