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The Agriculturist

With Fire & Steel

James Dockery

With Fire & Steel

As most students register for their courses, they make a list of materials they may need. Items such as paper, pens, and books often come to mind. If you happen to register for welding fabrications, items such as fire, plasma, and steel are required. However, it is the instructor who helps students transform these supplies into something special.

Dennis Pate, a Lubbock native, who received both his bachelor"s and master"s degrees from Texas Tech University, came out of retirement to teach the various agricultural mechanics courses at Texas Tech. He said the job affords him the opportunity to pursue his favorite hobby, hunting.

Before pursuing a career in education, Pate began his career in the Navy after graduating high school. After his military career, Pate returned to school and obtained his bachelor"s and master"s degrees in agricultural education. With two degrees under his belt, Pate began his teaching career at Roosevelt High School, east of Lubbock, as the agriculture teacher for three years. He then left Roosevelt to take the same position at Lubbock Monterey High School for two years.

Pate then accepted the same position at Ropesville High School and taught for six years before he completed his Mid-management Certification. This allowed him to assume the position of principal of the elementary school in Ropesville, a position he held for eight years before returning to teaching at Wellman-Union High School in Wellman, Texas. Soon after, he returned to Lubbock and was contacted by Tech to be the welding instructor.

"I"ve been welding all my life," Pate said. "Doing metal fabrication, I have worked for some companies throughout the years; it was always something I really enjoyed."

Despite the acclaim he has received from students and administrators alike, Pate said he believes the recent influx of students enrolling in welding has everything to do with the technology available in the department. Particularly, the PlasmaCAM, which is a computer controlled plasma cutter that is capable of making intricate designs.

The PlasmaCAM is one of the newest technologies made available within the Department of Agricultural Education and Communications. Along with having access to this cutting-edge technology, students are also able to take a piece of their education home with them. Rather than completing a comprehensive final, students in welding are required to complete a final project utilizing the skills and knowledge they have obtained throughout the semester. The best part, they get to keep the project they construct.

This specific course is not restricted to students studying agriculture and is open to the entire university. Eric James, a graduate student in architecture at Texas Tech University, enrolled in welding fabrications during his final semester as an undergraduate. James said after taking the course he wishes to pursue welding as a hobby.

"The actual class wasn"t required for my major, but I did need a multimedia credit. The class was of interest to me because of metalworking," James said.

James said he has recommended the course to several of his peers within the College of Architecture and credits much of his enthusiasm to the technology available as well as to the course instructor, Dennis Pate.

"He is an extremely intelligent man," James said. "He knows the field of welding and has extensive knowledge of a lot of hands-on machinery whether it be wood working, or engines. I"d say he is hands-down one of the better instructors I have had at Tech."

Josh Smith, a senior mathematics major from San Antonio, Texas, said he made a fire pit for his final project. His fire pit included silhouettes of the double T, the state of Texas, and the Texas flag.

"My favorite aspect of the class was the fact that I was taught how to do something with my hands," Smith said. "School is full of theory based courses so it was refreshing to take a technical craft that has practical uses. I loved it."

Dr. Steve Fraze, Department of Agricultural Education and Communications Chairman, said he has known Pate since the mid 1980s and his programs have always been successful in competitions throughout the years. He also said he believes Pate got back into teaching because he missed the direct interaction with students.

"As an instructor, he has so much experience that it comes easy to him. His students enjoy the classes," Fraze said. "I think he has a good balance of life with working part-time here yet it doesn"t interfere with his personal life.

With the advancement of technology, especially computer technology, an emphasis on technical crafts is often neglected. However, the need for individuals who posses these skill sets have not diminished.

"I think its always going to be a good, stable situation," Pate said. "There will always be a need for those who can weld and for teachers, especially in Texas. It is a huge part of Texas agricultural education."

© 2012 Texas Tech Department of Agricultural Education & Communications