Faculty Appreciation Month – Ernest Williams

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Ernest, 60, from Virginia, is a welding instructor at Tulsa Welding School, Dallas Metro campus. Ernest has been with the school for about 8 months, having joined the faculty in the Fall of 2023. 

Thanks for your time, Ernest; how long have you been welding?

I’ve been welding for about 40 years. I’ve got a lot of experience in boilermaker and pressure vessel welding, as well as construction, iron, and pipeline welding. I’ve also been teaching welding for the past 20 years or so. 

Did you start welding straight out of high school?

No. When I got out of high school, I tried a few different things. At first, I tried the concrete business for a while. Then I moved around and went into the restaurant business. I was a chef for about five years. One day I saw this guy with a welding machine in the back of his truck. He pulled into a gas station next to me in Atlanta, and I asked him what he did for a living. He told me he was a welder. We talked for a few minutes, and it sounded interesting to me, something new. I asked how he got into it, and he told me he went to college to learn to weld. So, I checked it out, got signed up, and I’ve been welding ever since.

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As a boy, what did you want to be when you grew up? 

I remember I used to like the shiny red firetrucks when they came rolling down the street, the way they moved, the noise they made, the lights. To me, it was the neatest thing! Then these guys would jump out and put fires out. So, I think in the back of my mind I wanted to be a firefighter when I grew up. 

Why did you decide to go into teaching 20 years ago?

Once I had the experience, I was asked to share my knowledge of the construction field and welding with the new guys on most of the jobs I’d go on. I had to make them suitable to be able to work at a particular job. I had to teach them what I knew when it came to welding, so it just went from there. 

What do you like best about teaching?

When I first started teaching in a trade school, I was like, “Man, what have I got myself into?” But, as I went through the courses, dealt with different personalities, talked to students, it got to a point where I realized I was changing peoples’ lives, not only their lives as individuals, but their families’ lives too. I realized I was going to have an impact on this person for the rest of their life. Sure, they might not wake up each morning and say, “Oh my God, Mr. Williams taught me how to weld!” But, as time progresses, and they have to take different weld tests in their career, they’ll think, “What do I need to do?” That’s when they’ll think back and realize they know what to do because they were taught how to do it. 

Sometimes I’ll run across students from when I worked at another school years ago; I may not remember them, but they remember me quite well. “Hey, Mr. Williams, how are you doing?” They tell me what they’ve been up to; it’s heartwarming because they want to introduce me to their family, or show me their new truck, just share their success with me. That makes a real difference, it’s the icing on the cake.

Tell me something that most people don’t know about you?

I can say I once tried underwater welding, I went down there and realized that it wasn’t for me! After I got in the tank for training, in the water, a lot of things went through my mind. It was fun in a tank because you can get out, but I got to thinking that there’s things down there in deep water that can swallow a semi-truck, and that changed my mind!

If you could choose to have dinner with anyone, alive or dead, who would it be?

I like to watch movies. Have you ever heard of Anthony Hopkins? The way he acts and carries himself throughout his movies, he just seems like a very interesting person. I know it’s not 100% acting, it’s more like he’s who he really is, but I’d like to sit down and talk with that guy.

Tell us about your family, Ernest.

I have a son and two daughters. My son is 25 and he’s into music. He went to school for music, and he is doing pretty good. My oldest daughter is 27. She’s in the Navy and studying to be a doctor. My youngest daughter is 21, and she’s heavily into cosmetology, whatever it takes to beautify people! Right now, she’s going to school learning how to give Botox injections. She said everybody wants to get Botox now! 

What’s the biggest piece of advice you’d give to new students who are just starting out?

First of all, I’d say believe in yourself. The second thing would be this. There are leaders and there are followers in this world; you don’t want to be a follower. Followers just wait for something to happen. Leaders make things happen. They look for the next challenge, the next mountain to climb, the next obstacle to overcome. Be a leader in life, not a follower, and you’ll make things happen.

I also encourage them to ask questions at school. When students come in who have got a million questions, that just makes my job so much easier because it shows they want to learn this. If you’ve got questions, ask them because I’ve got the answers. As instructors, we have the knowledge, we just want somebody to give it to! You should become a sponge. Everything you can learn, soak it up.

You get an unexpected afternoon off to yourself, what would you do with that time?

I’d get on my motorcycle and take off for a two/three-hour ride somewhere if the weather was nice. If the weather was really nice, I might go fishing after.

What do you enjoy most about welding? 

I’ve had a lot of jobs, worked a lot of different places, made a lot of money, but students always ask me, “What is your favorite welding process?” I really don’t have an answer to that because I just love welding. So, then they ask me, “Well, what’s the most rewarding thing to you about welding?” I say, “Since I’ve been teaching, seeing my students be successful.” That’s just the way it is for me. 

How do you feel you contribute to student success? 

When students first get here, they often don’t know anything. They’re walking around nervously; they don’t know each other. I can tell who the timid students are, so I home in on them and talk to them. I tell them something about myself and try to make them feel good. I tell them to break the process down easy. I also remind them that before I went to welding school 40 years ago, I didn’t know how to weld either! 

Then they start smiling, they open up, they want to talk, they ask me about my welding career…I’ve broken the ice, then they relax a little, they start to believe in themselves, and they start to progress. Then I try to keep them encouraged and motivated. Even if they’ve just done the worst weld of their life, I’ll try to find something good in it to keep them focusing on the positive. Then, after a while, when they been practicing and putting the work in, they’ll tell you, “This is so easy!”

If you were to tell one person “Thank You” for helping me become the person I am today, who would it be and what did they do? 

I’d have to say my grandmother, Lila, my mom’s mom. She would tell me, “When an opportunity shows itself, take it regardless of what it is. It may be a job that you don’t really want right now, but every job you get in your life is a steppingstone to get where you want to be, or where you think you want to be.” I took that advice, and it served me well. It might not make sense when you’re younger, but the older you get, the more sense it will make.

Thank you, Ernest for your contributions to TWS!