Graduate Connections – Meet ShayBreon Gray

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ShayBreon, 20, is from Courtland, Virginia. She completed the seven-month Professional Welder program at Tulsa Welding School in Jacksonville in August 2023. 

Thanks for your time, Shay. What did you do in the short time after high school before coming to TWS? 

I finished high school in 2021, and then took a year off trying to decide what I wanted to do. I worked at Amazon for a year and did some classes at a community college near me, this was back home in Virginia.

Why did you decide on welding? 

The classes I took at the community college were welding, that’s how I found out that I liked it. 

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But where did the idea of welding come from; had you done it in high school or something?

Actually, it was a pretty spontaneous, in-the-moment decision! I was frustrated because my mom really wanted me to go to college or go to some type of school; she felt I was wasting my time at Amazon. So, I was in my room in the middle of the night on the local community college’s website, looking at different fast-track programs to see what things I could get certified in. That’s when I decided to do welding! 

That’s cool! Why did you decide to take your education further at a more advanced welding school? 

After I finished the fast-track program, I could have got a job with the basic welding certification that I’d earned, but I wanted to learn more about welding and all the different processes beyond stick welding, the different career paths. And on the Tulsa Welding School program I learned really a lot. When I started, I really had no idea there are so many career paths open to you with welding.

Why did you choose Tulsa Welding School? 

I had a cousin that went to Tulsa Welding School and completed the welding program back in 2019, I think it was. So that’s how I knew about the school. That’s why, after I finished this three-month fast-track welding course, I decided to sign up for TWS. Since I already had a certification in a welding process, I actually only had to be in the Tulsa program for six months rather than seven. I came in at Phase two.

So, you moved from Virginia down to Jacksonville, Florida, at age 19? That’s a pretty big deal.

Yes, it was but I actually stayed with family down there, so it wasn’t too bad of a move.

That made it easier, I’m sure. What did you enjoy most about your time at TWS? 

I really enjoyed learning every day, like every single day I’d learn something new. I wasn’t really close with a bunch of people at Tulsa, but my boyfriend Charles and I met there and started dating, so we helped each other a lot. We got really close in school; in fact, we live together now back here in Virginia.

Romance on campus – awesome! How did you get on with the welding program? 

I absorbed everything pretty well. I mean, everyone has their good and bad days, but I feel like welding comes pretty naturally to me. So, I didn’t struggle too much and if I did, whether it was my instructor or any other instructor in the building, they were always there to help. Even if I was there after class, just practicing, someone would still help if I needed it.

What shift did you do at school?

Morning, 7.30am to Noon. If I had time, I’d stay on in the afternoon for some extra practice. Honestly, you could go to school all day if you wanted to. There is always space available, always. You can stay on anytime and practice. That’s one of the things that I really, really loved about going there. You could go to school anytime you wanted to. Even after my boyfriend and I graduated in August, we still went by to practice for a weld test or just before we started working, just go to practice, to just stay up on it.

Maybe that’s why you felt welding came naturally to you? You put the time in. 

Yes, because honestly, welding in school and welding out in the field is really different. In the field, you have people working around you, but nobody is really going to stop and do the work for you. So, if you’re coming to Tulsa, take advantage of all the practice time you can and listen to the instructors. Tulsa instructors have a lot of experience. They’ve worked in different places, doing different jobs, and they know a lot. So, the tips that they give will really help when you get out in the real world. So listen!

Let’s talk about the ‘real world’ then. Where are you working?

I’m working in Harrisonburg, Virginia, at a company called Tenneco. It’s an original-equipment and after-market automotive parts company. I work the night shift; 2.30pm to 10.30pm. I like this shift. I’m not really a morning person, I can be, but this schedule is perfect for me right now! 

Congratulations! Tell us about finding a job after graduation?

Well, I originally wanted to work in Florida, but the living situation there didn’t really work, so we moved back to Virginia. I was actually struggling to find places on my own; a lot of companies wanted three years of experience, some places five. So, I tried on my own until I asked Ms. Tracy in Career Services if she had anything in Virginia. That’s when she pointed me towards Tenneco. I applied and started work the following week at the beginning of October.

You said ‘we’; did Charles move back there with you? 

Yes, he did. We actually just got our first apartment. He works at Tenneco too.

That’s great – sounds like a TWS wedding one day! Are you enjoying Tenneco?

I am. It’s been different because the process I’m doing is the same as what I learned in school, but the material is a lot thinner, so you have to learn different techniques to work with it. The people that I’ve worked with have been helping a lot, but also what I learned at school has definitely helped me too.

Tell us about that first paycheck after graduating? Are you making more than at Amazon? 

Yes, I am. I’m making more, but there is still so much more money to make eventually. I have to be patient, but for my first job, straight out of school, I’m not disappointed with the money. 

That’s true. You have to be patient, it will come! What’s your career plan from here?

I like this job, but I’m working here mostly for experience. Eventually I may move on to something better. But like I was saying, there are so many different paths to go down with welding. I may find something I like more than working on automotive parts, but maybe I won’t…and if not, I’ll continue here!

The world is your oyster as they say! What do you enjoy most about your new trade?

I really like the fact that every day I can improve. When I worked at Amazon, every day I did the same thing. Just pack boxes, put them on; pack boxes, put them on. With welding I can see myself progress; I can see myself grow with my own eyes. My work is going towards something that’s helping someone. I just love it. When I first started, I fell in love with welding, and I still love it. 

Other than Charles, did you make some connections at school, people you will stay in touch with?

A few people, but mostly I kept to myself. I have maybe two or three girls that I speak to every now and then. At school we had a ‘Women in Trades’ meeting every Wednesday. I met a few people there, so I didn’t keep to myself completely the whole time.

Tell us more about that ‘Women in Trades’ meeting. Is it something the school organizes?

Yes, it is. I think it’s a really good idea for the women there. For me personally, I didn’t have a problem with any men there, or with being in a mostly male environment. But a lot of women told different stories around how they were uncomfortable. I think it’s good to have a safe space for women to share because there’s not really a lot of women there, compared to how many men there are. But honestly, there were a lot more women than I expected when I first started.

That’s great to hear. What advice do you have for someone considering Tulsa Welding School? 

Really the biggest piece of advice would be to just stay in your booth and practice as much as you can. Don’t get distracted. A lot of people just like to sit around and talk. That’s not what you’re there for. Engage with people for sure but try not to let them distract you. Stay in your booth and just do your thing. Ask questions if you need to, but just practice. Practice makes perfect honestly.

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).