Shannon, 45, is a Senior Welding Instructor at The Refrigeration School. Originally from Grand Falls, AZ – a place that Shannon describes as “a little dot in the Navajo Nation”—Shannon has 22 years of experience in the welding field and has been instructing at RSI for one year.
Thanks for your time, Shannon. Tell us a little about your long welding career?
For the first 13 years of my welding career, I worked in power plants as a high pressure TIG welder doing shutdowns and outages. I went wherever the work took me. I traveled to about 46 of the 50 states. Then I decided to come back home and stay local, to be here for my children. I went into the piping industry and became a combination pipe welder. I worked at different fab shops around the valley, and I also did short shutdowns at different construction locations, but all locally.
When you were younger, what did you want to be when you grew up?
When I was in high school, I wanted to be a lawyer. But I didn’t go to college after high school. I actually became a substitute middle school math teacher. Then, after that, I worked at the postal service. This was before I started welding.
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Why did you decide to become an instructor last year?
I saw the ad for a welding instructor, and I decided to apply. I was going to school full time and made the decision to enter a less stressful working environment. A more stable job with a reputable trade school. The hours are more predictable, and I can plan my own studies around it.
There’s also a lot of welders in the field who don’t like to share their knowledge and experience with the up-and-coming younger welders. It’s hard for the younger welders to learn the ropes unless they explore and do it on their own. So, I made the choice to become a welding teacher and share my knowledge and experience with our students, to take all the stuff I know and pass it on to them.
What do you enjoy most about teaching?
I enjoy just interacting with the students. I enjoy the looks on their faces when they finally get the type of weld that they’re aiming for, a good weld, a good root, a good cap. I like to see joy on their faces, a big old smile. That’s rewarding for me, that’s all I need, you know?
Tell us something most people don’t know about you.
Most people don’t know that I first learned how to weld in six days! My husband was a welder. He wanted me to travel with him, so he wanted me to learn how to weld. I wasn’t too keen on the idea because I wasn’t interested in welding at that point. He encouraged me because he thought I’d like it, so he started teaching me. I needed to learn everything from zero to passing a weld test in six days, because the job that we were going to started in eight days, and we had two days of travel!
So your husband was a welder?
Yes, he had been welding for almost 10 years at that point, but he passed away in 2007.
My condolences on your loss. He was a good teacher clearly, as you’re still welding 22 years later!
It was tough. I think the hardest thing is to learn something from your spouse. There’s no filter; if you’re not getting it, the next thing they do is get mad and yell at you! But he taught me well, because even after he passed away, I was still a strong enough welder to be able to go out on the road by myself.
If you could have dinner with anyone, alive or dead, who would it be?
My mother. She passed away in a car accident in 1999. She missed out on so much in the last 20+ years. I would probably spend more time hugging her than eating!
Tell us a little more about your family.
I have five children. My oldest is 29 and my youngest is 17. I also have one granddaughter. She’s a year old. I remarried in 2017.
What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to new students considering RSI?
You will get frustrated. Whether you’ve just started the first phase, or you’re in the middle of the program, you will get frustrated. Have patience. Don’t quit, even if you’re ready to. You need to keep going. You need to finish what you’ve started. Anything you need, we’re here to help you. No matter what it is. The concept of welding is not rocket science. Don’t overthink it. Have patience. It’s all about practice. Students often try to compare their welds to the welds they see on the welding tree. I have to remind them, that’s years and years of welding experience that you see on that tree. Don’t compare your welds to that.
What’s the welding tree for those of us who haven’t been into the school?
Welding trees are welding samples from every phase that we have at RSI. So, there are six phases in the RSI welding program, and we have trees that demonstrate what every good weld “should” look like. They’ll often look at the tree and see the weld, and they’ll go back and look at their own weld. When their weld doesn’t look like the one on the tree, it can really bring them down.
I have to remind them that it was maybe five years of welding to get there. Don’t compare yourself to that. You’re not there yet; you’ve had one week! This is a lot of progress for one week! I just try to encourage them that they’re on the right track, that they’re getting it, they understand it. They just have to fine tune it. If you want to compare something, compare your weld to the weld you did yesterday, or the one you did last week. That’s the only comparison that matters.
What was your favorite tool in the field?
A Tungsten holder that my husband had made for me. I always carried it around in my pocket. I always had it close to me. I felt like it was my good luck charm because I didn’t really fail any x-rays. I always made sure that I had my Tungsten holder and my lineman pliers that he gave me.
For those who don’t know, what is a Tungsten holder for?
My Tungsten holder was made out of stainless steel Tig wire. It had a cap on it, and it was just a little a little tube about an inch in diameter. I put all my sharp Tungsten in there, that’s how I kept it. It had a little clip on it so I could put it on my pants and wouldn’t lose it.
You get an unexpected afternoon to yourself, what would you do with that time?
I would go to my son’s house and spend a few hours with my granddaughter, and then go home and finish up some homework that I need to do. I decided to go back to school in 2017. I was working as a full-time welder in the valley alongside being a full-time student. I’m in my junior year now, studying Cybersecurity. I’ve got my associate degree. I’m now working on attaining my bachelor’s. I will be eventually leaving welding completely to work in cybersecurity.
What was your favorite part of your time in the field?
I’d have to say the shutdown work was my favorite part. The jobs are shorter, and you get a lot of camaraderie with the guys you work with. You get to work with other welders and mechanics who travel. We would finish a job and then a lot of us would see each other again at another shutdown, further down the road. And it’d be like seeing your brother or your long-lost cousin, you know? You start talking again and you’re just all happy to see each other. Oh yeah, and the money’s great!
If you were to tell someone “thank you” for making you the person you are today, who would it be?
It would have to be my husband, Bernard. His way of teaching me, I thought he was being mean to me. I thought he was just giving me a hard time. But I learned later on, after he passed, that he was setting me up to be a successful welder when he wasn’t around. I learned how to make repairs on my own because he never did it for me. I did it myself, but he was watching me and instructed me on how to make a repair. I was able to successfully carry the torch, so to speak, even after he passed away.
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