Celebrate Women in Construction Week With the Metal Workers of Austin Community College

It brings great excitement to honor the talented metal workers of Austin Community College. This past Saturday, I got to sit in on a Technical Welding Class and a Blacksmithing Class. As I walked from lab to lab, I was struck by the camaraderie between all participating—whether it was a student and a teacher, two long time professionals, or a group of aspiring welders cheering each other on. There is a bond stronger than metal. These workers are fused together by sisterhood in the trades.

As Women in Construction Week kicks off, it’s the perfect time to focus on the greatness builders bring to the world and the benefits a career in building can bring to your life. Amplifying the voice of women in construction is one of Crafted in Carhartt’s main missions. So I will now step back and let you hear from each one of these incredible craftspeople.

Dawn Raines

“I am a Senior Lab Assistant for the Welding Technology Department at the Riverside Campus. I have been working in the Department for 10 years. I maintain the shop, assist students and faculty with their classes, troubleshoot and repair issues with machines, order materials and supplies, and run the tool room.”

Dawn’s Accomplishments Include:

  • Bachelor Degree in Art with a minor in Psychology (2006)
  • Associate degree in Art Metals (2014)
  • Welder Certifications in SMAW and FCAW Welding processes (2014)
  • She has been a fabricator, worked in a finish shop where she worked her way up to Final Assembly, and continued her education and personal work along the way.

“It’s a truly rewarding craft. You get to see your projects come to life and learn skills that will empower and inspire a gainful career in a thriving industry…Welding has such a broad scope of possibilities…There is just so much available in the field.” – Dawn Raines

Austin Community College / Women in Construction / Crafted in Carhartt

Mallory Richter

“I am a student at Austin Community College. For the past five years I have worked in the custom car and motorcycle industry. At the moment I currently weld and do custom car upholstery at a shop in Johnson city. Mainly all classic cars and bikes.

I grew up around a welding shop, and one day the guys told me to come back and help them with something. They suited me up and told me to quickly slide the electrode over the metal like a match. The first time I half way struck an arc, I was sold.

Any women that are even slightly interested in welding, I would tell them to jump into it and take a class or learn from someone you know. I heard a lot of nerve racking things about welding and the ‘culture’ of it growing up, but I really wanted to try it. Welding has changed my life in so many ways and every change has been amazingly positive.” -Mallory Richter

Naomi Barron

“I am a student at ACC, in the last year of completing my Associates Degree in Architectural and Ornamental metals.

I came from a background in sculpting and art, and as I graduated high school I wanted to find a way to support myself financially but also have the opportunity to include factors of art into my career. Welding has a beautiful way of combining function and visual aesthetics into the creation of everyday structures. From viewing an entire gate, with scrolls and delicate flowers, down to the weld bead that constructed the forms, and the finish, everything requires attention to detail. The idea of timelessness and practicality in metalwork drew me into starting my education with ACC in the welding dept.

Welding extends beyond the infrastructure of our society, brute strength and an every day 9-5 for many people. Welding is an art and a science, and to be good at it you have to recognize this.

  • Dive in and do not fear the heat!
  • Starting in a classroom is a great way to get comfortable and familiar with tools and techniques.
  • Enter the field with passion and respect, and own everything you do.
  • Take pride in your practice and no one can discourage you from what you’re working toward.

Honestly there aren’t many things I would say I needed to know before jumping into welding. For me, as a hands on learner the experience has taught me what I need to know along the way. You can gain some understanding reading books on how the process works, but the crucial information comes from having your hood down and a torch in your hands.

The best thing about welding is the opportunity to engage yourself fully into your work. In both my technical classes and my art classes, once you pick up the torch you become engulfed in what’s in front of you. It takes your focus and attention to lay down consistent beads, to hammer or mold the metal into forms, to see how small components create a larger object. It’s like having a moment to meditate for me, the sounds of electrons jumping across the arc, the rhythmic beating of a hammer, it takes your whole body working together; it uses the 5 senses fully engaged. Feeling the flow of both physical and mental energy to transform materials.” -Noami Barron

Austin Community College / Women in Construction / Crafted in Carhartt

Brooke Williams

“I am a welding instructor here at Austin Community College…

I dropped out of traditional college in 2003 and was trying to figure out my next steps. My brother introduced me to welding at his home shop and then told me to go down to Austin Community College to learn the trade. It’s been my passion ever since I stuck that first arc.” -Brooke Williams

Brooke’s experience since then:

  • she’s been in the industry for 15 years
  • worked as a welder fabricator for 8 years
  • been a certified welding inspector for 12 years
  • she’s taught welding for 11 years
  • served as department chair for 7 years
  • and has owned her own metal fabrication company for 6 years

Brooke’s advice for beginners:

  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions, make noise, be seen, and take up space.
  • Networking is one of the most important soft skills you can learn.
  • Embrace your mistakes because they’ll make you a better you.
  • It is a skill that takes years and decades of work and practice to learn and master. It is also such a large industry that you can spend your whole life learning new techniques, processes, and materials. It never stops evolving.

Amy Sherman

“I’m a currently a student studying metalsmithing. I have a BFA from Skidmore College with my focus in photography, photo silkscreen graphics, and painting. I took some sculpture and jewelry classes, but was always interested in metallurgy, metal sculpture and welding, and now more recently metalsmithing and blacksmithing.

The program ACC offers is fantastic, and a great alternative to traditional 4 year degrees. The welding certification gets you out making a great hourly wage in only 2 years. As an artist, there are also practical applications for the skills learned at ACC, from creating sculptures and showing/selling art, to creating decorative gates/finials, yard art, plant/mailbox hangers, bottle openers, coat hooks, etc. The possibilities are endless! There’s something deeply satisfying about making steel do your bidding, in what is traditionally a male dominated field, whether as a practical welder or a blacksmith.” -Amy Sherman

Austin Community College / Women in Construction / Crafted in Carhartt

Maren Scheie

  • In 1995, Maren joined the Army as a Metal Worker.
  • Eventually, she left active duty and moved back to Texas.
  • Since 2009, Maren has been in the reserves and has taught elementary school for 16 years.
  • In 2017, she was deployed to Kuwait.
  • Upon returning to the US, she reevaluated her career and decided to take welding classes.

“It is hard, but not the kind of hard that should stop anyone from starting to learn the skill. The way to become a good welder is lots of time practicing. It can also be frustrating because you think you are holding the electrode at the proper angle and it turns out you are way off. So you try again, again, again, and then suddenly you nail it.

The need for welders is rising, as the older folks retire, and all the kids are being told a 4 year degree is the way to go, trade schools are stigmatized. When I mention I’m in school for welding the response is very positive. That could be because I’m female and almost 50…not sure, but people are impressed. Because of the shortage of welders it’s a great field to get into. Jobs are waiting to be filled. And there’s something addicting about watching metal melt.” -Maren Scheie

Mary Jo Emerick

“I am a 40 year welder CWI, CWE, and a teacher. I learned to weld in Houston in 1976 started in structural steel SMAW, then after 2 years started Pipe welding GTAW, next I moved on to chamber welding  tantalum, titanium, and Niobium. Moved to Austin in 1981, in 1983 started working at the University of Texas at Applied Research Laboratory for the Navy Lab, and starting teaching welding 2010.” – Mary Jo Emerick

Advice from Mary Jo:

  • Welding is a job don’t take it personal.
  • Love what you are doing. There are so many areas you can go into.
  • Keep learning, the industry changes.
  • Fabrication involves math and seeing a part in three dimensions.
  • When metal making, if the end product is done right, it is a work of art.

Austin Community College / Women in Construction / Crafted in Carhartt

Erin Dooner

“I’m an interior designer/decorator, former lifestyle design shop owner, artist, student, and single mom. I’ve been doing interior design for over 15 years. I’ve always wanted to get into building and furniture design. I took a welding workshop a few years ago to explore more about welding for furniture design and fell in love it!  I wanted to be able to have the experience of building/welding to help me understand how to design better.

I wish I had started off taking more technical/vocation courses and dove into the craft. I can read about design all day but getting my hands dirty has been the best thing ever. 

ACC has been great. As an older woman and single mom re-imagining my career I’ve had nothing but support from the admin and teachers. I’ve never felt out of place and love the welding community here.

Welding can be for anyone. Any gender, any age, any experience level. You have to rely on your fellow workers to provide support and so all barriers kind of break down.” -Erin Dooner

Alexis Menedez

“I’m a second semester student. I work as a lab tech at the school.

Since I’ve started taking classes and telling people that, I’ve gotten mixed opinions. Most people look at me (a 5’5 120 lb woman) and express first shock and then admiration. But others look down on it because it’s a trade skill. I wish people didn’t look down on trades and I wish I knew how to change the negative and often condescending tones attached to people’s ideas of them.

Reason’s Alexis loves her trade:

  • The thrill of welding a bead that’s just right.
  • Feeling confident in my ability to build something. Welding makes me feel strong and confident.
  • Learning to weld is like nothing I’ve ever learned before and at first I felt entirely out of my element but now each new challenge just excites me.” -Alexis Menedez

Andrea Deleon

“I have been teaching small metals fabrication for 6 years at Creative Side Jewelry Academy. Even though I have basic skills in welding and fabricating, I take classes at ACC every now and then to make sure I hone my skills – there is always room for improvement. For the last few years, I have become a kind of ‘hired gun’ traveling around the country working for specific companies and artists that require my skills.

  • I graduated with a Studio Arts degree from the University of Texas; I learned how to make things using a multitude of mediums. Metals and sculpture was my emphasis.
  • Upon graduating I was a production glassblower working on glass lathes before transitioning to being a machinist (mostly working on a Bridgeport mill and Hardinge lathe) for a company that fixed electron microscopes. I was trained at the job.
  • I began teaching at the Jewelry Academy while working as a machinist and slowly transitioned into teaching more often since it felt so natural. Being an instructor allowed me the flexibility to pursue unique job opportunities and artist residencies as well as start an entrepreneurial endeavor making custom handmade knives.
  • I’ve worked as a museum fabricator and installer, art handler, scientific glassblower (very similar to welding and machining), and worked for artists nationwide and in Germany.

If anything I wish I could have told my former self not to worry so much about having a direct path; I really wish I would have known about all the opportunities I’ve been able to pursue due to my training and determination, but my career path has been anything but straight. It’s okay to put yourself out there and try things out.” -Andrea Deleon

Suzanne Baas

“I have been working in welding since 1998, when I got my first job doing ornamental ironwork after taking an intro class at ACC. Since then, I have worked for quite a few companies in Austin, started a shop of my own, and continued to take classes at ACC. This is a good time to mention that ACC has provided me with some truly amazing experiences and opportunities through the years. I got to study welding abroad in a sister-city program, as well as attend an extensive workshop in  Mexico with 20+ other blacksmiths from ACC. I have very warm feelings for the metals department, so when I was given the opportunity to teach there 3 years ago, I was very happy to try and do my best.

I became interested in welding when I was in college, studying liberal arts, but taking a broad range of studio art classes as well. I have a ton of metals classes on my transcript, but they were almost all working in non-ferrous metals on the small scale. I took one sculpture class where the instructor showed us stick welding, and I was dazzled. It was instantly something I wanted to do. I even dropped out of school, moved across the country, and tried to join up with this art group I idolized. I ended up back in school when my metal skills weren’t good enough to contribute to their projects.

What I wish I had known before starting my career is what I would like other women getting into welding to know:  it is best to have another facet or revenue stream besides welding or metalsmithing labor. A complimentary profession like welding inspection, CAD, design, architecture, construction, teaching, business or project management will really go a long way in opening doors as well as reducing stress when the unexpected happens.  I had to learn this the hard way when we had the financial crisis in 2008.

But, that being said, nothing would have deterred me from the path once I had found it. Nothing compares to the drama of molten steel, or the thrill of bending it to your will! Nothing compares to the magic of fusing metal together; with the formidable electric arc, or the punishing heat of gas or coal and your hammer. The power to build something new, making bonds that are stronger than the material it is made from, it is very gratifying. If you know your craft well, and execute your work with forethought and skill, you can count on your creations long outliving you.” -Suzanne Baas

Jessica Davila

“I’m a senior student in the ACC Code Welding program. So far I’ve had one official welding job which is a paid apprenticeship in pipe fitting/welding. This has allowed me to become a paid 6g certified welder.

I first became interested in welding in college. I had changed my major 4 times before I even thought about welding and was tired of sitting in a classroom behind a desk, so I tried out the Austin Community College welding program and I love it.

Jessica’s advice for aspiring welders:

  • Take up space and own it!
  • For women who want to join the trade, I say 100% do it and when you do, practice, practice, practice!
  • Get good! Anyone can say they’re a welder but the truth comes out then the hood goes down. 

Welding is not for the undetermined, and if you put in the time behind the hood and in the classroom reading blueprints it will pay off and set a good foundation for your career.” -Jessica Davila

Austin Community College / Women in Construction / Crafted in CarharttAustin Community College / Women in Construction / Crafted in CarharttAustin Community College / Women in Construction / Crafted in CarharttAustin Community College / Women in Construction / Crafted in CarharttAustin Community College / Women in Construction / Crafted in CarharttAustin Community College / Women in Construction / Crafted in CarharttAustin Community College / Women in Construction / Crafted in CarharttA big thank you to all the women building the world around us. You are an inspiration and an integral part of the world’s growth and well-being.

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