For PTC Welding Instructor, Steve Ake, our beloved state song opens with more than just pretty imagery, it tells the story of his childhood as a lifelong Oklahoman. Growing up on a wheat farm in Northwest Oklahoma, the waving wheat really did stretch from horizon to horizon as far as the eye could see.
“There was always something to fix on the farm - a piece of equipment or something else,” Ake recalls. From working with and showing animals to planting crops and repairing fences and equipment, Steve had a pretty broad range of skills and interests by the time he graduated high school. He went on to pursue his Masters in Agricultural Education at Oklahoma State University.
Mr. Ake taught high school Ag for nearly 30 years. In that time he always had the goal of making sure his students left his classes with marketable skills. In his view, the skill that led to more jobs than any other was welding. So, he spent a lot of his time in the welding shop. “You know, if I could get one or two students employed through welding vs. none of them employed by learning what the digestive system of a pig was, I figured we’d be better off making sure we knew how to weld.” Afterall, as Ake points out, “It’s one of the main foundations of the world today. You’re not going to find much that you rely on every day that doesn’t have some welding on it.”
When the job at PTC opened up, his reputation as a welding instructor was well-known. Several people reached out to him and encouraged him to check it out. He did and discovered it was a natural fit. Asked about why he enjoys what he does so much, Ake says, “You get to focus on what you want to teach. I worry about welding students. I don’t have to worry about other subjects, and we get to focus on welding for more than 45 minutes at a time.”
“We concentrate mostly on arc welding on plate and pipe, but our program covers a wide skillset. In fact, last year, my first year at PTC, one of my students won first place at the regional [Skills USA] welding contest. That was pretty cool. For a student to get top honors across five skills [Tig, Mig, Flux Core, Arc, and Cutting Torch], you know you’re doing something right.” Ake believed the student had a good chance at a state championship, but it wasn’t meant to be. “We didn’t get to go to state because of the pandemic.”
Mr. Ake shares job market opportunities with his students in a variety of ways. A student favorite is always when guests come in to talk about, and demonstrate, specific skills needed for careers in railroad, pipelines, construction, and so much more. Discussing what employers are looking for after graduation, Ake says, “They’re going to hire someone who can weld. Get the basics to get your foot in the door and you can have a great career ahead of you.” It’s important to build your foundational skills because, as Ake explains, “If you go to get a welding job, you have to test for that specific job. Even if you work on one pipeline and you move to another, you have to re-test in order to get that job.”
He may not live in Northwest Oklahoma on a wheat farm anymore, but supporting Ag and FFA is still a part of who Ake is. While inspecting show goats on a farm one day he noticed a stand the seller was using for showing. “It was wobbly and needed some help.” Ake recalls. So, he told him, “I’m not much on livestock, but I’m good at inventing things.” Steve did what he learned growing up on the farm and set out to solve this problem. “I invented a device used for show animals (sheep and goats) to help enhance muscle display and the animal’s ability to brace about three years ago. The show goat breeder was impressed and we both started selling them. We’ve got them all over the United States right now. I’ve sold to Ag Teachers and 4H leaders in Florida, Georgia, Colorado, South Dakota, and Arkansas.” You can find Steve’s work on his Facebook page at “All American Sheep and Goat Stands.”
When asked why he chose to teach, Ake simply says, “I see potential in each student.” His investment in his students and sincere desire to see them succeed is what makes him an exceptional asset to Pontotoc Technology Center. Laughing a bit, Ake adds, “Yeah, I joke about retiring sometimes, but if I retired, I’d have to go get a real job. It’s not really work when you have a good bunch of students and you enjoy what you’re doing.”
When Mr. Ake isn’t in the welding shop at PTC teaching our full-time welding program students or our short-term skills courses in the evenings, you can find him in his shop at home doing what he loves most - inventing, tinkering, solving problems, and welding...of course.