Zeke, 19, from Wellington, Kansas, graduated the Professional Welder program at Tulsa Welding School in February 2020.
Thanks for your time, Zeke. Did you start the program right out of high school?
Yes, I went to welding school straight out of high school, although I did have to wait a few weeks for the next start date. I started July 8th, 2019.
What made you think about welding as a career?
Actually, it’s a unique story. At age 12, I was called to become an evangelistic missionary welder. When I was called, I was at church camp. I wasn’t the person then that I am now. I was relentless. I didn’t want to do anything. I was terrible, really. I disobeyed a lot. But after the calling, after that week, everything snapped into place. I changed. I became a much nicer person, much more open to learning about all kinds of things. I’ve pursued my dream to become a welder ever since.
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What is an evangelistic missionary welder?
Someone who goes across the country, or the world, doing work for free like building churches, wells, schools—welding structural stuff like that.
So, you started welding at 12?
No, I had to wait four years. No one in my family has welded. At first, I watched videos to learn more about it, but the first time I picked up a welding utensil was age 16 in high school. I come from a poor family. We don’t have a lot of money. I thought that if I have a welding career, I will be able to help out my family, too. That’s my goal also, not just my calling.
What made you choose Tulsa Welding School?
I first heard about Tulsa Welding School when they came to visit my high school when I was a freshman. I was too young then, but I knew then that Tulsa would be my dream school. Three years later a TWS representative came to do a presentation to graduating seniors at my high school in Wellington, a different high school. I was like, “No way! My dream school is here now!” I went for it. My recruiter, a guy called JC, actually lived a couple of blocks away from me and I didn’t even know.
What did you enjoy most about Tulsa Welding School?
The challenges. I’m not going to lie, I had times during school when I wanted to stop, to give up because it was hard learning new things that you have no idea how to do! But I kept my nose to the grindstone and I made it out of there.
What was it that kept you going through those hard times?
Tulsa, OK, is very different to where I’m from in Kansas. I had to move to Tulsa for school, leaving my parents behind. They were very upset when I left: their baby boy leaving for college, but they were very proud of me when I graduated. So I was kind of on my own there. The teachers and staff were very helpful, but what really kept me going during the tough times was the big picture. I knew what I wanted.
Did the school help you find a place to live?
Tulsa has paired up with this great housing unit company called EDUrent. They found me an affordable place. They have shared and independent housing. I shared a place. It was $425 a month with utilities.
Where are you working?
Six weeks after graduating and I already have a welding job. I’m working for Arc-Pro Professional Welding Service in Haysville, Kansas. They do everything from vehicle fabrication to structural welding. It’s a small family-owned business—a father and son own it—and it’s pretty nice. Not only are they teaching me a lot, but I’m able to teach them things, too! I get to do TIG, MIG and flux core welding there. I’ve welded on a three-ton road scraper that flattens out gravel, I’ve welded aluminum sorting tables, I used TIG to weld stainless steel piping. I’m never sure what I’ll be working on next.
Do you get to go on site?
We do go out on site. In fact, the first day at work they took me to an aluminum scrapping company, and I had to repair an aluminum shredder. The legs had broken off due to weak welds that someone else had done, so we cut them off and redid them.
How did you get the job?
After I moved home, I googled “welding jobs near me” and literally hundreds popped up, some an hour away, some pretty close. Arc-Pro is 18 miles from my house. It takes me about 25 minutes. Shelby in Career Services helped me find numerous other jobs, but they were too far away from Wellington, my hometown. But after I applied to Arc-Pro, Shelby called them and helped boost their interest level in me.
Are you happy with the money you’re earning?
This is the most amount of money per hour I’ve earned in my entire life! I’m happy with it, plus it doesn’t even feel like I’m working because I’m doing what I love!
Where do you see your career going from here?
I can see myself going on the road at some point in the future, but for now I want to build my experience here. Besides, my mom made me promise that I wouldn’t leave Kansas for at least a year! After that I’m going to go and see where the world takes me. I see myself doing structural welding. My career goal is to combine earning a living with my calling. I want to earn enough to provide myself and my future family with a good life, but also to help others.
What do you enjoy most about being a welder?
The feeling I get after laying down a good bead, especially if it’s something I struggled with beforehand. It brings be nothing but joy to think that weld will stay there for years. It will hold against pressure, against tons of tension. It’s a real sense of satisfaction.
Did you make some lasting connection at school?
Really, just my roommate who graduated with me. He’s making more money than I am right now, working with the railroad in Texas. He had connections and I didn’t, but that’s fine.
What advice do you have for new students who want to be successful at TWS?
Keep your chin up and your nose to the grindstone. You’ve got to stay focused on the big picture, on what’s important! You’re not there to goof around. Sure, everybody needs to have fun once in a while, but don’t have too much fun to where you lose sight of the big picture.
Once you get to work, if you mess up on a job, own up to it. Tell the boss immediately. That’s one thing I learned here. I’ve messed up quite a few times, and my boss knows it, too. But that’s okay, he knows I’m still learning. If you’re on a big job site, like a pipeline, the cheapest project you’ll be working on is around $2 to $3 million, so don’t try to cover it up. Own up to your mistakes and try your best to correct them, and you’ll be just fine.
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).