The air crackled with anticipation as the rhythmic hum of welding machines filled the Blong Technology Center on Wednesday, May 15. Sparks flew like miniature fireworks, illuminating the determined faces of over 55 high school and college students, each vying for top honors in the third annual Welding Competition and Showcase hosted by Eastern Iowa Community Colleges (EICC) and the American Welding Society (AWS) – Eastern Iowa Section 162. 

The competition's atmosphere was electric, a testament to the passion and dedication of the young welders who had gathered to demonstrate their prowess in shielded metal arc welding (SMAW - Stick), gas metal arc welding (GMAW - MIG), and gas tungsten arc welding (GTAW - TIG).  

"In this competition, students are learning what it's like to be put under pressure, just like when going out into a career," Megan Edens, a Scott Community College Welding Instructor, explained. "This is likely the only time a student will get competitive with welding. It’s a very independent skill set. You’re against yourself and time."

Judged by local American Welding Society Certified Welding Inspectors, the event did more than just showcase technical abilities. It connected students with future employers and provided a glimpse into some real-world opportunities awaiting them. "It's important for students to know what opportunities are out in the real world," said Joseph Buresh of McLaughlin Body Company. "We demand quality out of our operators, and we want welders who care about the work they are doing. This event is a great way to find that talent." 

Alen Gowen, 2024 EICC Graduate
Alen Gowen, 2024 EICC Graduate
Among the competitors, Alen Gowan stood out, his steady hands guiding the welding torch with practiced ease. Freshly graduated from EICC with an Advanced Welding Certificate, Gowan clinched first place in the GTAW - TIG category.  

"It feels so good to have won today," he said, a smile breaking on his face. "I was a bit nervous on the second round, because the top three welds were very close. It was anyone’s game for who would win, but I was happy with my performance.” 

Gowan took home more than just a title. He uncovered a new part of himself, sharing this newfound knowledge: “It’s better to not think when you’re welding. Just kind of let it be natural. Don’t try and be constantly correct every minuscule moment, because change is inevitable.” 

The event's meticulous organization, spearheaded by Edens and the AWS – Eastern Iowa Section, ensured everything ran smoothly. "There’s about six months of planning that goes into this event," she explained. "It’s all hands-on deck, with a lot of support from EICC faculty and staff, AWS members, and the college’s Foundation." 

As the competition progressed, the participants demonstrated not only their technical skills but also their composure and camaraderie.   

“It’s awesome seeing students in action, walking around with smiling faces,” said Edens. “They were inspecting each other’s welds, dissecting blueprints, adjusting machines, and networking with so many new people.” 

The day concluded with an awards ceremony, celebrating not just the winners but all who took part in the intense and exhilarating competition. Scholarships and prizes, including welding equipment, were awarded, courtesy of local sponsors including SSAB, Lincoln Electric, Silver Hawk Fabrication, Musco Sports Lighting, Miller Electric, S.J. Smith, and the AWS - Eastern Iowa Section 162.  

Noah Mizelle from Indian Hills Community College secured first place in the shielded metal arc welding (SMAW - Stick) category, while Kylie Daily from Davenport West High School took the top spot in gas metal arc welding (GMAW - MIG). 

Reflecting on the broader impact of the event, Brian Thorndyke of McLaughlin Body Company noted, "We’ve had a few McLaughlin welders come from EICC and recruited from this event, specifically. They are very good kids and their skill level is getting better. It’s so helpful to have opportunities like this." 

John Deere's James Hotchaiss echoed this sentiment, emphasizing the importance of nurturing talent and providing pathways to employment. "We participate in various programs like this welding competition to see how students stack up against their fellow classmates. We’re just looking for future employees who want to learn, will show up on time, and will try their best while they’re there.” 

As the welding torches were put down and the machines quieted, the lasting impact of the event became clear. "This is one of my favorite days of the year," said Edens, her pride evident. “I’ve had a lot of high school students go through this competition and decide to take classes here at EICC afterwards, so it’s just really cool to see.” 

She adds, “This event really can shape a student’s future in welding.” 

All it takes is a spark. The EICC welding competition is more than just a showcase of talent; it’s paving the way for the next generation of skilled welders.  

For more information about EICC’s welding program, visit