Michell’e, from Philadelphia, Mississippi, graduated from the Welding Specialist program at Tulsa Welding School & Technology Center in Houston in January 2018.
Thanks for sharing your story, Michell’e. What brought you to Tulsa Welding School in Houston?
Prior to coming to Texas, I was a production worker at an automotive plant in Mississippi. I was also a full-time student, taking classes online to become a radiologist. I was working full-time, going to school full-time and being a full-time mother to my 11-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son. Doing all that was a challenge. I was surviving on four hours of sleep, running on nothing basically. It was around then that some personal things happened that challenged me to switch up my environment, my career and my life. That’s why I came to Texas in May 2017.
Tell us about your start in Houston.
I started off with two kids and no money, just a car and a few clothes. I moved to a shelter in Houston with my two children and used what I had. My foundation was a little different from most people, but it was a strong foundation. I had a lot of support from complete strangers. Due to my situation, I had access to shelter programs that other people didn’t. I think I actually had an advantage on other students because I didn’t have to worry about housing. I got three meals a day. They even packed lunch sacks, and I had daycare for the children. Just to be able to focus on school was a blessing.
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How did it feel to be in that situation?
It opened my eyes and made me very humble. It made me look at myself very different and value myself differently. It made me look at what I wanted for myself and the people around me. My situation was not something that I planned. I didn’t see it coming. But for me, it was more of a spiritual thing, because everything that’s happened is by the grace of God. That experience made me go even harder for what I want, because I was told I wouldn’t make it, I wouldn’t finish. I was doubted, criticized, judged and bullied.
Why did you choose welding?
I began the process of trying to figure out what I wanted to do before I came to Texas. I researched the Houston area. I looked at my situation and what I was coming in with. I knew I could get a job, but it would be a basic, mediocre job. I didn’t want to be mediocre. I could have gotten a mediocre job back home, so what would be the point of coming here? I wanted to challenge myself to go to the next level. I came up with three categories: the health field, a receptionist or welding. I didn’t have time for an education in the health field. I was on a short time frame, and it didn’t suit my situation. Being a receptionist wouldn’t really suit my personality, so I looked into welding.
Had you done any welding before?
No, but I was aware of it. I went to JobCorps when I was 16 and saw a welding program in a classroom, but I was too young. But I did my research, listed the pros and cons and decided welding was it. I made the decision, contacted the shelter in Houston, sold some stuff to make sure we had gas and food money and we hit the road.
What did you enjoy most about the program?
The school as a whole is not just about welding. Yes, welding is in the name, it’s what they teach, it’s what they stand for, but they treat all students that come through those doors as family. That’s what makes Tulsa Welding School what it is, and what I enjoyed the most.
How was it being a female in a male dominated field?
The percentage of females is very low. Women just don’t do this, but more of us should! Some women give me credit for doing it, for having so much love for it. Many women don’t understand how I can do it. It’s physical and dirty, and I’m surrounded by a bunch of guys, but I tell them the guys are human just like I am! Men just have a different way of doing things. The only difference is they’re not as emotional as we are. They feel what we feel, but we’ll never know it! That’s the only tricky thing. They see if I’m frustrated, if I’m tired, but they also see that I work hard and love what I do, and that’s what men respect. The men I work with respect me because of my effort, attitude and perseverance.
What have you been doing since graduation?
After graduation, I worked for a company called Combine9 in Pasadena, Texas. It’s a private fabrication company. They build unique furniture. But right before I graduated, I knew I wanted to work for Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, Mississippi. They build ships for the Navy. They came to the school for a job fair, and I applied for a position with them a few months ago. I tested with them just last week at the school, passed and got a job! I’m waiting on a call from my recruiter so we can start the background check, drug screen and physical process. It’s pretty cool!
Any tips on getting a job?
You need knowledge about welding, but you also have to walk in prepared, with confidence, a positive attitude and desire. The employer almost has to sense your aura. I’ve learned in my short time in this field that you can be a phenomenal welder, but if you can’t be on time, if you’re not reliable, or if you have a record of breaking safety rules, they are not going to hire you. You might be the best welder in the world, but if you’re missing three days out of five, what good are you? An employer wants someone who is passionate, who they can rely on, who they can mold into the employee they want you to be.
What do you enjoy most about being a welder?
There’s no one thing in particular that I enjoy more. I love everything about welding! This isn’t a job for me, it’s something that I love doing. I never had my heart set on the money. I look at the impact of what I do. How can I make a difference? I’m literally smiling ear to ear when I talk about this Ingalls job. To see something that I helped build for our government, for our military that protects us, will be amazing to me. I’ll go down when I’m 80 years old and say, “That’s the ship I built!”
What advice would you give to new students considering TWS?
Believe in yourself. You’re going to be discouraged, you’re going to be nervous, have doubts. Your attitude is very important, and you’ve got to have self-control—no self-control is out of control! Keep your mouth closed, and be observant and listen. Staying consistent is important. Start off strong and go all the way to the end like that because it will pay off. You’ve got to be passionate about welding to succeed. You can’t go into it just because you have a goal to make a lot of money, or else you’re not going to survive
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).