David, from Quitman, Texas, is the academic dean at Tulsa Welding School. Dean Pruitt joined TWS just two months ago, but he has years of experience in adult education.
Thanks for your time, David. Tell us a little about your background.
I’m a retired law enforcement officer. When I retired from law enforcement in 2002, I transitioned into adult education. My first full-time job in education was program chair for business at a University of Phoenix campus, but I was promoted within about six weeks to academic affairs manager managing faculty services at the campus. Since then, I’ve held the position of academic dean at two other career schools. The last position was in Dallas before I joined Tulsa Welding School in June of this year.
Why did you choose a career in education after leaving law enforcement?
I started teaching as an adjunct at the community college in the town where I worked. I liked teaching. I liked education. I reflected back on my own education and the good things it did for me. When I first worked at a career college, I realized that there is a population of people who desperately want to improve their lives. One way of doing that is through an education at a trade school.
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What does an academic dean do?
Part of my job is to ensure that we are compliant in every way, that we follow all the laws and accreditation rules required of a trade school. But a very large part of my job, my favorite part, is taking care of my students: making sure that they have a good experience learn what they came here to learn, stay on track and stay in school. My right-hand man is the director of training, Chris Schuler. He and I work very closely together. He’s the welding expert and I’m the academics guy.
Are you in charge of the instructors on campus?
Yes, I provide leadership for the entire academic team. That includes the training director, the two lead instructors, the instructors and the people in the Learning Resource Center and Student Services.
In high school terms, is your role the equivalent of a principal?
Sort of, yes. But I just deal with the academic part of the school. I don’t deal with finance and things like that. My interest is really in serving students. That’s why I do this job.
What made you take this particular job two months ago?
What makes me believe so much in Tulsa Welding School is because I know our students can work hard and get through our program, then go on to get a really good job and enjoy a secure career. It’s meaningful to me that we’re doing something that truly helps people improve their lives.
A good education can be life-changing. Have you seen that first hand?
Over the course of my career, it’s been a regular thing to see people come into a trade school who have never made more than minimum wage. They’re always trying to find a job or fighting off eviction. Then they come to a trade school like Tulsa. They get an education that enables them to get a good job with benefits and start a career where they get treated with respect. It just makes them so happy. It can be life-changing, and it’s wonderful to see!
Is that why you get out of bed in the morning?
That’s why I do this job. I like to see students succeed. I like to see their smiles when they graduate, when they get a job offer. I had a student come see me two weeks ago. She had one more phase before graduation, and she already had a job lined up in Texas making $28 an hour. I’m just so proud of people who choose to get an education and then go on to make a good living for the rest of their lives. It’s a good feeling to do what we do. I once had a student tell me I was the only father figure he ever had. That shocked me because I wasn’t trying to be a father figure, I was just trying to help him be successful.
When does a student first meet you?
I talk to incoming students at orientation about things I want them to know going into the program, like the importance of attendance and reaching out if they get into a jam. I tell them that I’ve been a dean for a long time. No situation that they could get themselves into will surprise me. I ask them to reach out and let me try to help them solve their problem. They don’t have to face anything by themselves.
What access do students have to you?
I walk around the floor of the lab, up and down the aisles multiple times a day. I’ll stop and talk to them. If they want to come and see me for something, they can. They also have my cell number, and they text me sometimes. Some students talk to me almost daily, and some only when they need to.
What are some situations that students come to you about?
The first situation is students with poor attendance who are afraid they’re going to fail. The number one reason for failing a phase is poor attendance. The second situation is people in financial difficulty. Maybe they’re asking for help finding a job or help with travel—things like that. I work with career services to help them find a job, or I give them contact information for employers I meet. The third is typically students with family situations that are overwhelming them.
What advice do you have for new students starting at Tulsa Welding School?
This is a place where they will get an extraordinary welding education. But they have to apply themselves; the more they put into it, the more they will get out of the program. Our instructors have a combined experience level of over 400 years! They’ve done every kind of welding that you can imagine, so if you come here and you want to learn, you will. Not everybody can be a welder, I get that, but if you can, this is a great career. Welders are sought after. There’s a shortage. Employers come here to campus to recruit welders, and they often never get as many as they were looking for.
What can a student do to help you help them?
Communicate with me. If you have concerns, fears or problems, let me know and I can almost always help you. If you raise your hand, we can help you. We will do whatever we can. But if you don’t answer my calls, texts or emails, then there’s nothing I can do.