Welding students created this recycling sculpture inspired by the iconic Virginia LOVE campaign. Photo courtesy of

High School Welders Create Virginia LOVE Sign with Recyclables

When a new recycling campaign needed a traveling sign to spread its message to Virginia residents, a Hampton Roads high school welding class was up for the challenge.

Suffolk’s College & Career Academy at Pruden’s welding class won top honors with a unique Virginia LOVE sign that was revealed to the public this past weekend., a region-wide public awareness and education campaign supported by governments in southeast Virginia, launched a new recycling campaign called Start Smart, Recycle Right to help citizens know what and how to recycle.  The campaign put out a request for a traveling sign to promote the program. 

Tom Shirk, an instructor at  Suffolk’s College & Career Academy at Pruden, asked his welding students if they could come up with something.  Starting last January, the students designed and assembled a metal sign, where the word LOVE is spelled with hollow letters that can be filled with recyclables. The O has been replaced by a heart. The students used a variety of welding techniques including stick and MIG and TIG welding. They also used oxy-fuel and plasma cutting. The sign is about eight feet long and five feet high.

Students use welding techniques to make the LOVE sign. Photo courtesy of

Shirk says, “The LOVE project for was an amazing opportunity for the students to apply the welding techniques they learned in the classroom. They operated with such confidence in their abilities, and the students understood what the project was about—recycling bottles and cans.”

The students even collected the cans that are inside the hollow design.  

The project was presented to the public this past weekend at the Suffolk Earth and Arts Festival, a collaborative effort between Keep Suffolk Beautiful and the Suffolk Art League. After the festival, the sign will be displayed in additional tidewater locals including Portsmouth, Newport News, Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Gloucester, James City County and York County.

Katie Cullipher, an AskHRGreen team leader, says, “We loved Mr. Shirk’s idea for the sign to be created as a classroom welding project, and that students would design and construct it. We were also drawn to their concept to create space within the artwork to contain recyclable materials.”

The Start Smart Recycle Right campaign teaches the right and wrong ways to recycle. For example, placing material that cannot be recycled in a recycling bin can create a host of issues. It can even result in recyclable materials having to be thrown away, defeating the whole purpose. The campaign gives clear and concise instructions to make the recycling process go smoothly.  

The College and Career Academy at Pruden is a Career, Technical, and Adult Educations center offering 17 career and technical programs for high school students from three Suffolk high schools, good for technical certifications and college credits., which is administered by the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission (HRPDC), encourages environmental stewardship among all residents in southeastern Virginia. Beyond just recycling, it offers environmentally friendly advice on a variety of subjects such as landscaping and keeping local waterways free of debris. You can follow them on social media or at   

-Kendall Osborne