A decade ago, Kevin Rawlins, a senior welding student at the Aiken County Career and Technology Center, was named the facility’s student of the year.

Five years later, he joined the staff as the welding instructor. In 2011, Rawlins was selected as the teacher of the year.

The awards kept coming. Recently, Rawlins was named the “I am CATE,” state winner through the state’s Office of Career and Technology Education, known as CATE. He was recognized as the top teacher who previously had graduated from high school in a career-based program.

Debbie Hubbard, the Career Center’s CATE specialist, nominated Rawlins for the award – describing him as a teacher recognized by his peers throughout the state. Principal Brooks Smith provided a letter of recommendation for the award.

“Mr. Rawlins is an instructor who is passionate about both welding and the career opportunities his program provides students,” Smith wrote. “Because of this, he works diligently to keep his program aligned with industry standards.”

Smith surprised Rawlins with the announcement at the Career Center “completer” ceremony on June 4. Rawlins will receive the award at the 2014 Education and Business Summit in Greenville later this month.

“I wasn’t expecting this,” he said. “But I just love welding. There’s no other field like it ... and I want to share that passion with my students and be a role model for them.”

The son of Phillip and Dianne Rawlins, he split his name between North Augusta High and the Career Center the last three years of high school. Before his sophomore year, Rawlins had gotten an interview with John Ball, the legendary welding instructor at the Career Center. He struck his first arc and never looked back.

“Mr. Ball not only instilled me with the skills, but also a lot of life lessons,” Rawlins said.

After high school, he got a job with TTX, a provider of rail cars in North Augusta, while keeping in touch with Ball. Within a few years, the older man told Rawlins he was retiring and wanted his former student to take his place. Rawlins accepted the challenge and already, he has watched his own former students move into good-paying jobs.

During his Career Center tenure, he has established the first American Welding Society student chapter in the state. During the past year, his students rebuilt metal picnic tables at Langley-Bath-Clearwater Middle School and have done other community projects.

When Rawlins left TTX for the Career Center, executives at the company were actually delighted. With his experience there, “He was a natural to help begin instructing our pre-employment welding schools,” Sherri Lind, the TTX human resources and safety manager, said in her letter of recommendation.

With Rawlins’ knowledge of the firm’s business and his ability as an instructor, “Our turnover rate has consistently remained at less than five percent each year,” Lind said.

Senior writer Rob Novit is the Aiken Standard’s education reporter and has been with the newspaper since September 2001.