On January 10th, 2023, IGNITE Students from McMinnville High School, Middle College High School, and Lowell Senior High School participated in an IGNITE Virtual Panel on fabrication and welding with 5 IGNITE Volunteer Panelists.
IGNITE Facilitator Valerie Olague and Tech Host Stephanie Vaughn kicked off the meeting with an introduction to STEM fields. Students were asked what they thought fabrication was, and they were then introduced to the amazing panelists:
Michelle Peterson is a City of Seattle Welder in the Department of Fleets. She works on damaged police cars, fire trucks, and other city vehicles. Michelle was encouraged to talk to IGNITE because she feels that welding classes are no longer present in high schools, so young women do not know these jobs exist. Growing up, she was first introduced to STEM fields through a pottery class and a teacher. This teacher encouraged Michelle to pursue a degree in art. After college, she decided to go into welding and went to a technical college to learn the trade.
(Not Pictured) Joyanna Lallement is a QC Manager at the Field Ironworkers Apprenticeship Training Program in the San Francisco Bay Area. She is in charge of a program consisting of three welding shops throughout the region, in which she certifies and teaches how to weld. In high school, she was never shown that women could succeed in hands-on careers. During junior college, she found her calling when she got a job as a welder, and she has stayed in the field ever since. She then joined the Union Ironworkers, and became an Ironworker at 19. Joyanna became a Certified Welding Inspector (CWI) after 20 years in the field.
(Not Pictured) Yvonne Harry is an Ironworker in Seattle, WA. She is currently working on a building on the University of Washington campus. Yvonne struggled in high school and got her GED at 19. Afterward, she had a hard time getting jobs. However, Yvonne had a friend who was an ironworker that got paid well and got to build impressive structures. She was intrigued and then began her job as an ironworker. She loves the field because it is creative, collaborative, and has a close-knit female community.
Jenny Laney is a Training Senior Manager at Boeing Fabrication in Portland. During high school, she was quiet but had a group of friends from the dance team. She did not love math but really enjoyed physics because it was hands-on. Jenny also loved her drafting course, where she was the only female. Based on these interests, she decided to pursue a degree in architecture. However, she dropped out and unexpectedly became a middle school teacher. A few years later, she moved to Portland and was looking for new jobs. Jenny found a job at Boeing and returned to her STEM roots.
Tina Bliss is an Program Coordinator and Certification Class Instructor at Boeing. In school, she loved woodshop and welding. After high school, she had a chance encounter on an airplane with a man who worked as an engineer for airplanes. This encounter encouraged Tina to attend AMP school and pursue an aviation maintenance degree. She also continued her education and got an engineering degree. Since she has worked at Boeing and trains people in the field. Tina feels that women bring a new perspective to the job and wishes more pursued careers in Fabrication and Welding.
What is it like being the only woman on the job?
Tina answered that she was the only woman in her classes in high school and AMP school. She says it is okay to be the only woman but not let it intimidate you.
What is the best part of your job?
Yvonne said, “driving around the city and seeing the prettiest, tallest building and saying, ‘I build that!’”
How old do you have to be to start working?
Jenny mentioned there are some internships for high school folks at Boeing. However, full-time jobs start at the age of 18. Joyanna echoed Jenny’s sentiment but says not to wait to explore fields. Get involved in whatever ways you can.
How did you figure out what you wanted to be?
Yvonne said she figured it out through trial and error. She got bored with other jobs until she found what she is doing now. Joyanna was introduced to welding because she happened upon a class that taught some welding. That led to another class, and it finally led her to her career.
What challenges do you face in your field?
Yvonne said men try to come to her rescue in the field. She deals with this by hearing the male perspective and communicating with them. She also leans on her sisterhood communities to talk about the issues she is facing.
If you didn’t get the opportunity that you did, would you have chosen the same job?
Joyanna said she would have pursued something along the same lines. However, she encourages everybody to try new things because you never know where they will lead.
What are the best courses to be a chemical engineer?
Valerie, the Facilitator, recommended math, chemistry, and other hands-on courses. Jenny mentioned that the chemical engineers she works with need strong communication skills, and she recommends classes in that realm.
Do you have any fear as it relates to your career?
Yvonne said she experiences fear, especially when starting a new job. She works with people around her to get through it. Joyanna said she fears failure because she is female. She feels like she has to outdo everyone in order to prove herself. What helps her is to believe that she is where she is for a reason.
What is your least favorite part of being a welder?
Yvonne said getting hurt, putting on protection when it is hot outside, and having to be extremely careful in some situations. Joyanna said, “using the outhouses,” and everyone giggled.
What do we wish we knew when we were your age?
Joyanna wished that she had paid attention in math classes and that she tried new things without fear. Yvonne wished she knew that it is okay to form your own idea of success that does not necessarily have to align with your family’s or friends’. Jenny wished she knew that trying new things is good no matter the timing of them. Tina wished she knew that she could do anything and that failure is a good thing. She also wished she was more humble and took more opportunities to learn from others.
We are very thankful for everyone’s participation in this IGNITE Panel! Thanks to Panelists Joyanna, Yvonne, Jenny, Tina, and Michelle, for their stories and advice. Thank you to the students for their curiosity and thoughtful questions. Finally, thank you to our Facilitator Valerie, our Tech Host Stephanie, and our Event Recorder Lucia for running a smooth meeting.
After attending this event:
Here’s what the students thought of the event:
“It was really cool to see women in STEM loving their jobs. It encouraged me to try as many things as I can and take charge of the opportunities I have. It was cool learning that these jobs can be really enjoyable!” – 10th grade
“After today I feel confident to pursue a career path that really interests me. I learned about jobs I hadn’t thought about before. I have every intention of pursuing a career in STEM!” – 10th grade
“I already wanted to be in the STEM field, but it was nice learning more about welding work! My biggest take away was realizing how very few women decide to work in welding.” – 10th grade
“The panelists in today’s event talked about careers that I had not thought about like architecture and engineering. I learned that women are needed in fabrication and STEM careers.” – 10th grade
“Today’s event inspired me to step outside of my comfort zone. I enjoyed connecting with people and this definitely boosted an interest in STEM for me.” – 10th grade
“Seeing Yvonne on the job site was a really interesting experience and helped me understand what to expect. Today inspired me to make sure I’m asking questions and willing to jump into anything.” – 12th grade
“The panelists related to some of my own experiences and answered our questions. It was great learning that the challenges you face can benefit you.” – 9th grade
“This event gave me more of a reason to try and get into STEM!” – 10th grade
“Today inspired me to be more confident as a woman in a male dominated field. It made me want to diversify my classes more!” – 10th grade
“Today gave me more hope that STEM jobs are going to hire more women. It’s inspiring knowing that there is a supportive group of people out there to have our backs if we ever had trouble and it shows that people care enough to spread awareness to teenagers. My big takeaways from today was that men and women are more alike than we think and everyone can do the same jobs, no matter how challenging they look.” – 10th grade
“This event made me have more hope that I will be able to succeed in chemical engineering. I never knew that it was so challenging for women in the workplace, but it was nice hearing the panelists stories of getting through it.” – 9th grade
“Hearing the panelists talk about the different job opportunities that they have had or have now was inspiring. Being a woman in STEM is super cool.” – 10th grade
“Today showed me that women are an important part of today’s workforce. I have been interested in fabrication since the beginning of middle school, but hearing what everyone had to say about their jobs has inspired me to get more involved. My biggest take away from this is that it doesn’t matter what other people think of you, it matters what you want to do and what your passion is.” – 9th grade
“Today’s event reinforced my want to go into welding. It was great hearing from the welders and their perspective about IGNITE.” – 9th grade
“This event inspired me to not be intimidated because I’m a woman in a man’s field. It also showed me a variety of different jobs. The big takeaway was to follow your dreams!” – 12th grade
“It was nice to hear from the panelists about how they are happy and about their work. I am definitely more interested in a STEM career after hearing how interesting it is.” – 11th grade
“This event inspired me to look into a more physical part of STEM. My big takeaways from this are that more people need to go into STEM, and STEM fields need more diversity than they have.” – 10th grade
“Today’s event inspired me to pursue welding as a career, regardless of my gender. Females and non-binary people are important in STEM and STEM is found almost everywhere.” – 9th grade
“This event definitely encouraged me to try new things and realize it’s never too late to pursue the career that I want. It helped hearing that even if someone did badly in high school, they were still able to have alternatives like trade school and different programs to learn and grow as a person. The biggest take away that I encountered was to not let hurdles stop you from trying new things, even if you haven’t done it before.” – 10th grade
“The panelists helped me understand what it is really like to be in the field. Learning both the pros and cons of the job helped my understanding. I was inspired to not be afraid of doing what I want and to learn what I am interested in.” – 9th grade
“This event has inspired me to try new things and be a female in trades. From now on, I really want to do welding as my career pathway at Lowell. I took away a lot today, including the fact that if you aren’t sure of something, at least try it, and if you don’t like it then you don’t have to. I also took away that your gender shouldn’t define you, so even though I’m a girl, I can do trades.” – 9th grade
“I enjoyed seeing and hearing the women that overcame obstacles in their desired field. It was awesome hearing how they ended up fitting right in and able to do what they love just like everyone else. I now see how simple it is, just doing the best you can do is often enough to get you to where you want to be in life. Those amazing women worked their hardest to get to where they were, and now they are valued members of the workforce.” – 9th grade
“I was inspired by today’s event because of the women who shared their stories and advice, especially not to be afraid to be a woman in the workplace because many companies now want females on their team. The volunteer that had the most impact on me was Yvonne, her story just interested me the most and how she said the best part of her job is going around the city and seeing a really pretty building and saying “I built that!” REALLY made me excited and hopeful I can do that one day!” – 10th grade
“It was cool to listen to all of the panelists talk about their jobs that they enjoyed!” – 10th grade