Graduate Connections – Meet Zoe Chevalier

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Zoe, age 22, from Houston, TX, graduated from the Welding Specialist program at Tulsa Welding School & Technology Center in Houston in May 2020.

Thanks for sharing your story, Zoe. What did you do after high school?

I went to community college. I had my mind set on being a lawyer. It was all fine and dandy until I had to really buckle down at school. I was trying to do a bunch at once: work two jobs so I could afford my own place, keep up on my art and go to school. It was a boatload of work.

Did it get too much? 

It was a lot. I decided I’d rather get a more professional job, a career where I would get paid more, save up some money, and maybe go back to college later if I still wanted to, and go from there.

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What made you think about welding last year?  

I’m really into my art, and I’m from a family of engineers. They actually suggested welding to me. They knew I was art-oriented, and they thought it might be a good fit. I could get my welding certification, start a nice little career, save up some money, and do whatever it is I wanted to do. I want to travel, and I’ve got into metal artwork. That’s what got me into welding a little before I went to school.

Did you do any welding in high school?

Unfortunately, I didn’t take advantage of the opportunity in high school. I only started about a year ago. My mom’s husband (at the time) had a MIG welding machine, and he taught me a little. He worked on hot rods, built them from the ground up, mainly classic trucks. I got a little practice working on the tailgates, so that was really cool. I’d go to scrap metal places and started making garden artwork from metal. I also learned a little from watching YouTube videos! Eventually, about midway through welding school, my grandfather bought me a welding machine, so that was nice.

What did you enjoy most about Tulsa Welding School?

I’m a very visual learner, so I liked that it was very hands-on. It made things easier for me. I picked it up quickly. It also helped that I absolutely loved the instructors. They all came from different backgrounds, and most of them had a lot of experience. It was cool to hear their stories, the things they had worked on, their travels around the world. I learned a lot of interest things. I also have to say that the Career Services department was amazing.

Where are you working?

I work at Sabre Industries in Conroe, Texas. It’s one of their newer locations. They have places all over. I’m a welder, but I’m going through training to learn how to pipefit, to make the arms of those huge telecommunication towers. They also work with oil and gas, and manufacturing, but my section mainly works on the telecommunication side. I had orientation all last week, and I officially started this past Sunday. I’ve only been there a little while, but I’ve learned a lot.

Are you excited to learn pipefitting?

It is lots of measurements and math, so I wasn’t too happy about it at first, but it is something I need to learn. They said if you can fit and weld you have the chance to make more money, you learn more about the trades, and it can make you a little bit smarter on handling certain situations.

Do you wish you’d added the three-month Pipefitting course at Tulsa?

I was just thinking about that! The awesome thing is Sabre are willing to train us and teach us blueprints.

Are you happy with where you’ve started in terms of money with no experience?

I am, actually. I thought I’d have to start as a welder helper making maybe $14 or $15 an hour. But Jakis Pierce in Career Services was very encouraging, saying “No, we’ll get you something better!” Sabre is an amazing company, and honestly, I’ve done pretty well having just started out. I’m getting pretty good money, and I’m learning a lot. I also still have time to do my welding metal artwork, so it has worked out.

Where do you see your welding career going?

I’d like to stay at Sabre for a year or two, save up some good money, get some experience, absorb as much as I can. At that point, if I find something else that is a little bit bigger and better, maybe I’ll go do that, or maybe I’ll work independently. I’ve been thinking about that for a while. I’d like to be a welder in the NASCAR industry, as I do have some connections. I was going to do that straight after welding school, but the whole COVID-19 thing messed that up. I’ll just see where life takes me.

And you want to get into the artwork side of things?

I do a lot of independent metal artwork already. I put it out on social media, and eventually I’ll make my own business cards, and maybe lean towards doing independent work. I’ve done the tailgates, made barbecue pits, worked on a few neighbors’ entrances and fences. Making some extra money!

You were considering a law career…do you see welding as your future now?

I do. Obviously, you never know what’s going to happen, but I just fell in love with welding, so I definitely see it as my future. I’m not sure what I’ll be doing with it later, hopefully independent work as I said. I like to keep busy so maybe I’ll go back to school one day. I still like the idea of being a lawyer, but later down the road. I want to do a lot of traveling, as much as I can. I’ll probably try to get a different position with Sabre where I can travel, or with a different company, or go independent.

Would like to get your own rig, maybe get some traveling jobs?

Yes, I like moving around. I’d like to do different things, different projects. I like to have a different routine every day otherwise I get a little bored.

What do you enjoy most about your new trade?

As an artist, I definitely enjoy the creativity aspect. But the fact that I am a woman in this field I find amazing. Our welding instructors said that women are usually a little bit better at welding, only because we are a little more steady-handed. Being a woman welder kind of made me feel cool because this is a man’s field; it is dominated by men. It is amazing that it made me feel stronger, more independent, and like I could do anything honestly.

Did you make some lasting connections at school?

Yes, we have a nice little group. We all stay in contact; it’s a pretty diverse group. We have a group chat and we let each other know what’s going on, what jobs we got. All congratulating each other. A few of us are traveling already which is exciting. When we have vacation time, we are going to visit each other. I think all of us have a job now, even during the pandemic, which surprised us all, so that’s pretty cool.

What advice would you give to students for them to be successful at TWS?

Just go for it. This is a great opportunity. It is a huge learning experience. There are so many people on campus, especially the instructors, who have so much experience and so many stories that will help encourage you. They try not to stress you out. They help you go at your own pace. On top of that, they will help you get a job right out of school, so that’s great. If it’s something that you’re really interested in, you should really just go for it.

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).