Natalio, 37, is a welding instructor at the Tulsa Welding School & Technology Center in Houston. After a career in the military, Natalio joined Tulsa Welding School in March 2018.
Thanks for your time, Natalio. Is this your first teaching job?
I’ve instructed before, but this is my first job teaching welding. I spent a little time in the Marines. My job was working with M1A1 tanks. I was a full-time instructor for three years, teaching Marines how to drive, operate and maintain the tanks. I also did a little martial arts instruction, but that wasn’t my job.
Thank you for your service. How long were you in the Marine Corps?
12 years. I went in when I was about 21, and I separated three years ago in August 2015.
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How long have you been welding?
It’s been about 18 years in total. I started welding as a junior in high school in 2000. I welded my junior and senior year, and when I graduated, I went right into the workforce. I lived in south Texas, so Galveston was the nearest shipyard area. I started working as a welder from Galveston all the way up to Houston. I did various types of welding—pretty much everything we teach at Tulsa. I was really fortunate to get all that experience in about three years before I joined the Marines in 2003.
What made you quit welding and join the Marines?
At the time, I happened to be between welding jobs. I had friends who had joined the service, and I met up with one who was back on leave from the Marines. He kind of tricked me into it! He brought me to the recruiter who started talking to me. One thing led to another, and 12 years later, here I am.
Did you keep welding while in the Marines?
I did. I actually bought a few welding machines and did small jobs for myself, family and friends. It’s a handy skill to have whether it’s fixing something, building something or even making art. I also started my Associate of Applied Science degree in Welding while in the Marines. I finished it when I came home in 2015. I then worked as a structural welder, but I knew I wanted to be an instructor.
Was it your experience in the Marines that made you want to be an instructor?
I definitely didn’t see myself as an instructor at first, but in the Marines, you don’t really have an option. They tell you what your job is and you do it. I had a hard time when I first had to speak to a group of students, but eventually, I built up my confidence. I learned how to speak one on one, to a full classroom and eventually to auditoriums full of Marine students. It was something I got good at, and people seemed to understand what I was talking about, whether I was delivering something visual, verbal or hands-on. I grew to enjoy it and decided that was what I wanted to do.
What is it you like best about teaching?
It takes me back to my high school welding instructor Mr. Jones. He gave up his time to teach me his skills. Those skills now mean I have a job that provides for my family and gives me a good life. Any time I get a new group of students, I’m eager to get them in the welding booth and transfer my knowledge to them. I enjoy seeing students go from never having welded to a point where they say, “Wow, I did not know I could do this!” Seeing that transformation in their attitude, the more they learn, the hungrier they get, is satisfying. It’s satisfying to see someone learn something and actually love it!
As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I grew up on a farm. I thought that I’d be a farmer or a cowboy. When I came to the States when I was 10, I learned about football, so it went from being a cowboy to a football player… until I discovered welding!
Tell me something most people don’t know about you.
I hid football from my family throughout high school! Football to us in Mexico was soccer. If my mom had found out that I meant I was playing “American football,” she would have never let me play! She thought I was playing soccer for years! When I graduated, she saw my yearbook and asked where I was on the soccer team photo. She was a little upset when I told her, but happy to see I made it with no injuries.
If you could choose to have dinner with anyone, alive or dead, who would that be?
Muhammad Ali. He pursued his dream, no matter what. He feared nothing and nobody. He let the world know that he was the best, and that’s something I’m striving to be. Not only for myself, but for my children—for them to have someone to look up to, to be proud of. I’d ask him for a few pointers.
Tell us about your family.
I’m happily married to my wife Tina and we have three beautiful children: a 12-year-old daughter, a three-year-old daughter and two-year-old son.
If you weren’t a teacher, what would you do?
In the Marines, I discovered that I can shoot real well with a pistol or a rifle. So I think I’d teach young men and women how to shoot, or I’d be in shooting competitions.
If you got an unexpected day off, what would you do?
My wife would love it! I’m a big family man, so we would take my younger kids out to breakfast, then surprise my eldest daughter at school for lunch. Just spend my time with them, giving them the love and attention that they need and that I need from them.
What was your favorite tool of the trade when you worked in the field?
When I first started, it was my hood. It was my prized possession. As I matured, I learned there is a saying in martial arts: “one mind, any weapon.” I use that phrase out here. You can have any tool, but without knowing how to use a tool the right way, the tool has no purpose. So my mind is my favorite tool.
What was your favorite part of the welding industry when you worked in the field?
As welders, we have a saying: “build the world.” It’s true. Out in the field I would weld buildings and structures, and now when I drive by them, it’s a good feeling knowing I helped build them. I can show my family, friends and kids. That’s the most satisfying part of telling people what I do.
What advice do you have for new students who may be considering attending TWS?
Become a sponge. Observe everything that comes your way. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. TWS is a stepping stone to getting your foot in the door, but don’t let your learning stop once you complete your program. Keep observing everything that goes on around you, and keep building your toolbox, your skill set and your experience when you get out in the workforce.
If you could tell anyone “thank you” for helping you become who you are today, who would that be?
Mr. Jim Jones, my high school welding teacher. One of my friends brought me into the shop, and Mr. Jones showed me a little welding. I fell in love with it right away. I wanted to know anything and everything about welding, and Mr. Jones took the time and effort to show me everything he knew. Once he saw that it came naturally to me, that I was good at it, he didn’t stop. He was hard on me. If I brought him a perfect weld, he would find something wrong with it just to make me do it again. So he would be the person who made me who I am today, especially in the welding field.