Steven is a Senior Welding Instructor at Tulsa Welding School & Technology Center in Houston. Lately, he has been teaching the 125 Capstone night class, the final course of the Welding Specialist program. But as a senior instructor, he’s available to teach any course in the program, so he often moves around.
Thanks for speaking with us Steven; how long have you been in the field?
I’ve been in the industry going on six years now. I started straight out of high school.
What made you choose welding as a high school kid?
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I did some welding in my senior year at high school. Then the man who recently became my father-in-law, Robert Reyna, got me into the industry. Robert is a superintendent for a welding company. He taught me the basics about welding. I basically picked it up from him and rolled with it. It got easier over time, and he taught me every step of the way.
How did you get into teaching?
I’m actually a graduate of the Houston campus. I graduated in August 2015. About two weeks prior to graduating, my instructor asked me about my future plans. I told him was still undecided and looking around. We talked about my past and how many years I have, things like that. When he heard about my experience, he asked me what I thought about teaching.
What did you say?
Well, my first thought was that I’ve never taught, so I wouldn’t know how to start. He broke it down for me, what I’d be doing, and told me that if I was interested, there may be a job for me here. It actually did seem really interesting, and it was one of those opportunities that I couldn’t pass up. I didn’t want to have regrets later down the road. It’s better to regret something you did than something you didn’t.
But I don’t regret it at all; it turned out to be something I really enjoy. You can see the impact you make on students. From beginning to the end you can see how much they change in seven months. When a student comes up to you at graduation and says, “Hey, Mr. Chavez, you really helped me and I just want to say thank you.” It means a lot; it’s a good feeling. I can see myself staying in teaching because I really enjoy what I’m doing.
What do you enjoy most about teaching?
The learning experience – as a teacher I learn something new every day.
Explain that to me?
Just going about how to present yourself and be a role model for the students. I’d never really expected people to look up to me the way the students do, and that’s a good feeling.
Let’s backtrack. After four years in the field, why did you go back to welding school?
I was a structural welder, so I’d basically been doing all stick welding. From time to time I’d weld on pipe or weld a different process, but I felt like going to school would help me get a handle on, and get hands-on, with every process. I wanted to broaden my skills and my horizons. I still worked with my father-in-law while I went to school.
Tell me something that most people don’t know about you?
I was a really good bowler when I was younger. I used to travel to different tournaments with my brother. I’d always win my division; I have boxes and boxes of trophies and plaques with my name on. I had a scholarship at one time. I kind of drifted away from it though when I was about 16, and I started playing baseball in high school. I guess that’s kind of a hidden talent, although my colleagues have an idea. Our Christmas party last year was at a bowling alley, so they got a taste of how good I am!
If you could have dinner with anyone, alive or dead, who would it be?
I would have to say my grandpa on my mom’s side. I’ve heard good things about him, but he died when I was just 2 years old. I’d like to see the man he was for myself, and ask him questions about my mom!
As a boy, what did you want to do when you grew up?
That’s a tough one… not too sure. I played baseball a lot, so I guess I wanted to be a baseball star.
What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to new welding students who are just starting?
It’s not an easy craft to learn, so don’t do it just because someone tells you that you can make a lot of money as a welder. It’s definitely an art that you have to try to perfect. It takes time, it takes practice; it takes skill and dedication. You have to put the time and effort in. You have to give it 100% every day of these seven months and beyond. You can’t slack off and expect to leave and walk into a job and make good money. If you put in the work, it will pay off. You have to trust the system, and know the outcome will be good if you put the effort in.
What’s your favorite tool? What could you not do without?
I would have to say my stinger. It’s the tool you use for SMAW – Shielded Metal Arc Welding, commonly called stick welding. I’ve had mine since I started welding. It’s what I learned with, and it’s still with me today. I don’t break it out often because since I started with the school I’ve got new tools, but I’ll sometimes bring it out for demos and stuff.
If you weren’t a teacher and money was no object, what would you be?
I’d have to say I’d travel and explore the world. Go to places I’ve never been and experience things I’ve never experienced. After all you’ve only got one life to live. New York would be the first place I’d want to visit, and from there I’d go to Germany to experience the culture, the snow, maybe the beer!
Tell us about your family.
I just got married in March to my wife Kathryn. She’s a regional administrator for an energy company. We’ve been together about six years; we met right after high school. No kids yet, but that’s part of the plan. We have an American Bulldog called Willy; he’s kind of like our son and very spoiled.
You get an unexpected afternoon to yourself. What would you do with that time?
If the weather permits, I’d definitely go fishing off the piers for a couple of hours. I’ve been fishing since I was about 8 years old when my dad would take me and my brother. I enjoy the peace sitting out there with the waves pounding, not knowing if or when a big fish is going to bite. Often I’ll catch and release, but if it’s flounder season I’ll catch my limit then bring them home and cook them.
Thinking of your time in the field, what was your favorite part of the job?
I’d have to say the pride in helping to build something from the ground up. When you see the finished product, be it a building, a pipeline, or whatever, to able to say, “I did that” is a really good feeling. I’d also have to say the people you meet and the friendships you can make. In welding you can never know everything; you can learn something from someone every day, everywhere you go. You can obviously learn something from people with more experience, but you can also learn tricks from those with less.
If you were to tell someone, “Thank You”, who would it be, and what did they do?
I’d have to thank my parents Mario and Gloria Chavez. Every decision I ever made, they had my back 100%.They always supported me. Even if it turned out to be a wrong decision, they left it up to me if it made me happy. A lot of those decisions have helped me become who I am today. To this day they’re very proud of me; they’re happy about who I’ve become. I know I can count on them for anything.