Concrete and Masonry Students Trek North for Service-Learning Project

Future masons strengthen professional skills building concrete walls for welding booths at Wright Technical Center in Buffalo, Minn.

Students in the Concrete and Masonry program at Dakota County Technical College traveled 70 miles northwest of Rosemount to erect concrete dividing walls for welding booths at Wright Technical Center in Buffalo, Minnesota, as part of a service-learning project.

Paul Geisler, the instructor who heads the DCTC program, which offers both a two-year A.A.S. degree and a nine-month diploma, reported that his students routinely take on select projects during the school year.

“We were happy to do work for another school,” Geisler said. “My students received invaluable on-the-job experience, and the welding department at Wright Tech got a super deal on concrete work. The project was a win-win for everyone involved.”

Gary Butkowski, the welding technology instructor at WTC, could not agree more. Butkowski, who taught welding for 28 years at the Minnesota Correctional Facility in St. Cloud, Minn., needed to replace the original metal walls of his program’s welding booths with concrete block. He used the Internet to check out masonry programs at nearby technical colleges.

“As a teacher, I knew that college programs often did outside work as part of the educational process,” Butkowski said. “I contacted Paul Geisler at DCTC and he drove out to our school to see what supplies I would need to order for the project. Having Paul’s students perform the actual labor saved our program a great deal of money.”

Wright Technical Center, a high school for career and technical education, first opened its doors 36 years ago. Students from eight school districts attend the center, which is located on Highway 25 in Buffalo. Students explore future careers and earn technical college and high school credits by participating in the academic program of their choice, including Health Science Technology, Law Enforcement & Firefighting, Cosmetology Careers and Graphic Communications to name a few.

“Our students are bussed from area schools in three different time blocks during the school day,” said Eileen Erickson, an administrative assistant at WTC. “We are one of the very few technical high schools remaining in Minnesota.”

Julie Warner, Wright Tech’s director, welcomed the college-level concrete workers. She saw the Civic Engagement Project as the ideal way for her center’s Welding Technology program to afford new, high-quality workstations.

“The metal dividers we removed were more than 20 years old,” Warner said. “Having the DCTC concrete and masonry students here gave our welding students the chance to see an actual construction project completed in a timely and professional manner.”

As the project unfolded, high school welders in leather welding jackets pressed on with their classwork while DCTC’s concrete workers shaped mortar with hand trowels and carefully positioned concrete blocks.

Cameron Befort,19, of Mazeppa, Minn., one of the DCTC students working on the project, is earning his ninth-month diploma in the program. Befort poured concrete walls before enrolling at the college.

“Doing this project gives us a perspective of what concrete work is like in a fast-paced, real-world setting,” he said. Later, as an afterthought and for the record, Befort let it be known that, “Chicks dig concrete guys.”

John Hawkins, 38, of Roberts, Wis., is also going for his diploma. He decided to switch careers and attend DCTC after accepting a Ford Motor Company buyout. His experience in the Concrete and Masonry program has been exceptionally positive.

“Paul is very sharp and a great instructor,” Hawkins said. “Working on this project is nice because it gets us out of the classroom and into a real, workplace environment.”

Many similar projects are already on the program’s spring schedule. “The upcoming season is booked solid,” Geisler said. “We’ll be doing a lot of decorative concrete work, including stamping, coloring, stenciling, and exposed aggregate jobs.”

“We’re in our fifth year now,” he added. “Our program got its start due to industry demand, and that demand is still going strong.”

Graduates of the Concrete and Masonry program are thoroughly prepared for careers as concrete masons as well as brick and block masons in residential and commercial construction. Students learn fundamental construction skills and become experts in all aspects of concrete, one of the most prevalent and durable construction materials in the world.

Subjects covered during coursework include concrete properties and testing, concrete repair, specialty concrete properties, concrete production facilities operation and concrete construction methods.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national job outlook for cement masons and concrete finishers is good with employment expected to grow at a rate of 11 percent over the next decade.

The employment and education Web site,, reports that the average hourly wage is $23.44 for cement masons and concrete finishers in Minnesota. The top earners in the state make as much as $33.16 an hour.

1 Comment

Comments are closed.