Real-World Role Model

Courtney Brinkman Draws on a Wealth of Experience as She Builds a New Welding Program at Thomson High

At an age when many young people are still trying to figure out what they want to do in life, Courtney Brinkman has compiled an impressive list of accomplishments in the field of welding: Skills USA State Champion; Tulsa Welding School graduate; two years of on-the-job experience.

Courtney Brinkman has quickly settled into her new role as a full-time teacher at Thomson High School.

Now, as a Career, Technical and Agricultural Education (CTAE) Teacher at Thomson High School, she’s building a welding program from the ground up and giving students a vision of the rewarding career this in-demand skill offers.

Courtney was hired prior to the 2019-20 school year after the Georgia Power Foundation awarded a $100,000 grant to the McDuffie County School System to fund a state-of-the-art welding lab at Thomson High.

“This metals lab is a big deal,” said McDuffie Board of Education Chairman Andy Knox. “It gives our young people an opportunity to go through that program and come out with the ability to make a really good living.”

The Board found Courtney after approaching her high school alma mater, Lawrenceville’s Maxwell High School of Technology, for insight on creating the lab and curriculum. She was teaching a night class at Maxwell while working full-time at Kubota Industrial Equipment in Jefferson, Georgia. Welding instructor Charles Kachmar, who had been her early mentor, recommended her for the new position in Thomson.

Courtney was joined by a large gathering of officials to celebrate the new Georgia Power Foundation-supported welding lab with a ribbon cutting on October 9, 2019.

To qualify for the job, Courtney had to earn five American Welding Society (AWS) certifications and pass a written NOCTI exam – all while continuing to teach at Maxwell and work as a fabricator and jig maintenance mechanic for Kubota.

Courtney said a full-time teaching career had often crossed her mind over the years. “When I was in high school, even before I took welding, I had an interest in maybe teaching younger kids,” she recalled. “Once I got into welding and started teaching that night class, I thought, ‘Wow, this is awesome. This is really what I want to do.’ I’m a firm believer in God and that he has a plan for your life. The way everything fell into place, it was undeniable that this is where I’m supposed to be.”

Almost right away, Courtney developed a strong rapport with her students in the classroom and the adjacent welding lab. She’s young enough to relate on their level, while her knowledge and experience commands their attention and respect.

“I do think that because of my age, I’m able to understand their thought processes, and I kind of get where they’re coming from in certain situations,” she said. “But I’m very open and straight with them. I tell it like it is, because I’m trying to prepare them for what it’s really like outside of high school.

“When they complain about it being hot, I can tell them it’s nothing compared to welding on the job. I don’t want to say it was sugarcoated for me, but I didn’t have that realization that this going to be a 70-hour week, that I’m going to be working Monday through Saturday, 12-hour shifts. People say it, but you don’t realize how tough that really is on you. So I try to get that realization through to them.”

Safety is another important topic – and another one that Courtney can illustrate with real-world lessons she’s learned.

“A lot of my safety stories come from being at Kubota,” she said. “Students don’t take safety as seriously until they see something actually happen. I’m trying to bring it to life for them, so I go back to stories from when I was working at Kubota, how welding really is when you’re out there in the field.”

As a panelist at Construction Ready’s 2018 Skills USA VIP Breakfast, Courtney spoke on her experiences as a welder with Kubota Industrial Equipment.

As a SkillsUSA State Champion – in 2016, she won first place in the welding sculpture competition with a peacock design – Courtney also has competitive experience to draw on in preparing students who want to test their skills against other young welders across the state.

And a growing number of Thomson High students are showing interest in doing just that. Courtney plans to enter some of her welders in 2020 SkillsUSA contests for single person sculpture and group metalwork display, as well as the on-site welding competition.

“We are truly blessed to have had [Brinkman] join our CTAE department,” said Dr. Steve Rhodes, CTAE Director at Thomson High School. “She has been an inspiration to our students, the welding program is thriving and the support of the community has been extraordinary. Locally, and throughout Georgia, the demand for well-prepared welders continues to grow. We are excited to have a new, active program that is able to meet current and future workforce demands.”

Indeed, fabricated metal works is projected to be the sixth-fastest-growing industry in the 21-county Central Savannah River Area (CSRA), of which McDuffie is a part. Eighteen CSRA high schools offer courses within the welding pathway, but 2018-2019 data indicated that only 51 students are completing the pathway, short of industry demands.

That shortage was the impetus for the McDuffie County Board of Education’s decision to expand its existing CTAE offerings to include the welding pathway. In fall 2018, the district made an application to the Georgia Power Foundation, Inc., for funds to defray welding lab construction costs. Those funds were presented to board and county officials in January 2019, and a ribbon cutting ceremony for the new lab was held in October of that year.

“Almost immediately, I was able to recognize the potential for McDuffie County, for the Greater Augusta Area, and for some wonderful assets we have in this area,” Kerry Bridges, Georgia Power’s area manager for Columbia, McDuffie, Lincoln and Wilkes Counties, said. “I think it helps other businesses in the area see how to partner with education.”

Now Courtney is working hard to build the program and help the region realize that potential for more skilled labor.

“It’s awesome, and it’s also stressful,” she said of the responsibility. “The school has high expectations, and I have high expectations for myself and for the program. It’s trying to reach that goal of success that the school and the community is expecting out of this.”

Courtney also recognizes her platform as a role model – another responsibility she doesn’t take lightly.

“Not only do these students need a teacher, they need someone they can look up to,” she said. “They know that I’m young, but I tell them all the time, once they set their mind to something, they can do anything they want to do. I tell them, ‘Look how young I am, and I have a house, and I have a job that really is a blessing,’ and I try to bring that to their attention that this could really happen for them too.”

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