Impressive statistics seem to gravitate toward the PVF Roundtable.

For starters, the Houston-based industrial PVF networking organization now routinely draws between 400 and 500 attendees to its quarterly meetings and an all-time record crowd is expected to fill the Marriott Westchase in Houston Tuesday, Oct. 17 (4:15 p.m. start) where NFL great Terry Bradshaw will be a guest speaker.

Additionally, the group’s PVF Roundtable Scholarship Fund has awarded $350,000 in scholarships to four colleges/universities since its inception. That number will balloon even higher later this year when the Roundtable awards its 2017 scholarships.

But that $350,000 number pales in comparison to what the Roundtable is accomplishing with these scholarships, both in providing opportunities for young professionals to enter various parts of the industrial supply chain and in helping the industry solve the ever-intensifying dilemma of attracting, training and retaining the next generation of professionals.

“We are very grateful to the PVF Roundtable for supporting our students,” says Dr. Reza Langari, professor of mechanical engineering at Texas A&M University. “The PVF Roundtable is a composite of many manufacturers and distributors. Many of our students are employed at these entities that make up the PVF Roundtable. The scholarships have been tremendously beneficial to the students. It’s very important that students are able to make that connection both in terms of the financial support and the fact they see a potential career path for themselves in that industry.”

As originally founded, the PVF Roundtable Scholarship Fund awarded scholarship monies to the industrial distribution programs at Texas A&M University and the University of Houston.

“We settled on those two schools and started funding a permanent endowment,” notes Harold Armstrong (Armstrong-Weatherly), vice president and board member of the PVF Roundtable and the individual who spearheads the scholarship fund. “We’ve continued to add to the endowment over the years and we’re able to put students through these programs at major universities.”

Armstrong-Weatherly’s Harold Armstrong talks to Supply House Times Chief Editor Mike Miazga about the vital importance of the PVF Roundtable Scholarship Fund to the PHCP-PVF supply chain.


Adding the trades

Several years ago the PVF Roundtable expanded the scholarship program to include two Houston-area trade schools — San Jacinto College and Lee College.

And like with the successful endowment for the two universities, the results have been nothing short of spectacular.

At Lee College in the Houston suburb of Baytown, students in welding and pipe-fitting classes have benefitted from the scholarship monies. “With the students taking the introduction to welding and pipe-fitting classes, we’ve taken that money and bought them their own supplies to get started,” notes Rod Hellyer, the chair of Lee College’s Industrial Education department. “That saves them at least $125 for supplies. There are about 55 students a semester that benefit from that money.”

Hellyer adds that type of financial assistance can be a game-changer for students interested in those programs. “Once they’ve paid for tuition, they are pretty well strapped for funds,” he says. “We’re trying to make it a little easier for them to get started and get interested in a career. Without that money, we couldn’t buy those supplies for the introductory students. It would be up to them.”

Mark Johnson, dean of industrial technology at San Jacinto College’s North Campus, explains the college, which has locations throughout the Houston area, is in the midst of growing its pipefitting program as a way to meet the industry need for skilled pipefitters. Like his contemporaries at the other schools, Johnson says the landscape would be different without the Roundtable’s scholarship funds.

“We currently offer a degree plan where students can complete four courses in only one semester to earn their occupational certificate,” he says. “This is an intense program with significant time commitments. We use the PVF Roundtable scholarships to help these students who have to work less to attend this full-time program. Without the PVF Roundtable scholarships many of our pipefitting students wouldn’t be able to begin or complete the program.”

Johnson adds San Jacinto gives each student between $500 to $1,000 to enroll in the program and $500 to complete the program.

“This allows most of them to complete the program with little out-of-pocket costs,” he says. “This also allows many of our students to be trained for high-skill, high-paying jobs they may never have access to. The PVF Roundtable scholarships are changing the lives of our students in immeasurable ways. As we continue to train students to be pipefitters, we are indebted to the collaboration and support we’ve received from them.”

Like Lee College, San Jacinto has added welding into the mix to meet the growing industry demand. “We hear over and over from the industry how it needs more skilled pipefitters who can hit the ground running,” Johnson says. “When the industry talks, we listen and we value its input as we build our technical programs. We’re also responding by creating a dual certificate that gives students skills in welding and pipefitting so they are more versatile and can better contribute to this dynamic workforce.”

To date, the PVF Roundtable Scholarship Fund has awarded $50,000 each to San Jacinto College and Lee College. “This has and will continue to provide students the ability to be followed through to completion,” says Ruth Keenan, the executive director of the San Jacinto College Foundation. “As more funding is made available, we expect this number to grow. We cannot thank the PVF Roundtable enough for its involvement with our students. The majority of these students are first in their family to attend college. Students, their families, the PVF industry and our community directly benefit as a result of this critical funding. We are so very grateful for the investment and support provided by the PVF Roundtable and we look forward to deepening our partnership in the days ahead.”


No slowing down

The PVF Roundtable generates funding for the scholarships through sponsorships of the quarterly meetings, through direct donations (Ferguson Cares’ $25,000 gift in 2015 stands as the largest direct donation) and the popular Don Caffee Memorial Golf Tournament (spring) and Trout Blast fishing tournament (fall). The money raised since last fall has been nothing short of impressive with the 2016 Trout Blast in Matagorda, Tex., raising $33,000 for the fund and this year’s Caffee tournament taking things to the next level with a capacity turnout raising $60,000 in additional funding.

“It’s been incredible,” Armstrong told Supply House Times during the August PVF Roundtable meeting at the Marriott Westchase. “At one of the colleges, 300 students have benefitted from the scholarships over the last two years. At another college, more than 50 students are getting a full ride on our scholarship monies. The trade-school program is designed to help students who need financial assistance. It’s been dramatic the impact we are having. It’s such a thrill for this group to be able to do that. The scholarship monies are going to people who didn’t know they had opportunities. We are bringing them into the business. We keep it simple. This scholarship fund is designed to help the PVF industry and we’ve been able to do a lot with it. These schools we work with are gung-ho about this. It’s a marvelous partnership.”

Armstrong says the scope of the scholarship fund likely is to increase in the near future with the expected addition of Houston Community College. “This has grown in a dramatic way and we are thrilled to be part of it,” he says.

Armstrong admits at first he did not expect the scholarship program to accelerate in impact as quickly as it did.

“The only thought I had is, ‘Where are we going to get the money for it?’” he says. “That’s still a little bit of a problem because we want to do even more. You need more to do more. We’ve received wonderful letters from scholarship recipients that warm your heart. This is our purpose. The people and companies who have contributed to the fund are doing something to help people, companies, communities and our industry. They are helping change lives.”


This article was originally titled “Changing lives” in the September 2017 print edition of Supply House Times.