When Caleb Rogers crossed the stage to receive his Washtenaw Community College diploma from President Dr. Rose B. Bellanca at the college’s Commencement ceremony on May 21, the bright yellow cut-out letters spread across his black mortar board perfectly summarized the moment.
The words “Welding My Way to a Bright Future!” appeared above the numbers “2022” and a graphic representation of a welding helmet.
Considering the 19-year-old was just one year removed from his high school graduation and one month shy of starting a job that pays nearly $40 per hour, that graduation cap included no hyperbole.
“My dad was a welder when he was younger, so I grew up working in the garage with him, helping with projects he was working on for fun,” Rogers said. “That sparked my interest and I decided when I was old enough, I wanted to do those things on my own.”
Rogers attended Ypsilanti Lincoln High and started taking welding classes at the South and West Washtenaw Consortium hosted at Saline High School. When the COVID-19 pandemic moved instruction online, Rogers and his family decided to dual-enroll him at WCC.
The 20 college credits Rogers earned while he was still a high school student – completing both welding and general education classes – gave him a head start that allowed him to finish WCC’s 66-credit Welding Technology associate degree program in just one year. He graduated with high honors (3.8+ GPA) and as a member of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society.
On June 20, Rogers will begin a new job as a Maintenance Welder Craftsman at the Marathon Petroleum Corporation’s Detroit refinery making a base salary near $80,000 with a likelihood for regular overtime compensation.
Rogers put in exhaustive preparation for the welding test that would help him earn that job, spending up to 60 hours per week for three consecutive weeks in the WCC welding labs fine-tuning his craft.
“The fact that WCC has that open lab time available to all of its students is super awesome,” Rogers said. “Plus, the instructors at WCC have real experience in the field. They’re not answering questions from a book, they’re answering from experience. That makes it easy when you’re ready to transition from a school environment to a professional environment. It makes you more valuable in the workplace.”
You might expect a 19-year-old would consider his education complete after landing a high-paying job. In Rogers’ case, you’d be wrong. Along with his full-time work schedule, he’s enrolling in the Welding and Metallurgical Engineering program at Wayne State University in the fall.
“I think it will be a nice backup to be able to work on the engineering side of things, too, when I’m older and welding gets to be hard on my body,” Rogers said. “I like having my options open like that.”
Rogers’ path is similar to that of his father, Matt Rogers, who put himself through college as a welder and now works as an engineer for Ford Motor Company.
Which makes it worth noting that those aforementioned father and son projects they worked on together in the family garage weren’t the typical fix-up-a-jalopy affair. Their latest endeavor involved developing a kit that enables 5.2-liter supercharged V8 Ford Raptor engines to fit into 1966 to 1977 models of Ford Broncos. They’ve installed a number themselves and sold kits to customers around the country.
“It’s neat to use the stuff that I learned from my dad, at Saline and at Washtenaw to fabricate and retrofit all these new powertrains and put them into vehicles that were designed 40 to 50 years ago,” said Rogers, who is indeed welding his way to a bright future.