Collins’ passion for welding, teaching ignites a spark in students

  • Tags: Faculty Profile | Newsletter
Published 11/09/2018
Al Collins profile picture

If you asked adjunct welding instructor Chester “Al” Collins how to perfect your weld, he’d tell you: proper technique and practice. But how about finding the perfect, fulfilling career? For Collins, it’s blending his burning passion for helping Elgin Community College students succeed with years of [metal] strong experience in the field he’s teaching.

Collins, who’s taught at ECC for over 15 years, is a long-time Elgin resident and ECC alum. His biggest accomplishment: knowing that he’s played a role in his students’ lives and their career arc.

I worked as a welding supervisor at company in Huntley (IL); during the first day meet-and greet with my new team, I noticed one welder who looked quite familiar,” he recalls. “He was a welding student of mine from 1981 to 1982, when I first started with ECC. He thanked me for helping him during the beginning of his long and very prosperous career.”

“This wasn’t the only time it’s happened,” he reflects. “Every time I see a former student and hear how successful they are that is my greatest accomplishment.”

Today, Collins suits up in a protective helmet, eyewear and gloves to meet the challenge of teaching the workforce of tomorrow. “One of the benefits of being an adjunct instructor is working in the same industry you teach in,” he said. “That way, you can get real-time evaluation of what your teaching has accomplished, and you remain adaptable and relevant by teaching newer techniques, technology, etc.”

We caught up with Collins to learn more about his life and his work at ECC. Here is what he had to say.

In your words, what do you do at ECC?
I teach students the technical and hands-on phases of welding and the industrial safety that goes with this trade. We start with many hours of classroom training and then we go out to some of the best welding labs in the state for hands-on instruction and practice. ECC’s welding program was recently rated third in state by Universities.com…we will get to number one!

What would you do if you were ECC president for a day?
Go see the second annual ECC high school welding competition in the spring! We kicked the competition off in May 2018 with over thirty high school students from local school districts participating.

If there was a movie about your life, who would you want to play you?
Jack Nicholson

What’s on your “bucket list?”
I don’t do the whole “bucket list” thing. A bucket list seems so finite. It’s too much of a reminder that life’s too short. It’s better to just do exciting things as they come to you and enjoy life to the fullest while you’re able to.

What do you enjoy doing outside of work?
I enjoy working on PCs, laptops, smartphones and other devices. When a friend has a problem, I love to troubleshoot and repair their technology for them.

Where was the best place you’ve traveled to? Or, where would you like to visit?
Washington DC—it’s the best. I’ve been there many times. There’s so much history and so many museums.

What’s one fact we should know about you?
My second calling was Lean Manufacturing, a systematic method for waste minimization within a manufacturing system without sacrificing productivity. I spent eight years as a manufacturing and engineering tech at a local company teaching, facilitating and implementing lean processes. I was part of a team that worked on process improvements to a 350,000 sq. ft. factory using Kaizen, value stream mapping and other methods. Then, I spent four years at another firm in the Industrial Engineering department doing much of the same in a 300,000 sq. ft. custom metal fabrication factory.

What’s something about your job that others should know?
It’s more fun than work!

What would be your “theme song?”
Humble and Kind” by Tim McGraw

What was your favorite class in school?
Human Anatomy and Physiology with (former instructor) Gus Stuart at ECC, actually. His teaching skill was inspiring; he made class fun, and made you look forward to class and want to be a better student. I draw inspiration for my teaching from my experience in his classroom.

What was your first job out of school?
I was a master welder for a company in Bartlett. Shortly after that, I became an adjunct instructor here at ECC.

What quote best describes your philosophy?
“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” ―William Arthur Ward

“I enjoy working at ECC because…”
The Sustainability, Business and Career Technologies team is a great place to be. Everyone here is always ready to help you be a better instructor and to help your students achieve their education and career goals.