Graduate Connections – Meet Julia Estrada

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Julia, 19, from Perryton, Texas, completed the seven-month Professional Welder program at Tulsa Welding School in February 2024. 

Thanks for your time, Julia. Did you come to Tulsa Welding School right after high school? 

Yes, straight out of high school. I graduated in May, and then I left for Tulsa in July just before my birthday. Actually, my first orientation was on my 19th birthday!

Leaving home at 18 can be scary, how was it for you? 

It was very scary. The first two or three months were pretty rough. I missed my parents; I missed being home. But as soon as I got into a groove and got more comfortable, I was able to calm down a lot.

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Good for you for sticking with it. Where did the idea of going to welding school come from?

In my freshman year at Perryton High School, I had a friend, Kate, she was a helper. She’s probably four years older than me, and she was the assistant teacher in the welding shop. She kind of pushed me down this path. She said, “If you do this, you won’t have to go to college and you can make all this money!” I was 15 at the time, but as I got older – I took welding all four years – I realized I really liked this.

In my sophomore year we got two new teachers – Colby B. and Zane T. I’m going to give them the credit. They really boosted our welding program. It was okay in my freshman year, but now it’s top notch. They got a new facility, new bays, new machines. I mean, they’re putting in the effort for the kids and giving them the opportunities they deserve. I just wanted to give them a shout-out!  

Did you know anyone who was a welder? Family members, friends?

No, but my dad is a blue-collar man; he works in the oil field. My mom is a teacher. I didn’t have anyone to introduce me to welding before high school, but I knew about it, I was curious about it.  

What did you enjoy most about your time at TWS? 

I enjoyed the instructors. They were really warm and inviting, and they genuinely cared about the students.

Are you the kind of person to ask questions, or keep quiet? 

Oh yes, I’d bother them if I didn’t know what I was doing. I’d definitely put my hand up and ask for help.

That doesn’t bother them…they’re there to help! What class did you do?

For six months I did the morning shift and then my work schedule changed, so I did the afternoon shift for the last month. I was a lifeguard before I went to Tulsa Welding School, so I just decided to continue that and get a job here at the Y to pay my bills while I went to school.

With four years’ high school welding experience, did the program come easy to you? 

At first it did. I got the hang of it; I was getting comfortable. Then the last weekend of October, my grandpa passed away. After that I really had no motivation to finish. I called my mom every night telling her I wanted to go home. I remember telling the instructors that I can’t do it, but they gave me motivation to finish. They told me that my grandpa would want me to finish. I kept that in mind every time I thought about leaving…this is what he wants for me. I went home for a week for his funeral and then headed back.

Our condolences. Your grandpa would be proud. Did the instructors help you keep up?

Yes. I had Garrett Ellis as an instructor at the time and I mean, as soon as I heard, I told him and he was like, “All right, take your time, don’t worry about anything.” They were all very understanding, and they cared. When I got back to school, I managed to get caught up, so I didn’t have to repeat the phase.

Did you stay for extra practice?

I would stay and practice if I was struggling with something, or if I didn’t get something right the first time. I’m going to keep doing it until I get it right. That’s just the athlete in me, I guess.

Tell us where you are working.

I work for Cust-O-Fab in Tulsa. I had a couple of days off after TWS, and then started. I’ve been there about six weeks now. We big vessels. Right now, I’m working on a 110-foot tower for a company in Big Spring, Texas. I’m in the shop now, but I hope to get out to travel to jobs once I’m done with my training.

How did you get the job?

I mean, you can ask Danielle in Career Services. I was in her office every day asking, “Hey, does this place have an opening? Or is this somewhere else I can go?” And it wouldn’t just be about just finding a job. I would go in there and talk to her about some stuff; Danielle is someone that I feel like I really bonded with and felt at home with, but she helped me find Cust-O-Fab. This was a contact she had.

Were they looking for just one welder, or a few new people?

They were looking for several welders, but they wanted people who wanted to put in the work, not just show up to work, if that makes sense. I took my weld test. It was a 3G stick test, so it was a vertical plate and I just had to weld the middle of it. It was pretty easy and then they gave me an interview, and Tony, the guy I interviewed with, said that he really liked me and saw my potential. 

Potential is everything when you leave school. Are you happy with the money you’re making?

I am extremely blessed that they gave me the job. It’s better than a lifeguard check for sure! Last week  I did 70 hours; that’s 30 hours of overtime at time and a half.  Today is the day that I can start to use all my benefits too, so my insurance and all that good stuff.

You’re just starting a new career, but what’s your ultimate goal?

My ultimate goal, I’m going to be completely honest with you, is to use my welding career to have a house with enough land where I can have just a $h!t load of dogs! 

What do you enjoy most about your new trade?

I’m a woman, and you don’t see that many women out in the field doing what I’m doing. I enjoy that. It’s really empowering, and it makes me feel good. Whenever I’m at family reunions and they’re like, “Oh, what does Julia do?” They answer, “She’s a welder!”  To me, that’s just really cool.

How do you find being a women in a mostly male environment? Have you had to deal with anything?

Yes, a hundred percent. It was my second week and I already had 50-year-old men hitting on me, and I would tell them that I’m 19 years old, but they’d keep coming at me. I finally had enough and told them to leave me alone…just not in those words! 

So, you keep yourself to yourself at work? 

Yes and no. I like being by myself, doing what I’ve got to do, but every once in a while, I’ll talk to them to see what’s going on. If I need help, I’ll go and talk to them. Usually some of the guys are pretty nice, but then others can be like, “Oh yeah, this is the right way to do it…”, and they just end up being wrong. You’ve got to watch who and how you ask! Some think they’re better than you and they’re going to do anything to push you down and make you feel like you’re nothing. But I knew what I was getting myself into with this, and I prepared myself…well, I thought I’d prepared myself!


A lot of welders – male & female – say that women welders can be better welders?

Being female, I feel like we’re more observant about some things. We are really nitpicky. I am, at least. It has to be perfect. If I see something that doesn’t look right, I am going to grind it out, and redo it, where a guy is probably going to go, “It’s fine, next!” 

What about younger vs older welders? The same?

That’s a tough question. I would say yes, just because the younger you are, you’re physically able to do more things than the people who have been there for 30 years. Yes, they have the experience, and they know what they’re doing, but at the end of the day, younger people are easier to pick up on new stuff.

What advice do you have for new students just starting out at TWS, for them to be successful? 

Trust God’s plan. He has a plan for you moving forward.

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/Dallas).