—  by Larry Hall, Valencia College

Kyle Scharfenberg has known what he wanted to be for years; he just didn’t know how he was going to make it happen.

The Poinciana High School graduate already had a history in carpentry and a love of welding, so after high school, he didn’t want to waste any time beginning his training for his dream career. Thanks to the Osceola Prosper program, he is already in the driver’s seat to his future.

The son and grandson of carpenters, Scharfenberg was always interested in skilled trades. His interest in welding began when one of Valencia’s first welding instructors visited Scharfenberg’s middle school. “I was walking around and there was a welding booth for Valencia. My father knew the instructor from Disney, so they started talking and then I was invited to weld,” Scharfenberg said. “The instructor was surprised I could weld so well for my first time. That sparked my interest.”

That spark turned into a flame before he even began the Accelerated Skills Training program. “I’ve done a little bit of short-circuit mig (welding),” says Scharfenberg. “I actually taught a course in the Boy Scouts. The instructor sadly passed away two weeks before the program was to start, and I was supposed to be helping him out.”

Scharfenberg, 17 at the time, was asked if he could teach the class and he jumped at the opportunity. “I taught the kids some of the basics of how to weld.”

Scharfenberg earned six nationally recognized certifications and was named the student speaker at the department’s manufacturing programs graduation.

Now, Scharfenberg is chasing his dreams. While he was taking classes in the 28-week welding program, he was also taking classes so he can earn an Associate in Science degree in Supervision and Management for Industry. Those classes are paid for by Osceola Prosper, a scholarship program funded by Osceola County which guarantees that every Osceola County high school graduate of the class of 2022 and 2023 will receive a full scholarship for a two-year degree at Valencia College, or short-term training at Valencia College or Osceola Technical College (oTech).

While juggling his classes, Scharfenberg also works part time at Publix. If not for Osceola Prosper, he would have had to work full-time – and that, he says, would have delayed the launch of his career.

“If funding wasn’t available, I would have worked as many hours as I could to save up and put money toward this program. Right now, I work Friday through Sunday and I pick up shifts throughout the week when I can. I still have to pay for gas, food and bills so all of that money I’m earning goes straight to that.”

Thanks to the grants and scholarships that have enabled him to take both a degree program and the welding class simultaneously, Scharfenberg is focused on learning and taking advantage of the opportunity. The welding course has also allowed him to explore his creative side, as he worked on a bike rack designed by an Osceola County high school student. That bike rack has been installed on the St. Cloud waterfront and, at the dedication, Kyle made a speech in front of county officials.

“I did most of the fabrication for that bike rack, including the frog sitting on a little flower. I also built an orchid (out of metal) for my girlfriend’s mom,” he said.

Scharfenberg enjoyed showing off his artistic side in the welding program, and created a flower for his girlfriend’s mom.

Everything is falling into place for Scharfenberg, whose goals are coming into focus and the guidance he has received from the welding program instructors is a big reason why.

“I was very happy to have Juan Ayala, Tyson Goodwin and Danny Nunez here. They all taught me stuff that I really needed to learn, even self-motivation. I was a bad student in high school and middle school; test taking was not my strong suit. They taught me that I have to strive for this. Someone is paying for me to go here, so use the money wisely and go all in,” Scharfenberg said. “You have a lot of structure here. There are also a lot of people setting up tours of businesses and helping us find jobs, they give references and guide you even after this program ends. Juan and the other instructors stay in touch with their students and that is really beneficial.”

Today, Scharfenberg’s future is taking shape. He has graduated from the welding program and was named the manufacturing graduation student speaker. Scharfenberg also became the first welding student to earn six nationally recognized certifications. That included the 6G pipe certification, which is not only the toughest to pass, but isn’t typically included in the welding technology program curriculum. He is continuing his education at Valencia College as he works toward his A.S. degree, but he is also excited to begin his career in welding.

The passion was always there and now the opportunity is too, thanks to Osceola Prosper and he is taking more than knowledge away from it all.

“This program has taught me is self-motivation, self-pride and to get your butt in gear.”