The Welding Instructor
Fairbanks Education Association
It’s late June, and most students in Fairbanks are off enjoying their summer, but under the roar of industrial ventilation systems, sparks fly and carefully cut metal pieces are bound together by the intense heat of welding torches. At first glance, this setting has all the trappings of a modern fabrication shop complete with an array of heavy duty machines and work stations, however, this is an Alaskan classroom.
Behind the dark lenses of welding shields and heavy protective clothing, these students are quite different than what most might imagine for this setting. They’re 9th-12th graders and they’re all young women, each participating in the first ever Girls in Welding class offered at Hutchinson High School in Fairbanks.
Pete Daley, a veteran welding teacher at Hutchinson High, is leading instruction for 12 female students from across the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District (FNSBSD). Together, they’re learning the fundamentals of welding, discovering career possibilities, and putting their new skills to use by building metal bike racks for the city of Fairbanks.
“As I read through the Welding Journal, I learned that women only make up 4 percent of the welding industry, and I thought, well, maybe I can do something about that,” said Mr. Daley.
In a traditional welding class of 20, young men typically represent the vast majority of students. Female students who participate are often less eager to fully engage in the presence of their male counterparts, said Daley. By tailoring a class just for girls, they’re able to step out of the shadows and truly explore every aspect of the welding program. “Mr. Daley spent several months researching the pedagogy of teaching welding to females and how it may differ from an all male class,” said Joni Simpson, the Career and Technical Education Director for the FNSBSD, “he’s the absolute perfect choice to make this program successful.”
The results are clear. Across the workshop, teams of girls are supporting one another, offering advice, and checking one another’s work. “There’s just always someone to help,” said Gracie Davis, a former student of Mr. Daley who volunteers her time helping to teach the class. “I can constantly see that everyone is picking each other up.”
“I love learning from Mr. Daley,” said 17 year old Erica Lopez, a senior at Hutchinson High School, “especially with his teaching experience, you learn new things from him that I didn’t know for the longest time. It just feels great to learn something new.”
The strong participation in the inaugural Girls in Welding program offers opportunities for future growth. By offering the course to young women from across the district, Mr. Daley sees a deep pool of future welders who could be leading crews in the not too distant future, a sentiment shared by Joni Simpson. “I attended a field trip with the class to a large welding manufacturing business and a representative of the company said he would hire all of them if they wanted to apply.”
Mr. Daley’s efforts to grow his student population hasn’t gone unnoticed by the Fairbanks Education Association (FEA). “Mr. Daley is the perfect example of an FEA member that’s willing to go above and beyond to expand the educational opportunities available to his students,” said Sandi Ryan, President of FEA. “Through programs like Girls in Welding, Pete is helping students explore careers that will enhance and diversify Alaska’s workforce.”
At the end of the program, the bike racks built by Girls in Welding participants will be distributed across Fairbanks. Much like the pieces of metal that were cut, shaped, and welded together to build a community asset, the young women of this program are also transformed. They will leave Mr. Daley’s class with new skills and the confidence to explore new paths.