- Sponsorship -

Heavy-metal ready

Non-traditional students are 'powerful' in new welding program

Uniqua Sparks’ last name is fitting. While she’s welding heavy metal — mask on and fire blazing — the sparks fly.

During the process of learning to fabricate and fuse parts together, she’s developing confidence and a new passion.

“It has made me feel powerful, very powerful in this class operating this machine that is basically on fire. I feel very strong and I love it,” said the mother of three.

(Photo courtesy of GRCC) Uniqua Sparks receives her certificate of completion from Amy Mansfiled, dean of the School of Workforce Development

Sparks is a student in the first cohort of Metallica Scholars Introduction to Welding at Grand Rapids Community College. Fourteen students graduated Aug. 12 from the eight-week course held at the Tassell M-TEC, 622 Godfrey Ave. SW.

“My goal is to get a job and support my family,” she said, adding that she wants to pursue further certification in the welding trade as well.

GRCC was one of just 10 community colleges in the nation to earn the $100,000 grant from the heavy metal band. Metallica’s All Within My Hands Foundation teamed up with the American Association of Community Colleges on the project, aimed at providing workforce training for community college students and reinvesting in cities where the band has toured.

The majority of scholars in the GRCC program are women and nontraditional college students. The intensive program takes less time to complete than traditional courses, and features smaller class sizes with flexible scheduling options and career preparation assistance. Participants paid just $50.

Several women were referred to GRCC by The Women’s Resource Center and Hispanic Center of Western Michigan, and are looking for new careers and education opportunities after experiencing difficult life circumstances.

“So far I’ve just learned to be patient,” said Sparks, who enrolled in the program to start fresh after being in what she called “a rut.”

“With the welding, you have to go nice and slow, steady. It’s not a fast-paced job. You have to really take your time.”

GRCC Metallica Scholars student Teresa Collins prepares metal for welding

Women in Welding

Metallica Scholars graduates earn Occupational Safety and Health Administration certification and are ready for entry-level welding jobs, said Lannie Collard, GRCC program manager for workforce training. The hope is that employers will pay for further training. Entry-level welding jobs pay $14 to $18 per hour, and a skilled welder can make $60,000 to $100,000 per year.

There’s a big demand for welders, and skilled trade workers in general, because not enough people are trained to fill jobs. There’s a push to train women, Collard said.

“It’s something primarily men have done before, and most of those men are beginning to retire now and so it’s leaving a big gap,” she said. “Women seem to be more detail-oriented, so they tend to be great welders.”

Program instructor Abbey Hunter enjoys the craft and artistry of welding. While holding a degree in metalsmithing and art and design from Grand Valley State University, she has worked as a welder for several years. But welding was a career she never considered while growing up.

“I’ve always wanted to see more women in this industry because there’s really not a lot of us out there. There was kind of a massive void when I first started welding,” she said. “I really fell in love with the craft and I do a lot of my own welding outside of my job.”

(Photo courtesy of GRCC) Jaclyn Kwiatkowski holds up her certificate of completion

‘Make My Children Proud’

Metallica Scholar Teresa Collins has the first piece of solid steel she ever welded — a “true piece of art” that, for her, symbolizes precision and consistency. It’s now displayed in her bedroom. “Nobody appreciates it like I do,” she said with a laugh.

A “jack of all trades,” Collins said she needed to find work and couldn’t pass up the opportunity to join the program. “A lot of us are newbies looking for a different avenue.

“I really needed to reinvent myself and I’ve always had an interest in welding,” she said. “I’m hoping to acquire a work position someplace to use the skills that I’ve learned, have those grow and become independent and self-sufficient.”

She looks forward to using her new skills in the workforce, adding passion to an already fiery trade.

“I like the artistic side of it,” Collins said. “Everything we are learning is an art in itself.”

Uniqua Sparks said she’s excited and overwhelmed by new opportunities. “I feel very blessed to have even been given this opportunity,” she said. “I tell my kids I am going to class for them, to give us a better life and a second chance…

“I have the opportunity to be here, to  make something of myself and make my children proud.”

- Sponsorship -
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers and On-the-Town Magazine. She has been covering the many exciting facets of K-12 public education for School News Network since 2013. Read Erin's full bio or email Erin.

LATEST ARTICLES

Students reopen fine-dining restaurant six months after closing its doors

GRCC’s The Heritage has reopened to the general public, with culinary students cooking, baking their way toward degrees...

Plotting for a plot

Students’ hand-drawn maps are meant for the safekeeping of memories and to spur ideas for when they write personal narratives...

Outdoor lover, zen seeker, middle-schooler hope-giver

Bill Cataldo is the new K-8 principal for Cedar Springs’ new Red Hawks Online virtual school this year. School News Network took some time to get to know him better in this edition of Meet Your Principal...

The year of learning differently

SNN asked a sampling of students from across the county how it’s going for them so far in a school year of multiple instruction models...

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Related Articles

Students reopen fine-dining restaurant six months after closing its doors

GRCC’s The Heritage has reopened to the general public, with culinary students cooking, baking their way toward degrees...

Essential workers can attend GRCC free

They spent the two months of the stay-at-home order working in hospitals, grocery stores and public safety. Now they will be able to attend Grand Rapids Community College for free...

Rockford company supports GRCC program, provides boots

Rockford-based footwear company Wolverine is joining forces with the band Metallica to support GRCC students with funds for a workforce training program...
- Sponsorship -

HOW'S SCHOOL TODAY?

Engagement: The Most Important Measure of Student Success

Polls find that students’ engagement in their school work declines as they ascend the grades. Tests that don’t relate to their real-life experiences exacerbate the problem...

RADEMACHER & FRIENDS

Food ‘angels’ support hungry kids through pandemic

They work all across Kent County, guardian angels with peanut butter on their hands and crumbs on their shirtsleeves...
- Sponsorship -

MEDIA PARTNERS

Maranda Where You LiveWGVU

SUSTAINING SPONSORS