Graduate Connections – Heather Smart

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Heather, 22, from Cleveland, Texas, graduated the Welding Specialist with Pipefitting program at Tulsa Welding School & Technology Center in Houston in October 2019.

Thanks for your time, Heather. Did you enroll in welding school straight out of high school?

I started a couple of months after high school. I ran into a couple of bumps during school. I had to redo a couple of phases because of family trouble and I was also working full-time, so it took me a little longer than the 9½ months it’s supposed to.

Congratulations on persisting with it. Where did the idea of welding come from?

I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I’d been working full time since my freshman year, so I never really took the time to even think about what I wanted to do long term. One day a recruiter from Tulsa came to my school and invited students to come check out the welding school. I didn’t have anything better lined up, so I thought I’d give it a shot. It ended up working out well for me.

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Did you do any welding in high school?

I wanted to get into a shop class, but because I was working full-time as a cashier at Kroger, I was really behind in credits to graduate. So, I was in credit recovery classes most of my junior and senior years.

What did you see on your tour of the welding school that made you sign up?

I saw how happy some of the students were. I got to see what a couple of them were working on and it really intrigued me.

Had you ever thought about going to a trade school?

Not really, it kind of came out of the blue. 

Did you enroll in the Pipefitting program from the start or add it?

I enrolled in both from the start. I figured I was already going to be there for the welding, so I might as well do the pipefitting while I’m at it and learn as much as I can. I loved the pipefitting class! That was definitely where I excelled the most. I’ve always had a way with math, so it was right up my alley! 

What did you enjoy most about Tulsa Welding School?

I liked watching the different classes and watching the teachers with their own techniques. Everyone welds a little bit differently. It was cool to see how one guy would do something, and then go see if that technique would work for me.

Did you enjoy all the hands-on time in the booth?

Yes, I’m a very hands-on person. You can explain something to me, but I’m not going to understand it until you actually show me, and I can try it for myself.

What shift did you do at school?

I did the morning class from 7 a.m. to Noon, then I’d go to work afterwards. I’d get off work anywhere from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. I was tired all the time!

Congratulations on seeing it through. Where are you working?

I work for Turner Cycles as a welder and a lead fitter. I started in September. We mainly build axles and parts for four wheelers, ATVs and 4x4s. They’ll bring me a sheet of what I need to build. Then I have to cut and bend all the materials and make it into whatever piece they need. I love it.

How did you get the job?

The school was working hard trying to find me a job, but the opportunities they sent me were all out of state and I couldn’t do that. I take care of my grandmother; she’s about to be 87, and I can’t leave her. So I worked as an assistant manager at Subway and a cashier for a convenience store to get by for a while. One night, I went out with my dad and a couple of his friends. One of them worked for a company close by. He knew I was looking for a job, so he said he’d talk to his boss. They got me in for an interview and told me they would call me when they needed me. A few months ago they called.

Are you happy with the money you’re making?

I am. All the other jobs I’ve ever had were really low paying so this is something different. I know I’ve only just started too, but I was hired on as a helper three months ago, and I’ve already been promoted to lead fitter. I work from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Thursday, and I love it.

Did you do anything special with your first check?

I took my grandmother and my boyfriend out to dinner. Other than that, every other paycheck I’ve just been putting up. My vehicle broke down, so I have to get a new one!

Where do you see your welding career going?

I’m going to stick with Turners. It looks like I am getting another promotion very soon. They are trying to grow the company, bringing more people on, more help. They’ve already put me in in charge of training the new people. They are already kind of calling me the lead in the shop. It’s kind of exciting for someone my age to be in this position.

What do you enjoy most about your new trade?

I’ve always been a puzzle person. Doing this, it’s like I get to deal with a new puzzle every day, and I get paid for it. I enjoy that a lot of people wouldn’t understand or know how to do my job. I can look at something and know what to adjust for it to fit right. I also like that I’m working at a small shop. I don’t like being around people a whole lot, so I only work with four other guys all day.

Did you make some friends at TWS?

I never really talked to anyone in school. I was mainly focused on trying to get through. The only person I stay in touch with really is my pipefitting instructor – Megan. I get up to the school to see her when I can.

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

I would just say don’t give up. If you’re having a hard time, take a step back and breathe a little bit. Maybe walk around the shop, watch other people, and try again. That’s what worked for me. And if, for whatever reason, you have to rephase, just do it. I had to rephase several times. I wouldn’t give up. Now it’s paying off.

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). 

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