Parents don’t typically have an opportunity to observe how their child performs in a college classroom. It’s even more unusual for a child to witness a parent’s actions in that setting.
That uncommon situation is reality this semester for 51-year-old Wayne Dotson and his 18-year-old son, Andrew, who sit side-by-side every Tuesday morning in a Welding Print Reading class at Washtenaw Community College. Both are enrolled in the WCC Welding and Fabrication program, pursuing a Welding Technology associate degree.
“It’s been really fun having my son in school with me,” Wayne Dotson said. “Just watching him grow – becoming an adult – is something that I’m really happy I get to do. I’m glad I get to see him growing as a man.”
RELATED: VIDEO PROFILE OF THE DOTSONS
Andrew Dotson says it’s been “a great experience to be in class with my dad.” He talks about working together to find the right angles for a blueprint and how it “helps a lot having someone I’m confident and trusting with these things.”
Welding and Fabrication department chair Glenn Kay II teaches the class the Dotsons are taking together. He says he sees them interacting more as peers in the classroom than as father and son.
“It very much seems like they’re friends sharing their fondness of welding and what they can create together,” Kay said. “It’s an incredible journey for both and I couldn’t think of a better way to pursue a career than to pursue it with a friend. I hope one day to share an experience like that with my son or daughter.”
Though they’re tackling the program together, the Dotsons are enrolled for different reasons.
Wayne Dotson has been a paramedic and volunteer fireman for more than a quarter century. In 2017, he started contemplating a career change to something a little less stressful and physically demanding.
Upon graduation, his ideal job would be as a pipeline welder, so he can travel the country, work outdoors and listen to the steady hum of an electrical arc.
“I find welding very peaceful and calming. The sound of the electricity is soothing,” Wayne Dotson says. “Plus, when you’re out on a medical call, you never know what’s going to happen. With welding, you can predict what’s going to happen.”
Welding is a skill Wayne Dotson hasn’t been exposed to since a high school shop class in the 1980s. So how did it emerge as an option for his second career? He has his son to thank for that.
Andrew Dotson was always the type of kid that didn’t like to sit still, which explains how he became a certified firefighter with the Springport Fire Department even before he graduated from Springport High School in June of 2018.
Now a paid on-call firefighter with the department, he was dual-enrolled at WCC during his senior year of high school and is beyond the halfway point of his degree program. He’s taking classes while working full-time and following in his father’s footsteps by taking medical first responder training.
“For me, the welding degree is more of a fallback plan or a future side job,” Andrew Dotson said. “Sometimes because of the way firefighters are scheduled, you have extra time to work on the side.”
Whether it’s a future full-time career or a side job, both Dotsons have proven they have a propensity for welding. Kay says both are “extremely hard working and truly have a passion for welding.”
That passion has essentially paid their tuition bills this semester. Both won $1,000 American Welding Society scholarships by winning a daily competition at an AWS Careers in Welding exhibit at the Detroit Maker Faire in July.
Andrew Dotson recorded the highest score on a welding simulator on the first day of the two-day event to win his scholarship. The next day, Wayne Dotson earned a scholarship of his own. Andrew is quick to point out, however, that his high score was slightly higher than his father’s high score.
“It’s a big competition between us, all the time,” he said, giving his father a quick elbow and a big smile.