Melanie, age 29, from Arkansas, graduated from the Professional Welder program at Tulsa Welding School in July 2019.
Thanks for sharing your story, Melanie. Tell us about life before attending welding school.
I had my daughter at 19—she is now 9—and then I worked on a military installation for six years before I went to welding school. I cleaned hotels that housed military students and their families who come here from all over the world to train.
What made you think about welding?
A Tulsa Welding School recruiter came to visit us in high school. At the time, I looked at all his information and thought it looked interesting, but then I forgot about it until ten years down the road.
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So why was last year the right time?
I guess I just wanted to be in a trade. I don’t mind hard work and getting dirty, and there’s something about it. I just enjoy it. I’d rather be outside working on something versus being inside.
So you had to move from Arkansas to Tulsa. Did your daughter go with you?
She stayed at home with my mom. I was going to have to go to work and go to school, and I wouldn’t know anyone in Tulsa or have a babysitter for her. You can’t trust too many people with children. I thought it would be easier if I just went, and it was. It was a sacrifice, and I missed her a lot, and in the month or more that I’ve been home, she hasn’t left my side. She goes back to school tomorrow.
What did you enjoy most about Tulsa Welding School?
The hands-on time was my absolute favorite. We did have classroom time; we took tests and everything. I did enjoy that, as I knew nothing about welding, but I preferred the hands-on welding because I am a hands-on person, not a visual person. I like to figure things out for myself, not from a book.
Did you have any welding experience?
No, none. It was a struggle at times, but my instructors would tell me I could do it and tell me not to get frustrated, to keep working at it. I also had friends in class who stuck with me and encouraged me.
Being away from your daughter and struggling at times. Did you ever consider quitting?
Yes. I’d never been away from my daughter for that long, so that was the hardest thing. But my friends and the instructors kept me going. I knew people who did quit, but I thought that this is too much money, too much effort, and too much of a sacrifice not to finish.
Well done for sticking with it. Did you put in extra practice time?
Yes, I was in the night class from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. I would go in there early during the morning class and stay there until 11.30 p.m., just to get that extra practice in.
How did you find being a female in a predominantly male environment?
I just went with the flow, I guess. I did everything that I was supposed to do, and I made friends over time. We all got along. I was just one of the guys, really. There was another woman is one class when I had to re-phase, but other than her, I was the only girl.
What would you say to other women considering welding school?
There’s nothing to be afraid of. Just give it your all and you will exceed in life. I’ve been told by other people who have been welding for a long time that women can be better welders than men!
Tell me about your first job?
I got my first job a week before I moved back home from Oklahoma. I went to work as soon as I moved back working an auto-welder making pipe for water sprinkler systems. I have an interview with another company next week, so fingers crossed for that.
What does your career plan look like?
I want to continue to learn, develop and get more experience. I want to have my own truck and welding rig, and do work on the side because eventually I want to have my own welding company. I will stay local, because if I go out of state, it won’t be for long. I will always want to come back to my daughter.
What kind of work would you like to do with your company?
I would like to do everything from stick, to MIG, to flux, to TIG and aluminum. But mainly TIG, because it is my favorite.
What do you enjoy most about welding?
I guess it’s just knowing that I can do it. People think it’s awesome to see a woman welder! It’s that feeling when people, especially guys, say, “She’s a welder, wow! She can do that?”
Did you make some lasting connections at welding school?
Not too many. Many people who I knew or talked to went to the pipeline, and I’m not in the position to do that right now. I don’t have my own truck or rig, and I have my daughter, so I need to stay closer to home.
What advice would you give to people about to start at Tulsa Welding School?
First of all, you have to show up and have good attendance. Listen to your instructors and ask for help. They’ve been there and done it. They know what employers are looking for and will give you all the advice in the world. That’s what I would say.
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).