Graduate Connections – Meet Devin Kelbch

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Devin, 34, from Reno, Nevada, graduated the Professional Welder program at TWS in late April 2022. We spoke with him just a couple of days later. Devin graduated “Top Welder” and won a welding machine!

Thanks for your time, Devin. At 34, what did you do before you came to welding school?

I actually did 12 years in prison before I went to welding school.

Thank you for sharing that. So where did the idea of welding come from?

I’d never done any welding before, but there was a welding program that I took in prison. It was towards the end of my time, closer to when I was getting out. It was interesting, so I decided to pursue it.

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Did you have to move to Tulsa for school, or where you in prison in Oklahoma?

No, I was still in Nevada. My aunt and uncle lived out here in Tulsa, OK. About two years before I was due to get released, while I was doing the welding program actually, they contacted me to ask if I wanted to come out here for a fresh start. I decided that it would be good opportunity for me to relocate, so I made my way out here. I started looking up welding schools in prison, and as soon as I hit the halfway house in Tulsa last July, I contacted Tulsa Welding School and got in touch with the admissions counselors. They pulled a bunch of strings and I got to go to work full-time and go to welding school at night while I lived in a halfway house. Then they put me on an ankle monitor for six months, but I continued to thrive in school.

That sounds like a lot.

I was living off five hours of sleep. I’d go to work, then go straight to school. I’d get home about 12:30 a.m. and then get up and do it all over again.

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What kind of work were you doing?

I was working as an electrician, I still am. I’m an apprentice right now. I have my electrician card, and I’m possibly making my way toward being a journeyman electrician as well.

That’s awesome. So you could end up with two great trades.

Just overcoming so much time in prison with no real direction in life, I just have a real solid drive to succeed. I happen to be an artist as well, so the welding really clicked with me from the art side.

Is that what made you come to welding school?

I finally wanted to be something, to make something of myself. It’s very easy to go down the wrong path again when you come out of prison. That’s the easier route. Stepping into a big school loan debt and having to maintain it myself has been good for me. I’m surrounding myself with people who are successful or who are doing positive things that I’m interested in. When it really comes down to it, if you really want something, you’re not going to let anything get in your way.

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

I really enjoyed the staff at the school, most of the teachers, the counselors. They are very willing to help you, especially the instructors. They are there to help the students, for sure. When you get a good vibe, and you get a group of people who are all sharing the same struggles, it’s like a giant team thing. We all made sure we helped each other get through it, and it came together for sure.

You mentioned the word “struggles.” Did you have days where you thought, “What am I doing here?”

There are definitely tough times when you’re there. The thought of not being able to complete the program didn’t cross my mind. But definitely days and days and days working on the same thing gets a little frustrating for sure. But then, next thing you know, you can do that weld and do it every single time, and you don’t know why you had such a hard time doing it the first time! They tell you it’s all about repetition and it’s true. You’ve got to make a habit out of it.

You finished school last week and still work as an electrician. Are you looking for welding work?

I am. It’s a little tough because a lot of the job opportunities are out of state, and because I’m on parole, I can’t leave Oklahoma. So, my options are more limited.

That’s rough. Are you working with Career Services?

Yes, I’m working well together with Career Services. We’ve actually just found out about two jobs with pretty big companies here in Tulsa who are looking to hire multiple welders. It uses welding processes that we’ve learned, but it’s not material that I’ve welded on before. The school is working to try to get the materials I need, so I can start practicing the tests. Depending on how many of their tests you pass dictates whether you start at a certain salary. I’d rather practice all the tests for a month until I’ve got them dialed in, then shoot for the higher wage.

So, you’re optimistic?

I’m there for sure. It’s just a matter of choosing the right opportunity. I’d like to be welding, but it has to be the right job. I’ve pushed this hard to get this far, and I don’t want to just settle for any job.

Sounds like a plan. How long are your movements restricted?

I’m on parole for three years. But I’ve been going to my parole officer, showing him all these out-of-state jobs. He said just give him a little time, maybe six more months of good behavior and then we can start possibly pursuing a move if needed. So right now, I just want to get my foot in the door, start getting some welding experience in the field to help my résumé out.

Are you concerned about your background for these two opportunities?

I’m basically ignoring all that. I’m a big believer that if you push and present yourself in the proper ways, then none of that matters. I think a company’s biggest concern is that if you have a felony background, you’re not likely to be a long-term employee. So, my job is to present myself in a way that overcomes that. I’m pretty confident that when I get in there, I can get my foot in the door and shine.

What’s your long-term career plan?

I definitely want to own my own business one day, a fabrication shop that does welding. I’d like to utilize my art skills as well, do some custom air brushing, stuff like that. Maybe not in Tulsa, but somewhere. Maybe the Midwest or the south, maybe Arkansas or the Ozarks.

What do you enjoy most about welding?

It’s challenging. It’s not something you just pick up and it happens overnight. There’s a lot to it. When a company decides you’re the guy they need to do the job and you go do it and it comes out right, it’s very self-rewarding.

Did you make some lasting connections in school, people you’ll stay in touch with?

I actually have. There’s a girl in my graduating class, Savannah, who is now my girlfriend! She’s also in the process of pursuing a welding career. We’ve filled out multiple applications for her. She’s pretty close to landing one! I also stay in contact with a couple of the instructors, they’re good people.

That’s cool. Maybe TWS wedding bells one day! What advice do you have for new students to be successful at TWS?

Everybody is going to go through a very frustrating time at some point through certain phases or certain processes. You’re probably going to get some burns too, but don’t give up. I watched my class go from 25+ at the start to six of us graduating, and I’ll tell you that the people who quit could have passed. They just got in their own heads that they were tired, or they couldn’t do it. You’ve just got to have the heart, the drive, to stay and get through it. Even if you discover you don’t like welding or you’re just frustrated with it, stick with the program to the end because welding will always be an option for you in your life. No one can take it away from you, and we all need options.

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).