Willow Grove

Carrying a torch for underwater welding

By Rich Pietras - Bucks County Courier Times

Aqua welders can earn upwards of $100,000 a year, said the course instructor. Ashley Bechtold has always loved the water. She also likes to cook. Combine the two, and the 17-year-old student could have pursued a career as a chef on a ship. 

But that idea really never took hold for the Hatboro-Horsham High School junior. Instead of heating up meals, she's intrigued by the idea of heating up metals ... with a torch ... underwater. 

So she entered the welding program at the Eastern Center for Arts and Technology in Willow Grove in September.

"The idea of playing with fire underwater amused me," Bechtold said from her classroom/workshop. "After I learned how much money you could make doing it, I thought it would be a good choice."

Her decision to enter the male-dominated field of welding came almost as a fluke after visiting the tech school as part of Keith Valley Middle School's Move-Up Day in eighth grade.

"I thought about the culinary program, but I remember this one girl talking to us about welding," recalls Bechtold. "She said she really loved it and was making good money ... I knew nothing about it but, now, I couldn't be happier with my choice."

Upon entering the two-year, 900-hour basic welding course, Bechtold said she discovered two things right away.