Welding professor helps students forge successful careers

How does a musician with aspirations of a career in the symphony end up an award-winning welding professor?

According to Dr. Warren Donworth, Austin Community College professor of welding, it’s not that much of a stretch. On the other hand, for someone who has trained as a pilot, a diver, a paramedic, and a community college administrator, maybe nothing seems too far of a reach.

Dr. Warren Donworth received the American Welding Society’s Excellence in Welding award for education in 2015.

“Music is very complicated,” he explains. “It’s not that far a leap from music into a technical field.” Still, he adds, if someone had told him early in his career that he one day would lead the welding department at ACC, “I would have said you need to play that tape backward,” he says.

While Donworth has stepped aside from the leadership role he once held, his influence in the department still looms large, as does his reputation for helping students excel in a program considered unique for its blend of practicality and creativity.

“Say hello to the unstarving artist,” Donworth says of the students who are able to learn both a vocation and an avocation through the college’s welding technology and art metals instruction.

Donworth came to ACC in 1985 as an adjunct professor of welding inspection after a winding career as a middle school music literature/music history teacher and a homebuilder. His construction experience led him to welding ― he holds an associate degree from ACC ― and welding inspection, the critical task of ensuring that things like bridges, airplanes, and off-shore drilling platforms hold together.

In 1989 he was appointed head of the department and charged with strengthening anemic enrollment. Meanwhile, ACC’s Tom Gingras, also a welding professor, was building an art metals program. The two joined forces and talents and over the next 12 years built a program encompassing the three complementary disciplines of traditional welding, art metals, and blacksmithing. Only Southern Illinois University offers similar programming.  Enrollment has increased 400 percent since.

“He built the department up from a small, run-of-the-mill welding school to what it is today,” says Troy DeFrates, one of Donworth’s former students and current Welding Technology Department chair. “He is as passionate today as he was 30 years ago, and he brings that out in the people he teaches. He has been very instrumental in getting hundreds of people employed.”

While Donworth earned a Ph.D. in educational administration, he found his calling remained in the classroom. After 30 years of helping individuals forge successful careers, he’s been around long enough to see students whose parents graduated from the program, and certainly long enough to experience the gratification that comes from seeing students get jobs, or even hire other graduates.

“They start out on paper as students,” he says. “They quickly become colleagues and friends.”

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