Graduate Connections – Meet Celia Reyes

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Celia, 34, is originally from California. She lived in Colorado for a couple of years before moving to Tulsa, OK, in 2010 to go to Tulsa Welding School. She graduated the Professional Welder program at TWS in July 2011. Celia then came back to TWS to complete her welding degree – Associate of Occupational Studies in Welding Technology – in March 2021, and she also just finished the Pipefitting* program in December 2021.

Thanks for your time, Celia. What did you do before you came to welding school in 2010?

I was working at a ceramic plant in Canyon City, Colorado. Totally left field, I know! I also worked for the park services as another job. The plant wasn’t paying good money, so I needed two jobs.

Where did the idea of welding come from?

My dad’s a welder. He’s retired now, but he worked for Union Pacific Railroad. He traveled, working on  rail track doing thermite welding. My mom’s a welder too! But she took it as a hobby course to understand what my dad did. I found out later that my great-great grandpa was a welder too. He made yard art and furniture.

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A family trade in a way then! So, your dad encouraged you down this path?

He did. He said, “You really don’t know what you want do? Why don’t you try welding?” He suggested that I take a college course to figure out if it’s really what I wanted to do. So, I took a three-month community college course in early 2010; we just did stick and flux core welding, and I loved it.

What did you love about it?

It was just so amazing. You can create anything. I found it so relaxing. I thought it was so cool because it gave me an understanding of what my dad did. I learned a lot in three months, I really enjoyed it, so, I was like, “What’s next?” People told me to slow down because I needed to learn more!

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So, what made you come to Tulsa Welding School?

Once I tried welding, I just wanted to keep learning. I worked during the summer, but I was ready to go to school. My dad and I were looking, but there were no welding schools in Colorado. So, we looked on the internet and Tulsa Welding School popped up. My dad said, “You’ve got family out in Oklahoma!” I didn’t know that! So, I called, and we drove over to Oklahoma to take a tour. I thought it was so cool! You get to do pipe, plate, it’s all hands on. You get to experience a little of what it’s like to work in the field because it’s in a shop, and there’s no heat really. It’s like you’re actually working outside. My dad thought the school was pretty cool too. He said he wished he had found something like this growing up.

What made you come back to welding school ten years later?

After I graduated the welding program in 2011, I got a job with John Zink Hamworthy Combustion through Tulsa Welding School and a temp agency. We just had our company party last month and I got my 10-year service award. I’ve been there ten years! They helped pay for some of my AOS degree program because I want to get my CWI. Once I get my CWI, I’ll be able to move up and work there as a Certified Weld Inspector.

What does John Zink Hamworthy build??

We build giant flares for the oil fields and the food industry. It’s about emission control; these giant flares cook out better air quality for the environment. I work mainly on stainless, occasionally on carbon steel, but mostly stainless. TIG welding is pretty. I like it because I get to go home clean. Flux Core welding is dirty!

That’s awesome. How did you also come to do pipefitting?

The school called me and said they were doing a special on the Pipefitting program. Would I be interested? I said, “Yeah, sure!” I think we were the last but one class. I don’t think they offer it anymore at the Tulsa campus*.

Are you happy you took it?

I don’t really do that much pipe welding on the daily to keep it up. So, there was a lot of stuff I learned that I didn’t know. There were a lot of tricks I learned that I didn’t know. We learned about the different math calculations for pipefitting. It was like a refresher for certain things, and there were things I didn’t know. I picked up a lot of different things.

You are a serial student, at least that’s what it sounds like?

I guess I just have a thirst for knowledge. I like learning what’s out there, what’s up to date, and what’s going on in the welding world. I just like trying to keep up with it all.

Ten years at one company is impressive: what’s your career plan? Will you stay?

Yes. It’s definitely a really good company. Everybody here gets along. They’ve done more for their employees over the years, they really care for us. They really show appreciation for their employees.

And I’m guessing the money isn’t too bad! How was getting your first welding check ten years ago?

After doing two jobs to try to make ends meet, it was exciting! I was like, “Wow, I made this much money doing just 40 hours a week welding?” I was excited. I made $1,200 that first check. I wasn’t even close to making that when I was at the ceramic plant. I was only making $10/hour. When I became a welder in 2011, my starting pay was $18/hour.

What’s your schedule?

I’ve been on the night shift for ten years. It’s great. You don’t have to worry about the hustle and bustle you get during the day in a shop. It’s a bit more relaxed and on nights you get a $3/hr differential. I work from 3.30pm to 2.00am Monday through Thursday.

You have kids, how does that shift work out with the family?

They are my fiancé’s kids, but I became a mom instantly with a ready-made family! He works days and I work nights, so if the kids have a problem at school, they’ll call me. Then whenever they come home from school, he’s home to take care of all that. So, it works; but he and I really only see each other weekends!

What do you enjoy most about your new trade?

I enjoy being able to create things. I enjoy putting things together and seeing the aftermath of what I created at the end of the day when I can say, “Wow, I created that. That’s pretty cool!” Especially if it’s something that I’ve never worked on, never put together before. I find that pretty cool.

Do you do any welding outside of work?

I have a welder at home. I work on stuff every once in a while. Like if I need to do something around the house. My latest project was working on a trailer we were given, so we were fixing it up. My fiancé and I worked on that together. I was showing him some welding stuff and he was like, “Oh wow, this is pretty cool!” He got to see kind of what I do every day at work.

What was it about Tulsa Welding School that brought you back three times?

I like that they are really open with everybody. They’re all super-friendly and helpful. “What do you need to know? Do you need this? Do you need that? We can help you.” Everybody was really nice. They were really comfortable to talk to. The environment was very welcoming, very friendly.

What advice do you have for new students…for them to be successful at TWS?

I would say, just keep on going and ask for as much help as you need. Definitely ask for help because they’re willing to help you. Ask if you can stay in your booth after class because they have extra spaces where you can stay after your shift and practice. That’s what I did when I was in school. I was up there all the time I could; I was practicing, I was welding. I was setting plate. I was learning as much as I could and making the most of the opportunity. I asked so many questions and asked for so much help; they were always there to help. Ask the instructors questions about working in the field too, they’ll tell you.

* Pipefitting programs are available at our Houston campus.

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).