Cali, 35, from Baton Rouge, LA, graduated from the Professional Welder with Pipefitting program at Tulsa Welding School in Jacksonville in July 2020.
Thanks for your time, Cali. What did you do in the years before coming to Tulsa Welding School?
I’m a multi-faceted person and a free spirit, so I tried a lot of things. Out of high school I did a lot of customer service jobs. I’ve had four children (aged 17,15,14, and 7), and for the last eight years, prior to welding school, I was a federal officer for the Department of Homeland Security.
What brought you to welding?
I’ve always been an artist. I wanted to explore different art forms. I’m an abstract oils painter and I wanted to extend my talents, so that’s what really brought me to welding. I’d seen several art pieces—big metal welded statues—so I was aware of it. But it was my husband who actually went to Tulsa Welding School and made the appointment for me. He pushed me a little bit, but I was already interested.
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When did you decide to explore welding as a career?
When I realized how much money I could make as a welder. I started to think that I could use welding to fund some other dreams.
What appealed to you about TWS?
I picked Tulsa Welding School because it’s a trade school and the welding program was short. I have literally been in college consistently since 2006. I’m a lifetime student! College has not worked out for me because I always change my major. I’d take a couple of classes, then change majors and have to start again. This welding program was obtainable for me. I’m good at school, but this program was something I could do quickly, and complete.
Had you ever picked up a welding torch before welding school?
Never, it was like a whole new paint brush for me!
Did you sign up for the pipefitting program at the start, or add it?
I was a little skeptical of the pipefitting program, and it seemed a little intimidating to me at the beginning. I figured I was just starting with all this, so I just signed up for the welding program first. As I got further into the welding program and chatted with more people, I realized pipefitting could be something that I could be good at because I’m a real hands-on person, and it sounded like solving a puzzle.
When did you add the pipefitting?
After I graduated the welding program in April. I was an Ambassador, and I graduated with a 3.65 with my welding. An advisor called and asked if I wanted to continue with the pipefitting program. I agreed to it, especially because it was online at the time.
Pipefitting was online?
Only because we were mid-pandemic. I did the first couple of months online before coming back to campus for the last month in June and July. I ended up excelling at pipefitting and actually really liking it a lot, maybe even a little more than welding, although they’re both good.
What did you enjoy most at TWS?
Once I got the hang of things, welding was pretty soothing for me, but I also enjoyed learning from all the instructors. Everybody has a different little trick about how to weld something, or how to do better. I also enjoyed having classmates and learning from them. I guess it was just the whole learning experience.
Did you find the program hard, having never done it before?
I had some bumps in the road and took some breaks. I’m a mother of four sons so balancing my kids, my husband, my family life, and welding school was a lot. It was a challenge. Honestly, I was exhausted. You need a good support system around you; my family and close friends rallied around me, and my welding community at school reached out to see where I was, how I was doing. That’s what brought me back.
Where are you working, and how did you get the job?
I’m working as a pipefitter for Petroleum Containment. Terri in Career Services does a really great job helping her people out. She sent me the opportunity and told me to be there. It really was very easy. I had an interview, checked out the shop, and they asked if it was somewhere I’d like to work. I said, “Sure!” I graduated in July and started a couple of weeks ago. I’m really enjoying it. So far, so good!
Are you happy with your first paycheck?
I’m going to get my first paycheck on Friday. I’m not the happiest with my pay, but I’m okay with learning all that I need to learn and moving forward. I have a lot to learn and I need field experience, so I’m okay taking whatever I can from this position and moving on to the next thing, whether that’s pipefitting or welding. I don’t have a timeframe, but if I can find something that builds my résumé, I will definitely move on. But for the time-being, this is feasible for me because I’m learning.
Where would you like your career ultimately?
I’d like to be a pipefitter welder because those positions are out there. I would also love to work in a shipyard, to get that experience. My ultimate goal is to have my own welding company, maybe starting off small with my own rig truck and traveling. Then use that money to build something bigger. We are not tied to Jacksonville. I’m continuously looking for new positions that could give me more experience. My husband is retired military and is in massage school right now, so I’d say we’re just “visiting” Jacksonville.
What do people say when you tell them what you do for work?
When I tell people what I do for a living, the amazement on their face…they’re flabbergasted! That makes me giggle because I guess they assume I’m a “girly girl” or something, but I’m okay getting dirty.
What do you enjoy most about the trade?
The fact that I can do things that most people can’t. Some guys couldn’t handle welding or pipefitting; I saw many quit, but I stuck it out. I think that’s pretty cool in itself. Of course, as an artist, I also enjoy the creativity and the sense of satisfaction that comes with building things. I’m very proud of myself.
Did you make some connections at school?
I do have a few friends that keep in touch and we share job information. I just recently talked to a friend about a shipyard here.
How was it being a little older than other students, and a woman in a mainly male environment?
Most of the students were younger, but it was across the board. There were people of all ages. With four sones and a husband, I’m okay being around guys all the time. I didn’t feel uncomfortable at all. I didn’t feel out of place at all at Tulsa Welding School, or insecure. Everybody was there to learn. It didn’t matter if they were male, female, 55, 35, or 20. Nobody really knew what they were doing on day one, so age and gender didn’t matter!
What advice would you give to students considering welding school?
Be open to learning. Communicate with your teachers and other students. Don’t close yourself off or be afraid. Everybody has their own challenges that they’re dealing with, either life challenges outside of school, or challenges in class with their welding, so be open. Communicate. Stay encouraged and ask for help if you need 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).