Courtney, 22, from Lawrenceville, GA, graduated from the Professional Welder program at Tulsa Welding School in Jacksonville in early 2017. Courtney is now a high school welding teacher.
Thanks for your time, Courtney. Did you go to Tulsa Welding School straight out of high school?
Yes, I went to welding school after high school graduation and received a full scholarship from Tulsa Welding School.
That’s cool. How did you get the scholarship?
I competed in SkillsUSA and did a welding sculpture of a peacock. I won first place in the State of Georgia and won a full tuition scholarship to Tulsa Welding School.
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Congratulations! When did you start welding?
It’s kind of funny how I got into it. My first year of welding was my senior year at Maxwell High School of Technology in Lawrenceville. The welding class counted as my senior math. That was initially the only reason I took it: getting my math credit and then going to a traditional four-year college was my plan. Then I participated in SkillsUSA and did the welding sculpture for the statewide competition.
So that’s why you decided to go to welding school?
After I received the scholarship, I decided to go because it was only a seven-month program. If I changed my mind, it was not like I wasted four years; it was only seven months. I was still a little unsure about welding in high school, to be honest, but after I went to welding school in Jacksonville, I quickly made up my mind. I fell in love with welding! I graduated with a 4.0 from Tulsa Welding School.
What was your favorite part of the program?
The availability of the instructors. I was enrolled in the school’s evening classes. Anytime my instructor was busy, I could ask other instructors a quick question. They were all willing to help me. I just loved that about it. I also loved that I could stay during the day and practice my welds if I wanted to.
You graduated about three years ago. What did you do after graduation?
While I was at school, Career Services actually hooked me up with a welding test to work for a union in Savannah. I passed the weld test, and they wanted to send me to upstate New York with two buddies who also passed the test. My buddies ended up not going, so I didn’t go. That was the only reason. I really wish I’d gone because I would have been making a lot more money right off the bat. But on the flip side, I also probably wouldn’t be where I’m at now.
Sorry about your grandpa. Tell us about your first job.
I worked for two years at Kubota Industrial Equipment in Jefferson, Georgia. I started as an assembly line welder. After six months, I was offered a promotion to welder fabrication/jig maintenance. I did that for the last year and a half I was there. For the last six months, I also taught a welding class at night for adults at Maxwell High School, where I first took welding. I was working full time, 70 or more hours, Monday through Saturday, then teaching welding one night a week.
Were you happy with your first welding paycheck?
Yes, the paycheck was very nice! But, it was a big adjustment. Welding at high school and at welding school is so different to working on the job because you get put in different situations. You are under time pressure deadlines for one, plus you are on your feet and running all week. That was all a big adjustment.
How did the teaching gig come about?
My high school welding teacher reached out to me. They were going to start a night class for adults, and he was unable to teach it.
Is that how you got into teaching full-time?
Yes, it is. Thomson High School in McDuffie County, Georgia, received a $100,000 grant from Georgia Power to start a top of the art welding program. While I was teaching the welding night class at Maxwell High School, they reached out to my teacher to take a look at Maxwell High School to see what they needed to build and what supplies they would need, and so on. While they were touring, he told them that if they needed a welding teacher, he would give them my information. He got me connected with them, because he knew I wanted to teach full time. Here I am now!
Where would you like your career to go from here?
I am very content. I really love teaching high school kids. I teach 9th through 12th grade. We are about to go to a welding competition, so I love getting to do stuff like that. I like building relationships and teaching them how to weld. At this point, it is not about the money to me. I am a homebody anyway, so I have job security. I come home to my own home every night. I really don’t want to do anything else.
Do you do any welding on the side?
Not currently. When I moved to Thomson for this job last July, I bought a little farmhouse with a barn. That barn is potentially going to be my welding shop. I’d love to have a little side-business for repairs. Maybe build some furniture and do some sculpture work for additional income to supplement my teacher’s salary.
What did you enjoy most about being a welder in the field?
I am more of a hands-on person, so I loved that all I had to worry about was doing the best weld. I could focus on just what’s in front of me. As a teacher, I do have to worry about the computer stuff, the paperwork and the other parts of my job. But as a welder, you just drop the hood and focus on the weld. That’s it. I loved that!
What advice would you give to students considering TWS?
Put all your effort into it and stay focused. If you want to go into the school from the moment they open to the time they close, you can. You should take full advantage of that opportunity, as much as you can. The more practice you get, the better your welding skills will be.
Could you see yourself teaching at Tulsa Welding School at some point?
Maybe! I have thought about it, down the road at some point. Teaching at Tulsa Welding School is a completely different experience from teaching high school kids. We have an exact curriculum to follow, and there is more classroom work. At Tulsa, it’s more hands-on. They do classwork once a week. The TWS rep who comes to Thomson High School to speak to my students jokes about that all the time. Who knows? Maybe in 10 years’ time, if they open a campus in Georgia! I don’t want to move any further away from my mom! Two hours away is enough right now!
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).