Nick, 32, from Jacksonville, Florida, is a Senior Welding Instructor at Tulsa Welding School, Jacksonville campus. A TWS graduate himself, Nick has been an instructor at Tulsa Welding School for over four years.
Thanks for your time, Nick. How long have you been welding, and what kind of work did you do?
Six weeks before I’d even graduated TWS, I got a job at a company called Sally Corporation, a dark ride and animatronic manufacturing company here in Jacksonville. I worked in the fab shop, and I built animatronics and robotics. The company serves amusement parks, attractions, museums, places like that. The school actually came out and did a profile video of me when I was working at Sally in 2017 because it was such a cool place to work [watch it here]. I worked there for over five years, and then I came back to Tulsa Welding School and tested as an instructor.
What made you decide to come and teach?
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I wanted to be a teacher when I was younger. I actually went to college for a while to become a teacher, but college wasn’t a great fit for me. I loved my job at Sally, but I also really like teaching. There’s a lot to be said for enjoying what you do, versus working.
So, teaching had always been part of your plan?
It was, but I didn’t know it would be as a welding teacher. Back when I was a student here, I had instructors that I really liked, people that really impacted my life. At the time I talked with several of the guys, including Jack Dulls, the Director of Training; he suggested that I’d probably be a good fit as an instructor. This was in 2014; he hinted at the idea that I should go get my experience in the field and come back to be an instructor one day. I thought that was awesome because I’d wanted to be a teacher, although I never thought it would be a welding teacher! So, it was a really cool, roundabout way to achieve my dream of teaching without having to go to college, which as I said, wasn’t a good fit for me.
As a young kid, did you want to be a teacher even then?
Yes, I always wanted to be a teacher, even when I was young. I grew up with a lot of different hobbies and I always enjoyed teaching other people how to do those hobbies. I was big into juggling and a few other things. I always enjoyed it when people had that ‘aha’ moment; it was cool to see somebody learn how to do something and help them along the way.
Is that ‘aha’ moment what you enjoy most about teaching at Tulsa Welding School?
Yeah, absolutely. It’s also cool to see somebody who may never have welded before realize that “Wow! This is something I can do!”
What phase do you teach?
For the most part I teach WLD120, which is Advanced Pipe Welding. It’s quite late in the program. We focus on TIG welding, two-inch pipe all the way up. By the time they reach my class, they’re pretty self-sufficient. They have a pretty good idea of how to set up the machine, and what we’re going to be doing. I use a lot of welding terminology and we expect them to carry themselves as a welder at this point. I like teaching the later phases. I prefer it because they already have an idea of what’s going on. For lack of a better term, I don’t have to baby talk to them like in the first phase. Teaching the first phase is a little bit different. You have to get them all set up, so the guys who teach the first phase do that pretty consistently.
So, tell us about your home life, Nick.
I am divorced, with no kids. But my girlfriend Shannon and I have been together about seven months now.
Tell us something most people don’t know about you?
I am a hobbyist sword juggler. If you watched that video we mentioned earlier, you can see me doing it! I used to do that kind of stuff at parties and that sort of thing, but as I got older, I just juggled for fun. My dad got me a unicycle and encouraged me to learn how to juggle; he wanted to teach me that you can do whatever you really set your mind to. It kind of went a little better than anyone planned.
If you could have dinner with anyone, alive or dead, who would it be, and why?
Keanu Reeves. He is a hell of a motorcycle builder and fabricator, and from what I’ve seen, he’s seems to be a down-to-earth guy. He could have some pretty good insight on some things.
What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to new students who are just starting?
You will get out of this school what you put into it. You only have seven months. No matter how good you do, you only have seven months to get to where you need to be. The hardest part is just holding up your own arms.
Holding up your own arms? Explain that.
It’s just learning how to do it, how to weld. Just being in the booth, putting the time in, keeping your arms up and welding. If you go in there and you only put in an hour’s worth of work, you’re only going to get that much progression. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter your size, if you’re male or female, you just have to practice. That’s what I mean – the hardest part about it is continuing to hold up your own arms.
I tell people that coming to this school and not being in the booth whenever you can is like paying to go to a theme park and not riding the rides. That’s your choice, but it’s kind of a waste of money. If you come to school and you don’t put the time in, if you don’t use the resources and the materials available to you, then you can’t progress.
What did you enjoy most when working in the field?
The cool part about the job at Sally, one of the reasons I stayed for five years, is that I traveled all the time. I did so many different things that every day was a new day. One day we might be working on an animatronic Joker or Batman, then the next day we may be working on something totally different. For me, it was just the different things you could be working on, and the travel – that’s what I liked about it. I ended up going over the world, and it was pretty cool. I got to go to China, Spain, Mexico, and all over the U.S. I just think it’s cool that welding can take you to so many different places if you want it to.
You’re on your way to work and get a call that campus is closed. What are you going to do that day?
My girlfriend Shannon and I are going to get in the boat and we’re going to drive down the coast, probably towards St. Augustine. We’re just going to take the boat somewhere!
Do you have a favorite tool, something sentimental…and/or practical?
I remember the first real professional tool that I bought was a Starrett dial caliper. I bought it because my boss kept nagging me basically, and he was the one I apprenticed under as a machinist. He told me to not get digital, he didn’t like that new-fangled stuff! They’re your baby. You don’t drop them, you don’t manhandle them, you love them. They’re correct a hundred percent of the time if you treat them right.
If you were to tell someone “Thank You” for making you who you are today, who would it be & why?
I would say there are probably two. My dad brought me up to have a good work ethic, he instilled that in me. But at the same time, as far as guiding my welding career, I’d say an instructor here in Jacksonville, Zack Verts. He was one of my instructors when I went to school here in 2014, and now we work together. Short of what my dad taught me, I learned a lot from Zack. He shaped the direction my welding career has taken me, and he was the person who inspired me to first become an instructor, and to constantly try to be a better instructor every day.