Graduate Connections – Meet David McLean

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David, 20, is from Eastover, South Carolina. David graduated from the seven-month Professional Welder with Pipefitting program at Tulsa Welding School in Jacksonville in November 2021.


Thanks for your time, David. What did you do before you came to TWS?

I actually started at Tulsa Welding School six months after graduating high school. When I graduated, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I thought I was going to give college a try, or possibly the military.

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So, what made you think about coming to a trade school?

Soon after graduating, I realized I didn’t want to do either. I actually did welding at high school; my school partnered with a career center that helped students find a trade. So, I started welding in 11th grade. It grew on me, but I didn’t think it would be my actual trade because at that time I thought college was my future. But after graduating, I decided I wanted to go to a school for welders.


How did you decide on Tulsa Welding School?

I met a Tulsa recruitment rep, Curtis, at a college fair after graduating. He came from Florida to South Carolina for a college fair. We got to talking; I said to Curtis, “You mean instead of two or three years in a college, I can do this is in seven months? This is fantastic!” One of the things I really like is that they teach TIG welding; not all schools do that. The more processes you know, the more valuable you are. You can be financially stable if you know TIG.

Why did it take you till January to go?

I wasn’t financially ready to move to Florida at age 18. So, when I graduated, I bought my car and I worked two jobs. I worked as a manager at a party place, and at UPS. During those six months I just tried to stack up enough money to be able to move to Florida. Then New Year’s came, my 19th birthday was around the corner in January; I told myself 2020 was the year I was going to progress and go back to school.


What did you parents think of the idea?

I told my parents, “Hey, I want to go to this trade school in Florida, what do you guys think?” They were like, “No, you’re 18! I’m not sending my son out to Florida by himself!” Over time, they saw I was serious, and I was able to convince them. They saw it wasn’t such a bad idea. Once they gave me the yes, I was on my way. I packed everything up in my two door and was gone! I’m only 20, but I’ve learned in life you’ve got to take risks and I don’t regret it. Tulsa was a great risk that’s paid off. Now I’m done and working, my parents are very proud. They are appreciative that I’m progressing in life.


What did you enjoy most about your time at Tulsa Welding School?

What I enjoyed most was the staff. The instructors, the people in the office, the president, everybody; everybody in that school is just amazing. They’re so helpful, generous, and kind. They always help out a lot. The school really helps you, you’re not really alone because it’s like a family. You don’t just move out there and you’re by yourself. Automatically the school jumps in to help you find a job, help you find a place to live, help you find a car if you need it. You can’t beat that!


Did you add the pipefitting later, or sign up from the start?

It was on my mind, you know, but I had to feel out the school first, see how I got on, before I made that kind of decision. But once I got comfortable and realized I was doing good in the program, I thought why not do it? Why not pick up another trade to have on my tool belt? So I decided to add it during my final phase on the welding program, and then I just rolled straight into it.


How did you find the program? Did you find it hard or frustrating?

You are going to have those days because welding is a frustrating field. Not everything goes your way, and every day is a different day. Like I said, welding is really like a muscle memory thing. Actually, it’s a mind and muscle memory type thing. So, sure, you’re going to have days when you’re just tired, not feeling it. But at the end of the day, ask yourself, what is your goal? You’ve got to have a goal of why you’re doing this. That goal will push you to keep going. That’s the number one thing. It gives you what you give.


So, who are you working for?

I am a proud employee of General Dynamics in Norfolk, Virginia, one of the top shipyards in the country! You should have seen me when I passed that weld test! Oh my goodness!


Congratulations, I can hear the excitement! What are you doing for them?

I started about a month ago. Right now, to get my foot in the door, I’m a structural welder. I plan to use my pipefitting certificate later to move up, but to build my experience, I’m doing structural welding. At my facility we repair and upgrade navy ships; we get them back out and ready for battle.


How did you get the job?

Actually, General Dynamics came out to Tulsa Welding School. That’s another thing about the school; they bring potential employers to us. They have employers come to us so we can pick and choose who we want to work for. So, General Dynamics came out to Tulsa Welding School. They gave their presentation, and I loved everything about what they were doing, it seemed like a family place. It’s amazing, man. Everything that he was pitching, I was catching. I thought it was the place for me, I felt I wanted to be here.

Did you have to take a weld test?

Yes, I came up here to Norfolk to do the weld test. That was another risk I decided to take. If I hadn’t passed, I probably would’ve been stuck out of work for a month. But Tulsa helped out by giving me a tablet, and helping out with videos, tips and tricks and all that stuff to help with the GD weld test. That stuff really helps a lot. I was using resources that Tulsa gave me well after I graduated, it’s crazy.


Are you happy with the money you’ve started on?

Oh yeah! 19 years old in an apartment with a car, you cannot get better than that! I was 19, I just turned 20. But I worked hard for all that stuff; I’m not going to say it’s all on welding. You have to work hard. You get out what you put in. We have a new ship coming in soon; it’s going to be crazy. Plenty of overtime!


What’s your career plan from here?

The opportunities here are huge. Who knows what the future holds but I just want to build my experience, to learn more and just build with General Dynamic. Hopefully this could be an everlasting thing. My reality goal is to retire by about 30, if I’m lucky. I’m giving welding 10 hard, straight years, like a full-on 10 years with all the overtime. Just go hard. Then I’m going to chill, relax, and enjoy my thirties. Just go hard financially, get into real estate and invest, all that good stuff. But I also have a longer plan, because one day I want to come back and become a teacher at Tulsa Welding School. That’s one of my goals too.


An instructor at Tulsa. Sounds cool. Why?

I was an ambassador down there in Jacksonville. I would go around helping other students. There are some things a teacher can’t teach; you know, it’s just like sometimes you’ve got to have that peer-to-peer help. That’s exactly what I did. I used to help students a lot in my free time to make sure they didn’t get too frustrated. I felt I’d be a great asset to teach, and I’d like to be that kind of team player, you know?


What do you enjoy most about your new trade?

I love it because it’s very it’s very versatile. There are so many things that you can do with this trade; you can go to production, fabrication, structural. You can travel the world with this, learn new things. You can build bridges, build cars, build buildings, build ships, build anything. There are so many things you can do with it. I feel like that’s cool. A lot of people look up to that.


Did you make some connections at Tulsa? People you will stay in touch with.

Plenty of them. My friend who is from my hometown, he decided to come out to TWS to weld too. He’s doing pretty good; he’s out there in Florida still. He doesn’t regret it either! He’s another person who didn’t know what to do after high school, what direction to go. When I told him about Tulsa Welding, he acted and he’s a stable man now. You can’t beat that. I want people to know  – being 18 or 19 years old and already having your stuff together is a real head start in life!


What advice would you give to students considering Tulsa Welding School?

Stay motivated, keep going, know what you’re working for. Don’t let anything get in your way. Don’t let anybody or anything get you down, just keep going. In the long run, you’re going to appreciate it, you’re going to thank yourself for doing it. You’re going to sit back and realize that everything that you’ve done, that you worked hard for it, it really paid 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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