Eli, 22, from northeast Oklahoma, is a welding instructor at Tulsa Welding School. Eli has been with the school for a year and a half. Eli has been welding since he was 15, and he got his first welding job while in high school. Eli teaches Phase Two (Stick) and Phase Six (TIG and Stick) to afternoon and evening classes.
Thanks for your time, Eli. As a boy, what did you want to be when you grew up?
To be honest I wanted to be a factory worker. My dad worked in a factory in Arkansas building small motors. I didn’t know an awful lot about it, but I knew it was a factory job. That’s what I wanted to do.
What made you choose welding as your career?
I knew I was going to be blue-collar. I just needed to find something I liked. I was heavily involved in the FFA (Future Farmers of America) and the AG program. I welded through high school; that was my foot in the door. I started off on little projects in the shop, which turned into building fence, which turned into welding pipe. It kind of went from there. Outside school I got into stainless-steel fabrication shops.
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What did you do after high school?
After I graduated, I took a weld test for a shop over in Arkansas. I passed and worked in their stainless shop for a little bit. Then I decided to try college. My original plan was a Mechanical Engineering degree. I did a semester at Oklahoma State, but it wasn’t what I wanted. I came home every weekend and did welding jobs while at college. Then I took an interest in a firefighting program in Tulsa and transferred to an online program. I joined a volunteer fire department back home and went to school full-time online with hopes of becoming a firefighter. I was still welding the whole time. The firefighting thing kind of burned out, while welding was still there. I quit college and just worked, welding as much as I could.
What made you decide to go into teaching 18 months ago?
While I was in high school, I went through a Vo-tech program—a more advanced welding course than the AG program—and my welding instructor made a lasting impact on me. Still to this day I talk to him on the phone and we go on fishing trips together. When this teaching job popped up, it was easy to reflect on that experience and think that maybe I could have an impact on somebody else like he had on me.
Why did you choose Tulsa Welding School?
I hadn’t planned on teaching at all. I hadn’t looked at any schools. I knew somebody who worked at Tulsa. They asked me if I’d ever thought about teaching. He told me they had an opening, and that he thought I’d be good for the job. That’s when I remembered the impact my Vo-tech teacher had on me. Teaching was never really part of the plan. I just rolled that way.
What do you enjoy most about teaching?
The number one thing is seeing guys who had never touched a welding machine before the program come to me after they’ve graduated. They tell me how much they appreciate what they learned and how much I helped them. Basically, seeing they got what they wanted out of the program. They were able to get a job and go off and do what they wanted to do in the first place. I like being a part of that.
You’re a young man. Do you see your future in teaching or back in the field?
I enjoy this; I can see myself staying. I really enjoy myself, and I like being home every night. I can see my future here.
Tell us something most people won’t know about you.
I do a lot of bow fishing. I held the world record for the largest fish for about six months for a Golden Redhorse Sucker. It was only a 2lb fish, but then someone else caught a bigger one!
Do you have a family Eli?
I don’t have a family of my own, although I recently bought a house and my girlfriend has moved in!
If you could have dinner with anyone, alive or dead, who would it be?
My grandfather on my dad’s side. I never met him. I’d like to learn more about how my dad was growing up.
What was your favorite part of being in the field?
I liked the “outside the classroom” learning experience. You go through a program at school like Tulsa and you learn the textbook way of doing something, with insight from your instructors. But then you get out in the real world, and you’re building something in real life. You’re picking up little techniques that you might never have heard of in school. You get that real-life experience, and I think that was really cool. College people talk about going to college, furthering their knowledge, and making themselves more valuable. In the trades, the more on-the-job experience you have, that’s how you improve your knowledge and make yourself more valuable.
If you weren’t a teacher and could do anything with your time, what would you do?
I’d be out on the lake every day. We shoot a lot of bow fishing tournaments all over the country. Outside work that’s my number one priority, other than my girlfriend. It’s a team thing I do with three buddies. We do it for fun and for money, although it seems like we spend more money than we ever win.
If you got an unexpected afternoon off from school, what would you do with that time?
I’m hooking up the boat and going to the lake.
If you were to tell someone “Thank You” for helping you become you, who would it be and why?
Probably my dad Benny for making sure I always had that work ethic. He always said I could be whatever I want, but not working is not an option. He’d say, “You’ve got to go out there and become something!” He’s a carpenter and has his own construction business now.
What’s the best piece of advice you have for new students who are just starting out?
The number one thing is this: you’re going to get out what you put into it. If you put your whole heart into your work, that’s going to show at the end of the day. If you put the work in, this can be a really good program. You’ll come out feeling this was the best money you ever spent. If you are not prepared to put the work in, then you won’t get those results and you’ll feel it’s a mediocre program. The only difference is you, and how much work you’re prepared to put in. This isn’t high school –you have to do the work to succeed.
What makes Tulsa Welding School different do you think?
There’s a lot of information in the program, and in the building. In my opinion, there’s no other welding program in the country where you have so many different instructors with so much information and experience. There are guys like me who have a newer approach; I’m only 22 years old, but there are instructors here who are 72 years old. They have been in this building for over 30 years. That’s a lot of information and experience that you have access to. It’s up to you whether you want to make the most of that or not.