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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

All-Female Welding Team Preparing for National Competition

  • Pictured from left to right, Ashley Webel, Sally Rudin, and Samantha Riley of WCC's all-female welding team.

When members of WCC’s welding and fabrication team arrive in Kansas City in late June to compete in the national SkillsUSA Championships, they’ll draw plenty of stares.

That’s partly because WCC welding students typically do so well at the competition that they’re known as the people to beat. And it’s partly because all three members of WCC’s team are women.

The three—Samantha Riley, Sally Rudin, and Ashley Webel—already won the state SkillsUSA team competition in late March. And they have their sights set high for Kansas City, where they’ll compete against post-secondary teams from across the country. “We’re expecting to take home medals,” said Riley.

Instructors in WCC’s Welding and Fabrication Department set out to create an all-female team to help raise the profile of women in welding, said Jake Holland, an instructor and the team’s adviser. “Women are good at it,” he said. “They just need to know they’re going to be good at it.”

Holland acknowledged that welding has long been considered an occupation for men. “But truth be told, women make better welders,” he said. Why? Because they have better hand-eye coordination and they listen better, he said.

The team members don’t see anything unusual about being welders. “It just doesn’t seem weird to us,” said Webel. “There are lots of girls in the (welding) shop now.” Nor do they consider themselves to be feminists. “I don’t know what a feminist is,” Webel said.

All three said they’ve never had any problems with their male classmates. “They know better than to mess with us,” said Riley. Added Webel: “They talk shop with us like anybody else would.”

Different paths brought the team members to welding. Riley’s dad encouraged her to take a metal shop class in high school. Webel grew up with friends who welded in their garages. Rudin started out learning to be a dental hygienist, and then worked in a hardware store before a customer suggested she might like WCC’s welding and fabrication program.

What’s the attraction of welding? “You work with molten metal,” said Riley. “It’s so cool.” All three agreed that they like welding because the training is all done in a lab. “Your learning is based on actual hands-on work,” said Webel. “Instead of reading about it, we do it.”

The team members are practicing 40 hours a week, which will continue until they leave for Kansas City. That’s in addition to attending classes and working. All three take classes part time at WCC and hold down jobs. Rudin works as a welder and fabricator, and the other two are work-study students in the welding shop who are being trained to become lab technicians.

A few weeks before the competition, they’ll receive a bill of materials and a theme. They’ll develop a project related to the theme that uses all of the materials, and will design a blueprint. Then they’ll practice assembling their project—over and over and over again. “That’s where the practice comes in handy—to get the routine down,” said Rudin.

In Kansas City they’ll be working against the clock, with only eight hours to build their project. The judges will be watching how well they do everything from adhering to their blueprint to working together as a team to following safety protocols. They’ll use a wide variety of welding and fabricating processes during the event under extremely tight tolerances. And ultimately, their work has to be aesthetically pleasing as well as of the highest technical quality.

What’s the key to success? “I think it’s teamwork,” said Rudin. “That’s what it’s all about.”

Although the team members are focused on winning medals, they’re pumped about just having the opportunity to compete on the national level. “Being able to compete is probably going to be one of the biggest learning experiences of my life,” said Webel.

They’re also proud to be representing WCC. “There’s no question it’s the best welding program in the country,” Riley said.

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