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Penn College welding students cap unique remodeling project


A dedicated group of Pennsylvania College of Technology welding students added the “crown” to a stunning remodeling job for a McEwensville homeowner.

Seven members of the college’s American Welding Society student chapter and faculty adviser Steve J. Kopera volunteered their time and expertise to craft and install a 6-by-9-foot “tree of life” metallic sculpture at a former church.

A group of Penn College welding students and their faculty adviser crafted the focal point for a remodeling project undertaken by a McEwensville homeowner residing in a former church.
A group of Penn College welding students and their faculty adviser crafted the focal point for a remodeling project undertaken by a McEwensville homeowner residing in a former church.

“I’m so impressed with the final result. The students did a fantastic job. It is the crown to the project,” said Patty Miller, who purchased the former Messiah Lutheran Church last March.

The sculpture culminated nine months of painstaking work to repurpose the house of worship into Miller’s comfortable home. She said recycling real estate has long intrigued her, and the extensive renovations honored her late father, who was a successful, self-taught building contractor in Lancaster County.

The Penn College contingent provided a solution for the final piece of the remodeling puzzle: a space occupied by quarter-inch plywood, covering and preserving a mural painted on a main wall. Miller’s space-filling solution was a tree sculpture, which prompted her to ask Kopera, a welding instructor at Penn College, to build it.

Kopera fastens the metallic sculpture to a wall at the former Messiah Lutheran Church in McEwensville.
Kopera fastens the metallic sculpture to a wall at the former Messiah Lutheran Church in McEwensville.

“Steve suggested it as a student project, and that appealed to me more,” Miller said.

It also appealed to the college’s AWS student chapter after Miller showed them pictures of her tree inspiration.

“We were able to take what we have learned in the classroom and put our skills forth for an artistic project,” said chapter president Helen Torunidis, a welding and fabrication engineering technology major from Bethlehem. “The project engaged members in thinking outside the box, working together, putting skills to use outside the classroom and giving back to the community. It was fantastic to see Ms. Patty’s reaction as we brought it through the door.”

Patty Miller (fourth from right) is joined by members of the Penn College welding contingent beneath the welded installation at her home. From left are Doug J. Carpenter, of Highspire; instructor Steve J. Kopera; Robert R. Ruda, of White Haven; Sara D. Stafford, of West Chester; Miller; Helen Toroundis, of Bethlehem; Jeremy L. Hanes, of Sabinsville; and Barbara J. Legeyt, of Barkhamsted, Conn.
Patty Miller (fourth from right) is joined by members of the Penn College welding contingent beneath the welded installation at her home. From left are Doug J. Carpenter, of Highspire; instructor Steve J. Kopera; Robert R. Ruda, of White Haven; Sara D. Stafford, of West Chester; Miller; Helen Toroundis, of Bethlehem; Jeremy L. Hanes, of Sabinsville; and Barbara J. Legeyt, of Barkhamsted, Conn.

The students used AutoCAD to design the sculpture on a computer before manipulating 16-gauge steel sheet metal and tube framing. They manufactured the trunk with a computer-numeric-control machine and produced the treetop with freehand plasma cutting before welding the pieces together and painting the sculpture brown.

More than 20 hours were devoted to the project, including the recent installation when Kopera bolted the 100-pound sculpture to an existing wooden frame.

“I had an absolute blast seeing the students get excited about putting their skills to use to help someone,” Kopera said. “I saw a few of them who are typically pretty shy come out of their shells, and I could just feel the enthusiasm around them.”

“It is absolutely gorgeous,” Miller added. “I can’t speak more highly of the students. They were wonderful to work with.”

In addition to Torunidis, student workers were welding and fabrication engineering technology majors Sara D. Stafford, of West Chester; Barbara J. LeGeyt, of Barkhamsted, Connecticut; and Jeremy L. Hanes, of Sabinsville; and welding technology majors Madison O. Russ, of Townshend, Vermont; Doug J. Carpenter, of Highspire; and Robert R. Ruda, of White Haven.

For information about the bachelor’s degree in welding and fabrication engineering technology, the associate degree in welding technology, and other majors offered by the School of Industrial, Computing & Engineering Technologies, call 570-327-4520.

Penn College is 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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