Mark, 44, from Kingsville, Texas, is a Senior Welding Instructor and a Pipefitting Instructor at the Tulsa Welding School & Technology Center in Houston. Mark has been teaching at TWSTC for about three and a half years and has 27 years’ experience in the welding and pipefitting field.
Thanks for your time, Mark. Tell us about your welding career.
It started at 18 when I went to school to learn how to weld. In the 27 years since, I don’t want to say I’ve done it all because I don’t know if anybody really has, but from the SMAW process—which is stick welding—to the GMAW process—which is MIG—the FCAW process—which is Fluxcore—to GTAW—which is TIG—those were my bread and butter throughout the years. I’ve worked in the oil fields, in shipyards, offshore, at compressor stations, and I’ve worked in mom-and-pop fabrication shops, places like that. And for quite a few years, I welded for myself running my own mobile welding rig in the oil fields.
What kind of work did you do when you had your own business?
So, the oil field covers a wide range of work. It could vary. I could load my truck up on a barge and go out to an offshore platform, or go to land rigs, or go from shop to shop around my little city here. So, when I did have my own rig, it was a mobile business and I’d go from job to job around south Texas.
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What made you go into teaching a couple of years ago?
I kind of fell into teaching. I never really thought I would be a full-time teacher. If you know a little about the oil industry, you know it kind of goes up and down, so I was looking for something steady, with benefits. I never figured I’d be here this long to be honest, but after my first couple of weeks here, I realized I’d found my calling. It sounds pretty cheesy, but being an educator, teaching the next generation of fitters and welders, is a pretty satisfying job at the end of the day.
What did you want to be when you were a kid?
I never really figured that out until high school. I was kind of blinded by all the fun things growing up as a kid, but I kind of wanted to be an electrician, believe it or not!
What do you like best about teaching?
Just seeing the plan come together at the end of the day. Whether it’s in the pipe fitting lab seeing one of these drawings come together or in the welding lab when students who have never welded are able to throw down some nice beads. Knowing you’ve helped them accomplish that makes it a pretty good day. Also, there’s always something new going on here with so many students coming through the school from different walks of life. Believe it or not, I’ve learned a lot about myself through these students and I would like to think they’re learning from me as well. So that’s the enjoyment I get from teaching.
Tell me something most people don’t know about you.
I’m pretty much an open book. These guys here are pretty much my second family, because I’m here about 16, 17, sometimes 18 hours a day. But something they don’t know about me may be that I say prayers at night; I keep my faith and my belief in God. That’s something that I don’t really express here at my job.
If you could choose to have dinner with anyone, alive or dead, who would that be.
Jesus. That would be pretty interesting for me if I had to narrow it down to one. But honestly, I’d just enjoy having dinner with all my family as I spend most of my time away from home.
Tell us a little about your family, Mark.
My wife, Crystal Ann, and I have been married 17 years. We have a 14-year-old son.He’s already about 6”1, and with these new hairstyles going on, he’s about 6”2. I’m 5”7, but my wife’s family is tall! I don’t get to see my family much. Our home is in Alice, Texas, but I followed the work over here. It’s about 250 miles from the school. I only go home every other weekend now. I went home every single weekend for the first two years, but with gas prices it’s pretty tough right now, and after 3½ years, the traveling puts a lot of wear and tear not only on my vehicle, but my body.
That’s a difficult situation. It shows your passion for your job and your family.
My family is very important to me; last year we had six deaths in our family. I missed a lot being over here at work. It’s always a good time though when I get there, and when I have to leave, we try to make the best of it. My wife is the reason we’ve got what we’ve got, and I guess she’s helped mold me to be the person I am, you know?
If you could tell anyone “Thank you” for helping you become who you are today who would that be?
Yes. If I was to tell somebody “thank you,” then yes, definitely, my wife Crystal Ann. But you know, I grew up without a dad, so I’d also have to say “thank you” to my grandfather. He instilled some traits in me, I guess some people would say old school traits.
What advice do you have for new students just starting out at TWS?
I give this advice every five weeks to new students when they come in, and to students who are exiting the programs as the next generation of welders. I tell them all to always try harder, and to be humble with his or her progress. And when they get to their job, never stop wanting to learn more. It’s important to be patient, not just in school but in life, because there will be ups and downs. No matter what someone asks you to do, no matter how small the job, do it to the very best of your ability. Be the person who is always trying to be better, someone who is a little hungrier, who wants something a little more than the others.
What was your favorite part of the welding industry?
Definitely being by the water, whether it was in the shipyard or offshore. If I had to choose, it would be offshore because I got to fly in helicopters, ride boats for long periods of time, and actually go fishing right after work. I didn’t even have to drive anywhere!
When you’re talking offshore, that’s offshore oil rigs, correct?
That’s correct. Some of them were manned platforms and some of them we’d actually have to spend the night on a boat that was always moving. So, I’d definitely I’d have to say offshore; to see the sun come up in the morning and go down at night, it’s awesome out there.
What was your favorite tool of the trade when you worked in the field?
Man, there are a lot of tools that we use every day. I like to take pride in my work. As far as one tool, I would have to say it’s a small cutting torch because I could be more accurate, more precise, and handle it with more ease. I could just do more precision work with a small cutting torch.
You get an unexpected afternoon off, what would you do with that time?
I’m off? Well, that’s going to be rare here! I’m never off! But if the weather’s nice, I’d go fishing. I do enjoy fishing. I’ve got a boat at home that’s just sitting there, but it’s far from where I’m at. If it was raining, I’d probably go home and take a nap! I’m actually on my way to take a nap right now. I’ve got a little break!