If you think welding is only work for men, stop by West Forsyth High School.
Junior Tori Ryan, sophomore Sera Biju, and freshmen Cara Brown and Larissa Roman have impressed their instructors, including Anthony Tarantino, who teaches engineering courses at the school.
“The number of females has gone up every year,” Tarantino said. “But what I’ve seen in education throughout my career is that female students like consistency, so when they know the same teacher is going to be there year after year … they’re going to be involved.”
Added Tarantino: “They’re more mature … than the boys at this age.”
Being among the only girls in the program means Tarantino isn’t the only one comparing them to their male counterparts.
“For me, I have to be better than all of them,” Roman said. “It’s that competition aspect that since they’re guys they think they can do better than the girls … I’m just like, ‘you know what, they don’t think I can do this because I am a girl, but I’m going to do better.’”
Often, the four are the only girls in their class, which can also be a source of motivation.
“I am the only girl in a class of 14 boys,” Brown said. “So, I guess it’s a little easier for me because I realize that girls are a little bit more responsible than boys, so I see why I’m getting to do it.”
The students aren’t the only ones comparing their work to the male students.
“The girls, they seem to listen more than guys do,” Richard Yother, a retired welder who helps with the program. “These four are exceptional welders. [It’s amazing] how good they are and how fast they grasp it and what their abilities are to do any challenge I come up with for them. They just excel at it.”
While there might be some internal competition, welding isn’t always a battle of the sexes for the students.
“The guys who do weld, they are very supportive of me and they taught me some new tricks,” Biju said. “Like, I was about to make mistakes and they were like, ‘you shouldn’t do this, you shouldn’t do that.’ And they were really supportive and said, ‘It’s OK. We all make mistakes the first time.’”
Tarantino said students in the program learn TIG, MIG and stick welding, along with brazing and other techniques. He said the students learn a wide variety of skills that can set them apart when looking for jobs or educational opportunities.
“The business partners of part of our engineering advisory council, they love it because they need a future workforce,” he said. “So, when they see we’re teaching an employable skill now and they can take that straight to the world of work, they’re happy.”
All the girls said they plan to go into engineering or a STEM field and most said they planned to use their skills after high school.
Ryan said she had already been accepted, though had not yet enrolled, in a welding course at Lanier Technical College as part of a dual enrollment program next school year. She has the most experience among the girls and her work can be seen on the school’s campus.
“There’s a little West sign that I built by myself,” Ryan said. “Then, as a Christmas present to my boyfriend, who is really into ‘Star Wars,’ I built a little TIE fighter. Right now, I’m working on something for my work. They want a little Adidas sign.”
As with many teams and programs, the opening of Denmark High School this fall means some of the girls will be going to the new school. Tarantino said West’s loss is Denmark’s gain.
“I know my counterpart who is going to Denmark High School, he’s excited because he’s going to have a welder coming in as a sophomore student who already knows how to do MIG and TIG and stick,” Tarantino said. “So on day one, when she goes in and she can show the boys ‘I can do this better than you,’ it’s really going to boost her confidence, it’s going to boost their program and they’re going to have a higher level of non-traditional enrollment.”