Gabrielle, 22 from Sturgis, Kentucky, graduated the Professional Welder program at Tulsa Welding School in February 2021.
Thanks for your time, Gabrielle; what did you do before enrolling at welding school?
I graduated high school in 2020, and I went straight to welding school right after in July 2020.
When did you first learn about welding?
My dad taught me the basics when I was in middle school – around 8th grade. I enjoyed it. He wasn’t a welder; he just had a welding machine at home and knew how to tack things up.
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So, why did you choose to go to a welding school?
High school came and you have to start figuring out a career path. I wanted to be a veterinarian, but I just couldn’t do a university. So, my sophomore year of high school I decided to do Shop class and I enjoyed it. Welding was part of that, I picked it up quick. My teacher loved what I did. So, for the rest of my rest of high school, I just welded and welded. Something just changed in me. I knew this is what I wanted to do.
Good choice. Welding school is a lot shorter and cheaper than veterinary school!
For sure. I don’t think I could have done a university. I’m not very book smart, so this kind of school – watching and then learning with my hands – just seemed easier for me.
Sturgis is nine hours from Tulsa. How was moving away from home?
I was 19 when I graduated, so I didn’t like the idea of it. But my dad was just very encouraging. I also have family in Oklahoma, but not in Tulsa, they were three hours away. But I knew if I needed anything, I could get ahold of them. Welding was what I wanted to do, so I went ahead and did it. I let faith take me.
What did you enjoy most about Tulsa Welding School?
I really wanted the college experience. I hoped that I’d make close friends, and I did. There was a group of us; I really enjoyed getting close to them. I also just really enjoyed the program, it was wonderful. The instructors were really helpful, and it’s all really hands on.
How did you find being a female in a mainly male environment?
There were two girls in my class, but there were quite a few girls in the whole building because we had more students in the classes ahead of us, and the classes behind us later on. I didn’t really have to deal with any sexist comments or anything. Besides, I stand my ground, so if anyone said anything to me, I’d put them back in their place. They wouldn’t say anything else. But then towards the end, it was more of a joke thing. We would joke quite a bit about it.
That’s great to hear. Did you have frustrations? Or did the program come easy to you?
I did, for sure, have frustrating days. I tend to get psyched out really bad, so I would have to take a break. I’d go sit in my car for a few minutes and cool down, then go back to it. I got behind my class in one of my phases; they all moved on and I was still stuck on this one thing. But I stayed after class and one of my instructors just helped me, gave me more tips, and I eventually got it. I just took my time. That’s all you have to do, take your time. But you can ask for help. Anybody will help you for sure. You can’t just keep going. If you’re messing up and it’s recurring, it’s just going to make it so much worse if you’re mad!
What class schedule did you have, and did you stay late or go in early to get more practice?
I did the afternoon class. I was working at Boot Barn, so I had to go there at night on some days. At first, I didn’t want to stay after class because I didn’t know anybody. But later in the program, my friends and I would stay after class and work on our projects a few days a week…if I didn’t have to work.
So, tell us about getting your first job after school in 2021.
I ended up just wanting to come home after welding school, and Sturgis is a small town, we have nothing here. So, it wasn’t easy to get a job. When I moved back, I went more than six months without a welding job. I worked at Tractor Supply. Actually, it was a manager at Tractor Supply, who used to be a welder, that put me in contact with someone where he used to work. I ended up going there for a year to weld aluminum. I did MIG and then I started doing TIG out there. I was building aluminum ramps for wheelchairs. After a year, in August 2022, I moved to a company called Saturn Machine & Welding in Sturgis. That’s where I have been since. I like it so much.
What are you doing with Saturn?
When I first got hired on there, I was actually welding trailers for linemen. So, they had the big wire spools on the back of the trailers. We welded those trailers together. I’ve moved to the TIG department, so now I weld door sills together.
So, how is the pay working out for you as a welder?
Oh, I’m very happy with the money I’m making right now. My paycheck got better with the move I made, and I’m looking to go up even more! My schedule is 40 hours a week. I work Monday to Thursday for 10 hours – 6am to 4.30pm. But we’ve been doing a bunch of overtime, so we’ve been working Fridays. I get close to 90 hours or more every two weeks.
So, what’s your career plan from here?
I’m kind of just taking it step by step for now, letting life fill it in. If I get an opportunity to go somewhere better with more money, then, of course, I might take it. But for now, I like where I’m at, and I feel like I’m going to be here for a little while. At least a couple of years or more.
Sounds like a good place to build your experience. Is it a big company?
I mean, for our small town it’s pretty big. I’d say we have 35 people. We do lot of contracts that go all over the country. So, it’s big in my eyes but in other peoples’ eyes, probably not!
Do you have ambitions to go travel with your welding one day?
In school, I definitely wanted to travel. I actually wanted to go to Texas originally, so in my future I feel like I’ll probably travel more.
What do you enjoy most about welding?
I have really bad anxiety, and welding just helps my anxiety go away. I’ve always been a hands-on person. I love building things. Art is my favorite thing, and welding is pretty much art. I’ve built a couple of projects – I do mainly boot holders and wine racks out of horseshoes; I look at those projects every day and I’m glad I chose welding. Whatever I’m thinking that I want to build in my head, I know I can build it either at work or in my off time – I’ve got my own welding machine now.
You mentioned the close friends you made at school. Two years later, are you still in touch?
Yes. There are about five us. We talk almost every week. We’re all in different places; I think we’re all doing pretty good with what we did at Tulsa.
What advice do you have for new students to be successful at TWS?
Definitely show up on time. Just keep at it. Don’t sit there and worry yourself. If you have any questions, ask them. Get help. I went up to one of my instructors – his name was Jamie – three times a day, almost every day, just asking questions. I’d ask him to show me tricks and tips on anything. They’ll do that for you. They’ll pull you to the side or stay after and work with you. So definitely ask.
Don’t give up no matter what life throws at you. My second day, I moved into my apartment and my truck was stolen. I had a lot of family that wanted me to come back home, and I’ll admit, I did have the thought in my head that maybe this just isn’t meant to be. But I stuck with it. I didn’t let it set me back. In fact, I used it as motivation because now I had to get myself a new vehicle. So, if you want it, just keep at it. Don’t let anything get in the way of your dream.
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).