Megan, originally from New York State, is a pipefitting instructor at the Tulsa Welding School & Technology Center in Houston. Megan has been with the school for three and half years. She has been in the pipefitting industry for over 10 years, including her time teaching the Welding Specialist with Pipefitting program.
Thanks for your time, Megan. What did you do after high school?
I was actually a career college student for a while! I really explored college quite a bit, but even though I maintained a 4.0, it was never really a good fit for me.
College girl to pipefitter is a sharp turn. How did that happen?
I was in a small town in Kansas and a fabrication shop was one of the last places I approached for work. I said I needed a job, they said okay! I was thinking they would train me to be a receptionist or something, but they put me in the shop. I didn’t even know what a pipefitter was, but I was like, “Okay!”
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As a kid what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a pilot. Amelia Earhart was my idol. I read everything about her. I never pursued it because as I got older my eyesight got extremely poor, very quickly. That kind of eliminated that idea.
Please give us the highlights of your career in the field.
For the first part of my career I worked in a lot of fabrication shops, then in vessel shops, mainly out in Oklahoma. That’s when I started to travel. The business is seasonal. There wasn’t any work in my area, so I started traveling Oklahoma in an effort to find work. I actually found some pretty neat jobs. So, I’ve done fabrication work, vessel work, and I’ve done brand new construction traveling work.
Why did you decide to become a teacher?
I actually fell into teaching. Whenever I had a helper when I was working as a pipefitter, I discovered I had a good way of explaining things to them. No matter which way they learned, I was able to break it down; it was just a question of finding the best way. I knew a couple of people at TWSTC in 2016, and they talked me into it. I also wanted a “normal” schedule after traveling, a career where I could come home at night, tuck my kids in and read them stories. That was definitely also a big part of it.
What do you like best about teaching?
I think it’s the transition I see in relationships, and it happens so quickly. At first, it’s very much student to instructor, but it evolves. If they are having issues, we want them to finish school and do well, so we work with them. We try to talk them through their problems, so you essentially become a confidant. Then after they leave school, and we’ve given them all the information and knowledge we can, they go into the business. Now they’re a colleague. They come back and talk to you about all the things they see, they are texting you pictures: “Check out what I just did on the job!” Then they become a friend.
It sounds like you find this very rewarding.
What we do at school is absolutely the most rewarding job. I have cried countless times! We send a class out, they graduate, and then a couple of months later some of them come back and show us their paycheck stubs. They thank us, they hug us, and I can’t help but tear up. I’m tearing up now just talking about it. It really does pluck the heart strings and it is the most incredible feeling.
You mentioned your family. Tell us more, Megan.
I’m a single mom with three kiddos. My oldest is a 14-year-old girl. I also have a nine-year-old girl and a seven-year-old “baby” boy.
Tell me something most people don’t know about you.
I love museums. All kinds of museums. That’s one of the major benefits of living in Houston. We have the most phenomenal museums. The first time I went to the NASA space center here, I was so excited. That’s like my Graceland! I have a membership. It’s my favorite place in the entire world.
If you could choose to have dinner with anyone, alive or dead, who would that be?
If it was going to be personal it would be my dad, Daniel. He died when I was 19. If it was going to be someone famous it would be Robert Frost, who was considered the first American master poet.
If you weren’t a teacher and could do anything, what would you do?
I would go back to school and get a master’s degree in Astronomy. That’s on my bucket list, and something I will do eventually. I’ll never do anything with it, it would just be something for me.
You get an unexpected day off, what would you do?
I’m definitely getting in my car and going to the NASA museum. That’s where you’ll find me.
What was your favorite tool when you worked in the field?
I’m the sentimental sort, not a tool, but my toolbox. I customized my toolbox. I painted it blue and stuck my kids’ handprints all over it. This business can be rough. On the days that I’d get super-frustrated and really angry about everything, ready to quit, I’d go to pack up my tools and I’d see their handprints. I’d think no, I can deal with this for one more day. It was just a reminder of why I was out there doing what I was doing, and that everything will pass.
What was your favorite part of the industry when you worked in the field?
It really depends on the job. If it was in a fabrication shop, it was how much I was able to get done. I liked being the go-to person that if something needed to get done, they would hand it to me. Out on the road, I liked being part of a start-up crew. I liked being one of the first ones arriving at a job site when it was bare bones – just some concrete and a steel structure. I liked seeing the progression of everything getting built. Then after so much emotional and physical turmoil, finally seeing the project completed and the plant, refinery, or powerhouse go live. To see everything up and running, that is just the most incredible feeling of accomplishment. You walk away feeling like a gunslinger, thinking, “I did that! They couldn’t have done that without me!”
What’s the biggest piece of advice you have for new students?
The best piece of advice I would give everybody in the world, not just students, is to take a deep breath and always ask, “Why?” It gives you such better knowledge for whatever it is you’re trying to accomplish. It’s not just enough for people to learn or do things off of rote memorization. Don’t get frustrated, just take that deep breath and ask, “Why is it like this?” or “Why are we doing it this way?”
If you could tell anyone “thank you” for helping you become who you are today, who would that be?
My parents. First my dad, Daniel. We were cut from the same cloth. He’s the reason why I love books and museums. My dad was a very intelligent man. He could have done anything, but he chose to work blue-collar. He worked aircraft. Also, my mom, Kelly. She was like Rosie the Riveter, granted a few decades later, but my mother worked aircraft too. My mother is still a very strong woman. A lot of my hard work and tenacity definitely comes from her. The woman does not know the word “quit.”