Graduate Connections – Meet Kristine Verkaik

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Kristine, 36 from Hammond, Indiana, completed the Welding Specialist with Pipefitting program at Tulsa Welding School & Technology Center in Houston in February 2019.

 

Thanks for your time, Kristine. What brought you to Tulsa Welding School?

I’ve been a server in the restaurant industry since I was 17, so almost 20 years. This was a career change. I wanted something that was more money, of course, steady pay, and hard work.

 

Have You Considered a Career in Welding or HVAC?

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What made you choose welding?

My sister Kelly went to welding school with me. We did it together. She took a one-day welding class, like an art class a few years back. She told me about it, and I researched welding online and it looked really cool. Yes, I’m a chick, but I’m artsy and crafty and into making stuff, so I thought it went together. That was a few years ago. In 2017, I moved down to Texas from Indiana. I told Kelly, who had moved to Texas from California a few years before, that we were going to go to welding school together. Then Hurricane Harvey hit, so we got delayed for six months, but after our family got back together, we enrolled.

 

Why did you decide to come to Texas for welding?

There are welding jobs up north, but there are a lot more in Texas. It’s a bigger market. I knew when we finished school down here that people are always hiring, and there are welding jobs everywhere. So Kelly and I made a plan together. First, I needed to sort out my finances in Indiana, then I moved down with my daughter. Kelly and I would go to welding school and we’d figure it out together. We were both waitresses and not afraid of hard work. We’re both single moms. We live together with our three kids—I have one and she has two—and it’s worked out great.

 

What did you enjoy most about Tulsa Welding School?

The hands-on time was the highlight for me. Being able to learn a new technique and then go in my booth and practice it over and over again. Seeing myself be able to accomplish something from nothing was just outstanding. The first day they left me alone in my booth I was really scared. I was like, “I’m a chick. I’ve never even used a grinder. Are you sure?” But once I got into it, it was all good.

 

Were there times when you thought you weren’t going to make it?

It does get frustrating, times when you think you’re not well enough. But the only way through is to go to school every day and try. I’m so glad I pushed myself because it has made such a difference in my life.

 

Did it make it easier to go through welding school with your sister?

I would have been okay on my own, but I’m so happy I went through it with my sister. We could lean on each other. We complemented each other. She was a little ahead of me in terms of how good she could weld, but it didn’t discourage me. Kelly was the first woman in campus history to win Top Welder on the program, so she made me better, too. It was healthy competition!

 

You graduated a month ago. Where are you working?

I just started this past Tuesday at Dragon Products in Liberty, Texas. I’m a metal-core welder and I work on skids. Skids are I-beams put together in a frame; the pressure vessels sit on the skids.

Kristine Verkaik

How did you get the job?

I’d heard about Dragon from other students at Tulsa. Kelly and I both applied. A week later they called us for a weld test. They were pretty nice. They gave us three days to practice for the test because they knew we were straight out of school and hadn’t done metal-core welding. They even paid us for the three days. Then we had to wait for our welds to be X-rayed.

 

That’s pretty cool to be given the time and be paid for it.

They were awesome. I don’t think many companies do that. It was a blessing. I started there, but Kelly took another job at a piping technology place.

 

You’ve not been there long enough to get a check yet, but are you happy with the money?

Yes, I am. I’m also happy that the industry that I’m going into has overtime. There’s overtime all the time, and that’s nice. That’s time and a half on anything over 40 hours, and I work 50 hours a week.

 

Any problems as a female on the job?

I feel like one of the guys. Everybody there is very passionate. If I don’t know what I’m doing, someone stops by and teaches me properly. I’m happy to ask if I don’t know, and they are happy to step in if I can’t handle it. In my welding department of eight, there are three girls, so that’s an accomplishment in itself!

 

What’s your ultimate goal in welding?

My ultimate goal within the next 10 years is to spend at least one year on the pipeline and then learn to be a CWI [Certified Welding Inspector]. But I’m just trying to gain as much experience as possible before I go out and make the real big bucks.

 

What reaction do you get when you tell people what you do?

When I tell people that I am a welder, the first thing that comes out of their mouth is usually, “Wow, you’re going to make some money!” I’ve never heard a bad remark, and that makes me feel good. I know it is going to take hard work, sweat, dedication and a lot of patience, but I can do it, and I have done it.

 

What do you enjoy most about being a welder?

I like the creativity first, and second is the camaraderie of working with a good crew. I always have a big smile. I’m loud, and I crack jokes all day while we’re welding. I’m brand new, but I love it.

 

Do you have a good network of connections from school?

I have a few. We’ve only touched base a few times since we left, but they’ve all got jobs. Most are making $20 and up, some $25 and up. You’ve got to keep networking. It’s not what you know, it’s who you know!

 

What advice would you give to new students considering TWS?

Never give up. It’s so rewarding when you go every day. When you come out, you will be ten times better than you ever thought you could be. It’s such a big accomplishment. I had doubts. But when I left school and got a job at $19:50 hour, and the guys I’m working with said “Wow!” when they saw my work—they assumed I couldn’t weld—it is so, so worth it! My supervisor didn’t believe in me on my first day, but when I laid that first bead, he couldn’t believe it. I told him that’s what $20,000 of school does. I can weld! I’m so excited. I’ve got a great job and I love it!

 

If you’re a TWS graduate and would like to share your success and be an inspiration to others, please email Social@StrataTech.com 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).