Women in Welding – Meet Kimberly Powell

Kimberly PowellKimberly graduated from the Professional Welder program at Tulsa Welding School, Jacksonville campus, in July 2016. Kimberly is a Veteran. She served in the Army National Guard for six years, enlisting at 21.

After high school, before enlisting in the Army, Kimberly tried college for a while, but it didn’t work out.

“I started attending Business Administration classes at a community college fresh out of high school. I was young, and it wasn’t really a good fit for me. I didn’t think I’d enjoy being in the business industry, spending all day sitting down. I decided I had to do something with my hands.”

Welding – A Great Career Path for Veterans

While in the military Kimberly suffered a head injury in an accident. It took a lot of therapy to recover, and although her long term memory is still affected, it didn’t hinder her military career. In fact just six months after the accident, she was deployed to Iraq.

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Once she got out of the Army and started transitioning into civilian life, Kimberly started working maintenance at a local facility in Jacksonville, FL. She saw ads and commercials for Tulsa Welding School. Being from Jacksonville she always knew the campus was in town.

“I saw a commercial one day; it sparked my interest, so I thought it would be interesting to take a tour. It was awesome; the people were friendly. It seemed like a great fit. The school is very welcoming to veterans and that really hit home with me. There are a lot of veterans here; there’s a lot of camaraderie. Talking to veterans, that’s one thing that they say they miss about being in the military – being part of a team, coming together as one. This is a great career path for veterans.”

The Art of Welding & Welding Art

Kimberly grew up around welding, although she’d never picked up a welding torch herself.

“Both my father and stepfather are engineers and have experience with welding over the years. Although I’ve been around it all my life, I had no firsthand experience of doing it myself.”

Before she took the school tour, Kimberly had seen a 9/11 memorial that really inspired her. Welding art is a real interest for Kimberly.

“They took some wreckage from the Twin Towers and molded it into a piece of art; that was very inspirational. I figured I could utilize metal and do different things with it. Learning the different techniques and utilizing the different forms, and how to make art with it – I want to make something and put that inspiration back out in this world. You can do so many different things with it. What attracted me to welding was being able to create art pieces that inspire others.”

On the campus tour they showed Kimberly pieces of welding art that students had made over the years. “That really inspired my interest for going into welding. The representative was extremely friendly, very welcoming, took me around and introduced me to everybody, showed me what I’d be learning, and talked about all the different opportunities after graduation. I signed up within the week, financial aid was ready to go, and I had my start date the following week.”

Working with Your Hands from Almost Day One

After her stint at college, and then her time in the military, Kimberly knew she wanted to work with her hands. Once you start classes at Tulsa Welding School, you get right to it.

“The first day they sit you down in a classroom. You learn about all the safety procedures for all these machines and tools that, for some, you’ve never seen or utilized in the past. You learn a lot and they prepare you for your next day in the lab. Day two they set you up in the lab. You learn how to use a grinder and set up the machines. The instructors are really hands-on. One on one they check each booth to make sure each student is good to go, and you start practicing and learning the technique.”

For someone like Kimberly who prefers hands-on training to learning in a classroom, Tulsa was a great learning environment.

“All of the instructors are phenomenal, with years of experience. They’re very knowledgeable, very respectful of the students. It’s real hands-on training. They come in to your booth, hold your hand and talk you through the weld to make sure all the small, minor details are narrowed down. They’ve seen any and every type of weld; they can teach you how to fix your small mistakes. They’re willing to do whatever it takes to get you on the right path to success.”

Trial & Error

There’s a lot to learn, but TWS instructors are with you every step of the way. They’ll tell you that the key to welding is practice, practice, practice and that becoming a great welder is a mix of instructor guidance and trial and error! Learning from your mistakes is a great way to improve. Kimberly outlines what she learned:

“I learned a lot of different things. The different types of welding, the different procedures, learning different types of metals. Learning how to combine metals and utilizing gas. There’s a whole list! My favorite technique is TIG welding. Working with stainless steel, all the different colors that pop up, it’s really pretty! I feel like I have to be more focused with TIG because you’re utilizing both hands.”

Set Your Goals

Kimberly’s advice for those considering welding as a career and coming to Tulsa Welding School to learn the trade is set your own goals before you enroll.

My goals? I want to utilize all the different techniques I’ve learned – MIG welding, TIG welding, stick welding. I want to work in a shipyard, or in a fabrication shop, or in a power plant; I want to learn everything about the industry and make art on the side…while making a lot of money and setting myself up for retirement! There are a lot of opportunities out there for welders; they’re endless. If you’re willing to travel, there are tons of jobs out there with opportunities to travel the world if you want to.”

Kimberly does want travel, see a lot of different places, and work on all different types of welding jobs.

“Whether it’s a windmill, an engine turbine, or a bridge somewhere, welding can take me anywhere I want to go. I’ve traveled a lot internationally with the Army, but I would like to go all over the U.S, Alaska, Canada, even internationally.”

Does Being a Woman Make a Difference?

Coming from the military, Kimberly says she’s used to being a “minority.” She doesn’t see any differences between being a male and a female welder- although that may not be the case for everyone.

“Welding is traditionally a male-dominated environment but so was the Army. But attending Tulsa has been a great experience for me as a woman. Yes, it’s seen as a ‘man’s trade,’ but the instructors treat everybody equally. All the students – male or female – get a lot of support. You have to come in with the right mindset and be willing to work hard. I’m very competitive! I liked keeping up with the boys, if not, welding better than them! I liked it when they came to me for advice, not the instructors!”

Don’t Hesitate! It’s a Great Opportunity!

Kimberly advises women who may be hesitant about coming to welding school, don’t hesitate… Why? Because there are lots of opportunities for women in welding.

“I definitely recommend welding as a career for a woman. Personally, I like the diversity of being a woman who welds. I’ve been told that women make better TIG welders because their hands are a lot more steady! You’ve got to be really steady with both your hands, and patient – patience is a virtue!

It’s definitely a man’s industry; it’s challenging, but as long as you stay focused, keep the right mindset, you can make good money. There are several different brackets. But at the top end, if you’re willing to travel and go places to work on different jobs, you can make so much money, you won’t know what to do with it. It’s unbelievable! Welding is something I’ll use for the rest of my life. Whether I decide to stay a welder or go into another trade, I can always utilize it for anything…even around the house if I want to work on a project or build something. I think it’s a great trade to learn, especially for a woman.”

If you’re a Woman in Welding and would like to share your success and be an inspiration to others, please email Social@StrataTech.com to be considered for an interview. Please include details such as your full name, your graduation date (month/year) and program name.