Female students forge careers as welders at GNTC

November 29, 2023
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Thirteen female students are helping to blaze a new career path for women in the welding profession thanks to Georgia Northwestern Technical College (GNTC).

This semester GNTC Welding and Joining Technology instructor Billy Brown is working with seven female students at GNTC’s Whitfield Murray Campus in Dalton and six female students in GNTC’s Dual Enrollment program at Dade County High School. Brown said 15% of his students at GNTC’s Dalton campus and 27% of his Dual Enrollment students at Dade County High School are female students breaking down barriers to become non-traditional students.

“Women are desperately needed in the trades. The easiest way to close the pay gap is for women to get out there and get their hands dirty,” GNTC student Sophia Shepherd said.

Brown and Daniel “have flipped the script on the traditional tradesperson,” Shepherd said. 

The most difficult part about learning a trade is overcoming self-doubt, Shepherd said.

“Ever since I can remember, I have always wanted to work in what has been traditionally considered a man’s job and to show everyone that a woman can also do it,” said Heidi Martinez, who is working towards diplomas in Welding and Joining Technology and Industrial Systems Technology at GNTC. She expects to graduate in spring 2026.

“Welding is generally less challenging for women because they have steadier hands, better attention to detail and more patience,” Brown said. “I treat them with the same expectations that I have for the men. I couldn’t be prouder of them.”

The female welders would not be where they are without the support of Brown and Shawn Daniel, instructor of Welding and Joining Technology at GNTC, who inspire them with the confidence that they can do anything, Vicente said.

(From left) Arianna Rodriguez, Yosdel Castaneda, Kelsey Martin, Heidi Martinez, Molly Satterfield, Armida Vicente and Sophia Shepherd are welding students at GNTC’s Whitfield Murray Campus in Dalton.
(From left) Arianna Rodriguez, Yosdel Castaneda, Kelsey Martin, Heidi Martinez, Molly Satterfield, Armida Vicente and Sophia Shepherd are welding students at GNTC’s Whitfield Murray Campus in Dalton.

Molly Satterfield said she has always loved tinkering and troubleshooting in the shop. She currently works as a general residential contractor. She has earned an Electrical Systems Technology diploma at GNTC and is working to earn an Industrial Systems Technology diploma while attending classes full-time in Welding and Joining Technology at GNTC.

Satterfield said she was terrified three years ago when she became a single mother without a job and with no idea what to do. She felt she had failed her daughter. Today she is proud of herself and grateful that her daughter inspired her to reach higher.

“That’s when I decided to start pursuing my goal of becoming a private, multi-craft contractor for residential, commercial and industrial settings,” she explained. “I want to be my daughter’s example. She will see and know that if her mom can do hard things, so can she.”

As a welder, Satterfield said she wants to “dabble in it all.” She would love to work on bridges, fabricate custom work, create sculptures and do anything on a farm setting, from constructing stalls and cattle shoots to repairing farm equipment.

Martinez said she plans to work as an underwater welder or travel welder.

“I really admire boilermakers,” Shepherd said. “They weld in tight, challenging positions, and I believe that makes the work more satisfying.”

Shepherd, who described her step-father as “pretty much a trade master,” said she has been inspired by working with her hands and feeling rewarded by her hard work instantly—before she even gets a paycheck.

Shepherd, Satterfield and fellow GNTC student Yosdel L. Castaneda expect to earn their Welding and Joining Technology diplomas next year. Castaneda, 19, is the youngest of the students.

Castaneda said welding intrigued her when she attended GNTC’s Industrial Career Day and lost track of time while using a virtual reality welding simulator. A Dual Enrollment student at GNTC’s Whitfield Murray Campus, she was taking culinary classes next door at the Northwest Georgia College & Career Academy when she asked to take welding classes at GNTC to explore whether she would like doing the “real thing.”

Welding fused Castaneda’s passion for STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) with the opportunity to study in the field of her choice, thanks to the Georgia HOPE Career Grant, she said. This grant covers tuition costs in specified high-demand careers at any college in the Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG).

Castaneda said she initially considered being a traveling pipe welder, but as she learned more about the field, she realized she “would love to do any welding job.”

At the time Castaneda changed her career focus, she had already been accepted by a private college in Tennessee, she said. She had attended classes at GNTC since her sophomore year of high school, so she knew GNTC would provide the help she needed to make the best career choice.

Arianna Rodriquez, another of Brown’s students at GNTC, recently qualified to compete in Welding at the SkillsUSA Georgia Region 1 Qualifying Competition next month; SkillsUSA is a student-led partnership of education and industry that focuses on preparing graduates for careers in the skilled workforce.

“I cannot express how excited I am to compete. It feels like a dream,” Rodriguez said. “Now all I have to do is work hard and get prepared for the day of the regional competition.”

Georgia’s Dual Enrollment program allows qualified high school students in GNTC’s nine-county service area to maximize their education and career training by taking college-level courses that earn college and high school credit at the same time for free. Degree-level core classes will transfer to any institution in the University System of Georgia (USG) or the Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG). College credits also count toward HOPE Scholarship rigor requirements.

Brown said he began teaching welding at Dade County High School last year; he had one female student in the first class and has six currently. The students are taking an introductory course now and will then take Shielded Metal Arc Welder (SMAW).

When asked why they are interested in learning to weld, the female students most frequently reply that they like the attention to detail the job requires, Brown said.

“I got into welding because my freshman agriculture teacher let me weld, and now I love it,” Dual Enrollment student Haley Sullivan said. Sullivan a junior at Dade County High School, will have already earned a Basic SMAW certificate through GNTC when she graduates.

This certificate is a prerequisite to the advanced certificate at GNTC. Courses cover arc welding in the flat position, oxyfuel and plasma cutting.

“My plan after high school is to be either an underwater welder or a pipeline welder,” Sullivan said, adding that she leans toward selecting underwater welding.

Audi Williams and Michelle Tatro will graduate from Dade High in 2024 with a Basic SMAW certificate.

Williams explained that she got interested in welding because “I wanted to be like my dad, step-dad and papa and know how to do a little bit of everything.”

Williams said she is undecided about her future after high school but knows that if she continues welding, she wants to be a pipeline welder.

Taking welding classes through Dual Enrollment posed a “good opportunity,” said Tatro, who aspires to use her welding skills to become a sculptor. She is weighing her finances, unsure whether she will get a job immediately after high school or continue classes at GNTC.

Martinez said she chose GNTC because students receive hands-on experience from instructors that care about their students.

“People who have an interest in welding should definitely give the Welding and Joining program at GNTC a chance,” Castaneda said. “It’s affordable compared to other colleges, and the instructors are very helpful. If you are really struggling, they give you advice while showing you how to weld certain joints.”

Shepherd chose GNTC because of its proximity to home and the support students receive as they start their careers, she said.

“The coursework has set me above the majority of welders these days,” Shepherd said. “Graduates will be not just ready to enter their industry, but highly qualified for most welding jobs.”

For more information on GNTC’s Welding and Joining Technology program, visit www.gntc.edu and click on “Explore Our Programs” at the top of the web page.

Georgia Northwestern Technical College provides quality workforce education to the citizens of northwest Georgia. Students have the opportunity to earn an associate degree, diploma or a certificate in aviation, business, health, industrial or public service career paths. This past year, 11,601 people benefited from GNTC’s credit and noncredit programs. GNTC has an annual credit enrollment of 8,071 students and an additional enrollment of 3,530 people through adult education, continuing education, business and industry training and Georgia Quick Start. GNTC is a unit of the Technical College System of Georgia and an Equal Opportunity Institution.

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