NORFOLK, Neb. – Welding is a fabrication process where two or more parts are fused together by heat, pressure, or both to create a strong bond. A recent graduate of the Northeast Community College welding program wants to create her own connection within a male dominated industry as she embarks on a new adventure that includes serving her country.
Wendy Fuentes-Gonzalez, South Sioux City, is among 5.1% of women who are employed as welders, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Reports indicate that the industry will continue to see job growth over the next decade. A forecast by the American Welding Society (AWS) predicts that the nation's workforce needs over 375,000 welders to satisfy the demands of several industries.
“I got into welding in my junior year of high school when my teacher told me that I should try it since he saw my little bit of skills, and also because I was a girl,” Fuentes-Gonzalez said. “Not that many women go into welding, or any type of field dominated by men. So I wanted to be different than anyone else and try a non-traditional field like welding.”
Fuentes-Gonzalez alternated between earning a degree in landscape architecture from a four-year university or graduate with a welding diploma through Northeast, thinking the latter would not put her in debt.
“So I looked for a place with reasonable tuition and found Northeast Community College. It was in my budget, and I was able to pay for it,” she said.
Fuentes-Gonzalez and a friend, who also planned to attend Northeast, made plans to find an apartment in Norfolk to share with the roommate’s small dog. While in college, she also secured a job at a restaurant that bears her name. In fact, “Wendy,” became a supervisor at the establishment.
Balancing work and school was a struggle, but Fuentes-Gonzalez put in the effort to succeed.
“I wanted to quit after my second week of classes,” she said. “It was hard for me to weld because I hadn’t done it for a period of time. However, I stuck with it and began to improve. It was great when my instructor would tell me, ‘It looks good, now do it again.’”
The welding program at Northeast Community College allows students to learn how to perform modern welding processes on the latest equipment. Through classroom and shop applications, they are instructed on gas and arc welding, inert-gas arc welding, and continuous wire production welding and a background in metallurgy, blueprint interpretation, and mathematics. Classes are held Monday-Thursday, allowing for a three-day weekend. Successful graduates are prepared for an entry-level production welding or job shop employment and can test for and receive AWS certification.
“This welding diploma from Northeast gives me a better opening at good paying jobs, a new view on life as an adult and more job opportunities other than working fast food,” she said.
Fuentes-Gonzalez hopes to use her degree in a new way as she reports to the US Navy’s basic training this week.
“If you’re a girl and you’re scared to go into a male dominated field, don’t be scared to conquer what you can and want. And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise,” Fuentes-Gonzalez said. “Everyone can do it no matter your gender, age or race.”