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Grand Island Senior High student is a working welder and a social media influencer
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Grand Island Senior High student is a working welder and a social media influencer

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090521 Underwater Welder 1.jpg

Bryn Otto welds underwater — the “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity brought to him from being a social media welding influencer as part of the “Surgeons of Steel" group. 

Grand Island Senior High’s Academy of Technical Sciences can count a “welding influencer” as one of its success stories.

Bryn Otto’s TikTok and Instagram accounts detailing the adventures of a student welder have garnered more than 23,000 and 1,800 followers, respectively.

Through social media, Otto said, he was able to easily connect with like-minded welding enthusiasts.

“I made a group called ‘Surgeons of Steel.’ There’s five of us. The oldest is 23. She’s a welding teacher in Georgia,” he said. “And then there’s a girl from Lincoln, and she’s 21 this month, and then a 17-year-old in Houston, and a 19-year-old in Detroit.”

Otto’s social media welding skits, montages and projects have gained him followers and a friendship forged of a common passion. It also got him a trip to Texas, where a teacher at the Ocean Corporation, a Houston, Texas-based school of commercial diving and underwater welding, connected with Otto through a mutual friend.

“From there, he just invited me out,” he said. Of course, Otto said “yes,” but not without thinking of his fellow Surgeons of Steel.

“It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he said. “We couldn’t pass it up.”

090521 Underwater Welder 2.jpg

Bryn Otto shows his first projects from welding underwater in Texas following a connection made on social media. Otto is a student at Grand Island Senior High’s Academy of Technical Sciences.

Welding underwater was a bit different from welding with both feet on the ground, Otto said.

“The gear was really heavy until you stepped in the water, and then you kind of get used to it,” he said. “They let us just float around.”

Then came the actual welding, Otto said, referring to a “puddle,” which is a type of weld.

“You can’t even see, because all the bubbles going up, you couldn’t see your puddle,” he said. “Then there’s a constant electrocution, but it’s not heavy, so you’re not tensing up. It didn’t hurt horrible.”

One of the welders had a complication of a cosmetic type.

“The girl from Lincoln forgot she had a nose ring in,” Otto said, laughing.

Otto’s initial welding experience began at the academy, whose principal is D.W. Holley.

Holley said opportunities brought about by Grand Island's academies — Technical Science, Business and Communication; Education, Law and Public Safety, Engineering and Technology; Technical Sciences and Freshman Exploration — might not have otherwise reached students like Otto.

“It certainly accelerated things for Bryn,” he said. “I think he’s a tremendously talented young man, but having these opportunities through the career academies certainly put him on a path, probably a lot sooner in life.”

Part of that path includes community partnerships between local businesses and organizations, often in the form of apprenticeships and internships, Holley said.

“He was able to go into a registered apprenticeship at 16. Typically, if a student isn’t involved in an accredited welding program, like what we have with Central Community College, he would have to wait until he was 18 years of age to do that,” he explained. “But through the Department of Labor, and the registered apprenticeship program, students are able to start earlier at 16 and 17.”

The district’s academy system is organized to create a custom, specialized education for participating students.

Otto said his path isn’t unlike that of students enrolled in the other academies.

“The way the academies work is we start off as in (freshman exploration). You don’t have an academy yet. That’s when you explore all of them,” he said. “Once you decide on an academy, you decide on a pathway.”

Choosing a pathway wasn’t difficult for Otto once he matched his interests, learning style and abilities to the Academy of Technical Science.

“I knew I wanted to do either construction, manufacturing or welding, because my dad was a welder,” he said. “I decided on welding because I just needed something hands-on. I can’t sit and stare at a whiteboard all day.”

Otto’s pathway fit into the process fostered by Grand Island's academy experience, Holley said.

“To have that ability — that system — built in place where students are really finding out their strengths and their qualities at an early age,” he said. “So that way, when they get to be a sophomore, they’re able to dig deeper into that passion.”

Through his education and vocational experience — including his job at Chief Fabrication — Otto has found his passion.

“I’ve only had two jobs before this, and they were both miserable. But when I went to Chief, I mean, time flies. A 10-hour shift feels like five hours,” he said. “In my past jobs, a five-hour shift feels like an eternity.”

Otto said he’d like to educate students like himself someday.

“I’d like to become a CWA, which is a certified welding instructor,” he said. “It’s got a 60% failure rate. Over at CCC, they’re kind of guiding me. My goal is to be a CWA by the time I’m 20, which would be probably one of the youngest ever.”

Having a head start could make that possible, Otto said.

“You have to have five years of experience welding. I started when I was 16 at Chief,” he said. “I get a degree, then I can do it in four years. By the time I’m 20, I should be able to test.”

In the nearer future, the Surgeons of Steel are planning another trip to Texas.

“In November, when we do go back to Houston, we’re trying out some different stuff underwater,” Otto said. “We also got invited, us five, to Arclabs, which is a welding school down there. They’re going to hold a high school event, and we’re going to be able to do a demo for high school students. It’s going to be crazy, because of the high schools … teaching other high school students.”

Holley mentioned Otto returning to Grand Island's Academy of Technical Sciences as a presenter after graduation, sharing his passion with students who could become the next industry influencers.

“He’s just kind of taking this by the horns through this welding influencer path,” he said. “That’s something that we don’t directly just say, 'Hey, go out and do this,' but he’s taken upon himself and has the confidence to lead other students and other people around the world in this journey that he’s on.”

The future is full of possibilities, Holley said.

“I hope that whatever the case might be after high school, he does stay connected to us, because I think he could offer a lot to our future students with his experiences, and his confidence and his journey.”

Jessica Votipka is the education reporter at the Grand Island Independent. She can be reached at 308-381-5420.

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