Sioux, 31, was a “military brat” born at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas. A single mom to five kids, Sioux completed the Welding Specialist program at Tulsa Welding School & Technology Center in Houston in July 2019, despite working full-time and spending up to four hours a day driving to and from school! Sioux walked the stage at her graduation in October.
Thanks for your time, Sioux. Tell us what you did before welding school?
My story starts in high school when I had my son at 16, so I moved on and got married. We were married for 10 years—I was a stay at home mom and wife—until we got divorced and I had to rethink my future.
Why made you think about welding?
My dad is an electrical engineer; the shop next to his was a welding shop. They had this glass where you could watch them weld. It was like a giant hood of sorts! When I was young, I used to sit there and watch them. I thought it was the coolest thing in the world. When I got older, I had friends who welded and I thought that was pretty cool too. After my divorce, a friend and I were messing around in his garage with this little MIG welder, and I discovered I loved it. I thought I could do this forever and be happy!
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What did you love about it?
A tranquility would come over me when the hood came down, because that’s where I was in that moment, it was my moment and I flew with it. After that weekend I decided to look into welding schools, a month later I signed up at Tulsa Welding School.
Why did you choose Tulsa Welding School?
I started researching different programs. Tulsa had the most accelerated hands-on program around. I’m a tactile leaner; I have to put my hand-on things. Books don’t do it for me. Four days a week in the lab appealed, as did the fact that I could choose morning, afternoon or night class. I could also stay all day if I had a free day. I picked the night class because I worked full-time.
You mentioned being a single mom. How old are your kids?
I have a 15-year-old, an 11-year-old, 8-year-old, 6-year-old and a 2-year-old.
Did you do any welding before that weekend?
No, not at all. I’d watch, but never did it. I wish I’d gone to AG class because that would have been amazing. But that weekend was an “aha” moment for me. I had an epiphany and I rolled with it.
What did you enjoy most about Tulsa Welding School?
I enjoyed the struggles because I learned more from making mistakes than I did from getting something right the first time. The instructors were amazing. I still talk to a lot of them. They are on my Facebook and LinkedIn. They become more than “just” instructors, they become your friends. They help you work things out when you’re having issues. They were very accommodating. A great thing about Tulsa was if you related better to a previous instructor, if they could explain things in a better way than a current instructor, you could go and ask them for help. They would be more than happy to oblige. They want to see you succeed, so they push you and push you. They put expectations on you after they see what you can do, and I love that they don’t just settle for mediocrity.
Where are you working?
I work with Watco, a railcar repair shop. I am a train mechanic and a welder. I am one of two female welders there; the other woman welder there, Michelle, is also a Tulsa graduate!
How did you get the job?
Jakis in Career Services worked with me. He was awesome. I had some geographical restrictions that limited my opportunities, but Jakis worked his butt off to find me something! He got me in the door and I just shot off from there. I wanted something that was a little more than welding, and mechanic is thrown in there with this one. I love working with my hands and the gratification of looking at something when I’m done and knowing that “I did that” is a top-notch feeling. I started in October, the day after my 31st birthday.
Are you happy with the money?
Yes! But not just the pay; I’m happy with everything there. The crew I work with is absolutely phenomenal. From my coworkers to my bosses, they are all amazing. I can’t say anything bad about the place!
Did you do anything special to celebrate that first welding paycheck?
I do something special with my kids every pay period because we can! We are always doing things together. The biggest thing for me is to be able to take them to a store and say, “Okay, you guys can go pick something out.” We don’t really have to look at the price tag. I’ve never been able to do that. Just being able to provide for them is wonderful. I can buy school clothes when they outgrow them, I don’t have to wait and hope that I’m going to get child support this month! I’ve become independent, and with just one job!
What is your career plan from here?
I would love to stay and develop with Watco. I love my job, I love where I’m at, and I love the possibilities that are already in place within the company…things that I could attain one day.
What do you enjoy most about welding?
It’s never the same. I’m always doing something different and I learn something new every single day. It’s literally never boring. Who could want more than that?
How is it being a female in a male dominated workplace? Do you deal with any sexism?
I have heard of people encountering it as women in a male shop. I count myself very fortunate because I myself don’t. The guys were really quiet with me at first, but now I am just one of the guys. We joke around and have each other’s backs. I know each person to the next has their own views on women in male-dominated careers, but everyone who knows me knows that I don’t let it bother me. I also have no problem speaking up if I do encounter it!
Were there many women in your class?
There were maybe four girls in the night class when I started, but when I was done there were so many. That made me so excited! Actually, my niece is at Tulsa right now. She’s about two months in. I brought her to “Bring a Friend” night and showed her how to do TIG. She just fell in love. When she graduated high school, she signed up with Tulsa.
Did you make some lasting connections at TWS?
Oh, yes! I was the “mom” in class. I adopted a lot of kids! I’m in touch with maybe 30 people. We message at least weekly! We let each other know when we have job openings at the places we work.
What advice would you give to new students for them to be successful at TWS?
Never be embarrassed to ask for another demonstration or to ask questions. Probably half the class is thinking the exact same thing as you are, so just speak up! Closed mouths don’t get fed! Even if you think you’re not getting it, just keep trying and pushing. Sometimes you won’t feel like going because you’re tired or you’ve had a bad day. You have to remember why you started the journey in the first place to continue on. I’m not going to lie, sometimes after a 2 ½-hour drive to school, I’d get there and think I’m so tired I just want to take a nap in my car. But I would walk in and be so proud of myself at the end of the day. Those were the days that I usually tried the hardest because I remembered why I was doing it.
If you’re a TWS graduate and would like to share your success and be an inspiration to others, please email [email protected] to be considered for a Graduate Connection interview. Please include details such as your graduation date (month/year), program, and campus name (Tulsa/Jacksonville/Houston).