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Father’s Industry Insights Help Lead Texan to Penn College

The first time Stone Skinkle-Howard set foot on Pennsylvania College of Technology’s campus, the Texan didn’t think to bring a coat. The unforgiving temperatures on that brisk March day in 2014 made him regret the oversight but not the visit. The prospective welding student quickly discovered that the college met his high expectations.

Those expectations were formed 1,500 miles from Williamsport in Missouri City, Texas, by his father, Michael Skinkle, a welding engineer at Fluor Corp., a global engineering, procurement and construction company. His dad made Skinkle-Howard consider Penn College and its bachelor’s degree in welding and fabrication engineering technology.

“People my dad has worked with speak very highly of Penn College,” Skinkle-Howard said. “That’s what made him say, ‘Check it out.’”

Stone Skinkle-Howard in the School of Industrial, Computing & Engineering Technologies welding lab ...
Stone Skinkle-Howard in the School of Industrial, Computing & Engineering Technologies welding lab …

“When we hire welding engineers at Fluor, we target two schools: Penn College and Ferris State,” Skinkle said. “They are the two schools that stand out among the guys I work with. We prefer those schools because of the type of curriculum they have. They offer more hands-on experience than other programs.”

Skinkle knew Penn College by reputation. He knew Ferris State from firsthand experience. He earned his welding engineering technology degree at the Big Rapids, Michigan, institution.

“It was a win-win whether Stone went to Ferris State or Penn College,” Skinkle said. “When those students get their bachelor’s degree, employers have someone who can go into the field and weld and work in a corporate setting. They have the foundation to do both.”

Welding engineering technologists, typically referred to as “welding engineers” within industry, often serve as project managers while interfacing with engineering and development teams. Rather than striking an arc, they oversee the professionals who are welding. They possess both a theoretical base and extensive hands-on welding experience.

“I want the engineering aspect of welding, but I’m very happy I’ll also have a trade,” Skinkle-Howard said. “At the end of the day, if I will make more money welding, I’ll go weld. If you’re willing, you can get paid a lot and go anywhere in the world to work.”

Recent Penn College welding graduates work throughout the United States and are well-compensated, according to David R. Cotner, dean of industrial, computing and engineering technologies.

“Starting salaries for four-year graduates range from $55,000 to $80,000, and for two-year grads, the starting range is $38,000 to $65,000,” he said.

Skinkle-Howard is one of approximately 300 Penn College students seeking a bachelor’s degree in welding and fabrication engineering technology, an associate degree in welding technology or a certificate in welding. Graduates from those programs can be like Skinkle-Howard’s father and work in a variety of industries.

“Stone has seen me work in shipbuilding, in aerospace, in the oil and gas industry, in construction,” Skinkle said. “You can go from place to place and hit the ground running because welding is all code-based.”

... where he quickly established himself as a "grounded, focused and driven" student.
… where he quickly established himself as a “grounded, focused and driven” student.

For Skinkle-Howard, the monetary rewards and career flexibility offered by the field are dwarfed by his genuine love for the welding process.

“I feel like I have control of what’s going on around me when welding,” he said. “It’s actually calming for the most part.”

Skinkle-Howard discovered that feeling when he picked up his dad’s stick welder as an 11-year-old. Fun experiments led to home building projects and welding jobs for friends. By his junior year in high school, he decided to follow his father’s footsteps and study welding engineering technology. By the end of his senior year, he decided to make his own path at Penn College.

The mounds of snow and chilly March temperatures that greeted him on that initial visit shocked the Texan. Fortunately, shivers caused by the absence of a coat were curtailed by his curiosity. Skinkle-Howard had never seen so much snow and, more importantly, such an impressive welding facility.

“The lab was professionally organized. It was all arranged in a way that made sense. Even the ventilation system impressed me,” he said. “Every faculty member knew about everything in the lab and was very helpful in describing what I wanted to know.”

Halfway through the visit, Skinkle-Howard turned to his mother, Zenda Howard, and announced Penn College was his choice. As a Ferris State alum, Skinkle admits that part of him wanted to see his son choose his alma mater, but he supported the verdict.

“It came down to Stone making the decision. It was his choice. He decided to go to Penn College, and I was very pleased with that,” Skinkle said.

So is Cotner.

“Stone reflects positively on the welding program at Penn College,” the dean said. “He’s a great student. His instructors comment on how grounded, focused and driven he is. He’s the type of student you really appreciate having in class and lab.”

Skinkle-Howard appreciates the bountiful job opportunities that await when he graduates in two years.

“There is no doubt in my mind that, after I graduate from this college, I will have a job. I will have a career in something I love to do,” he said.

The facts support Skinkle-Howard’s confidence. Cotner said the placement rate for welding graduates exceeds the collegewide rate of 96 percent. “There are more opportunities than we have graduates to place. The majority of our welding students have jobs lined up before graduating,” he said.

Skinkle-Howard doesn’t know if he’ll follow the lead of at least two recent Penn College welding graduates by starting his career at Fluor. He prefers to begin at a different company. His ultimate goal is to establish his own name in the field and then join forces with his dad.

“To work with him one day is a dream of mine,” Skinkle-Howard said.

As for Skinkle, he now has a personal connection to Penn College, thanks to making the trek from Texas to visit his son.

“I like the instructors,” he said. “The equipment and facilities are first-rate. I have nothing but positive things to say about it. Penn College is one of the best welding programs in the nation. I think that speaks for itself.”

After nearly two years of daily five-hour welding lab sessions at the college, Skinkle-Howard agrees with his father.

“We have all kind of brands of machines. The faculty is great. They have a lot of industry experience,” Skinkle-Howard said. “You learn the theory and then go do it. I love it.”

For more on welding majors and other programs offered by the School of Industrial, Computing & Engineering Technologies, call 570-327-4520.

For information about Penn College, a national leader in applied technology education and workforce development, email the Admissions Office or call toll-free 800-367-9222.

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