Graduate Connections – Meet Daniel Cornelius

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Daniel, 34, was born in Houston, but raised in Marshall, Texas, close to the Louisiana state line. Daniel graduated the Professional Welder program at Tulsa Welding School in January 2021.

Thanks for your time, Daniel. What brought you to welding in your 30’s?

I’ve always had an interest in welding, and I saw the TWS billboards up around Tulsa.  At first, I kind of joked with my wife about welding as this is a significant career change for me at 34.

What did you do before?

I’m actually a physician!  I went through a four-year undergrad degree at Baylor University. It then took me two years to get into medical school, then four years at med school. I graduated in 2014, with an MBA degree as well. So, I spent 10 years on my path to a medical career. I then got recruited to a newly formed general surgery residency program by a Dean at the med school I attended; they were supposed to open an orthopedic surgery program the following year that I would join as a resident physician to complete my training in. Long story short, they unfortunately decided not to open the orthopedic residency program; although all surgery is fascinating, I only wanted to be an orthopedic surgeon.

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That is an unconventional path to welding! What changed for you?

Well, as stated, I was only interested in one field of medicine, orthopedic surgery. That’s rebuilding bones with plates and screws, reconstructing joints, treating any musculoskeletal problem, and restoring or improving people’s mobility. Although I did interview with two orthopedic residency programs, I was not selected for a position. And as mentioned earlier, the hospital I went to after medical school, decided not to open the orthopedic program I was led to believe they were. I wanted to enjoy going to work every day and didn’t have much interest in other fields of medicine. I’ve always enjoyed welding, working with my hands, and constructing things. And after learning I could become a professional welder in seven months and earn a decent living to support my family, I decided that’s what I wanted to do.

When did you decide enough was enough?

It was a process, but I’d say between 2017 and 2020.  I had reapplied to residency programs in a handful of different fields of medicine but had yet to attain any position.  Applying to medical resident training programs is a lengthy process that takes almost a year and I was ready to move on.

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So where did the right turn to welding come from?

Having a wife and two young kids to support, I couldn’t keep applying for residency programs over and over again. I needed to do something that I enjoyed and would provide a decent living to support my family. I had done a little welding while in college at Baylor and had always enjoyed it, as well as working with my hands and building or rebuilding things. I saw the billboards around Tulsa, looked up the school, saw that the program was seven months and thought, “Shoot, seven months? I can do anything for seven months!”

I guess after 11 years in school, seven months is easy.

That’s right, not to mention I’m $400,000 in debt for that education, but it is what it is. If I can be happy welding, then so be it.

I guess being a surgeon or welder both require excellent hand/eye coordination?

Definitely, and especially with the control and precision. It’s kind of funny how many similarities there are. You certainly have to have pretty steady hands to weld or operate on someone!

Have you closed the door forever on medicine?

Not necessarily, no. It is something that I could get back into eventually if I wanted to. But it just depends on how things go with this new career and the job I’ve just accepted.

What did you enjoy most during your time at Tulsa Welding School?

There are two things.  First, I enjoyed the challenge. The program was more difficult than I anticipated, but I enjoyed getting to see my progression, and especially the hands-on time. Second was the instructors. They are there to help you anyway they can.  Don’t hesitate to ask them for help if you are struggling with something. I became good friends with several instructors and with their experience they have several tips that can be really helpful.

What do you prefer welding or fixing bones?

That’s tough. Honestly, I could do either! If I was compensated the same for both, I might do half and half! I enjoy them both.

You graduated last month, where are you working?

I’m going to work for Gulf Island Fabrication. I was supposed to be onboarding with them this week, but with this arctic weather, I’m now starting at the beginning of March.

Congratulations! What will you be doing for them?

I’ll be welding in the shipyard; they hired me as a Welder III. I’ll be MIG welding, building new vessels and working on repairs. During my interview, though, they were already talking about creating a new position for me, to take advantage of my medical background as well. They’ve always wanted to have someone on site that has medical knowledge, in addition to an interest and skill in fabrication.  That’s all to be worked out. I just said for the time-being, I need to get welding.

Did Career Services help you get the job?

Gulf Island called Johnny in Career Services two weeks ago and said they needed 50 welders! They came to school the following week, viewed our weld tests, and interviewed people on the spot. I looked up where it was and liked the location. My hometown is in east Texas, close to Shreveport, LA, which is about five hours from Houma.  Also, it’s right on the Gulf, so there’s a lot of fishing opportunities, and my mom lives near the area.

Is this a temporary or permanent job?

I can see myself with them for the long-term.  My wife and kids (a four-year-old girl and six-year-old boy) are established in schools here in Tulsa, so I’m going to go down there the first week of March, and my family will follow in the summertime at the end of the school year. My wife is a teacher, so she’s planning on getting her Louisiana teaching license. We’ve lived all over, so she’s gotten used to getting teaching licenses everywhere.

Why do you think you’ll stay for the long-term?

They’re a good company. They seem to promote from within, they offer relocation assistance, full benefits. The pay isn’t terrible for someone with little welding experience, and they have a new CEO who really seems to consider employee feedback and new potential business ventures. I can see myself progressing with them. I got my MBA because I anticipated running a medical practice, but I can see it being beneficial here down the road.

What’s your ultimate career goal?

Like I said, just to advance with Gulf Island as far as I can, as quickly as I can. Whatever new position they intend to create for me will come with a new salary as well I’m sure. I’ll just have to play it by ear and see how it goes. I think there are good opportunities here for me with my background and skills.

What do you enjoy most about your new trade?

The building aspect: being able to look at blueprints and put something together out of raw materials. I take a lot of pride in my work, so being able to say, “I had a big part in building that vessel” will be rewarding.

Did you make some friends at Tulsa, people you’ll stay in touch with?

Just a couple of guys, more so with the instructors actually. They are very valuable with their knowledge.

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

Do not be afraid to ask for help. Don’t sit there and struggle, go ask the instructors. That’s what they are there for – to help you. I know it’s a lot easier said than done, but don’t be intimidated or embarrassed.  TWS has a great program, but you will only get out of it what you put into it. Get as much time welding as you can, you will surely appreciate it down the road. Yes, it gets frustrating; the frustration will come, but don’t let it get you down!

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).