Engineering her future: welder finds life in non-traditional career path

Posted: August 19, 2015

Paola Garcia is one step closer to her dream of becoming a mechanical engineer.

Rising from a difficult upbringing with no support system or parental guidance, she felt little motivation for high school. She remembers feeling like she didn’t care about her education. So, Paola changed her direction.

At 16, Paola moved from the Lakewood area to Yachats, Ore. There, she learned how to weld through Angell Job Corps.  Returning to Lakewood in 2010, she discovered Bates Technical College and enrolled in the Technical High School’s Welding program.

Said Paola, starting on this new path made her feel a sense of renewal. “I was starting from a blank piece of paper, from the beginning,” she recalls.

Though she experienced homelessness for a time during her education, welding instructor Rick Huston helped point Paola in the right direction.

“He really helped me throughout the program and encouraged me to participate in the Associated Student Government. He thought it would help motivate and benefit me in school. He saw a lot in me, and he encouraged me,” she says. “Instructor Clint Griffee was awesome, too. He was tough on certifications, and no matter what, he would tell you if your work wasn’t passable—he was a hard teacher. When he said I was a good welder, it made a huge difference to me,” she says with a grin.

In 2012, with an Associate in Applied Science in Welding and a high school diploma under her belt, Paola interviewed for a welding job in Redmond, where she took seven intense welding tests. When she passed and got the job, she was ecstatic. “I’m glad I went through WABO and AWS certifications, because without them, I don’t think I could’ve passed the test in industry.”

Then, her career goal changed. After watching others in the company who worked as engineer technicians, she learned more about the profession from a friend. “The job had the perfect mix of welding, hands-on and computer work. It seemed like a really interesting next step for me,” she says.

She decided her focus should be on production, and was excited to learn that Bates offered a Mechanical Engineering program. “I met with the instructor and did some research. It seemed like the perfect program, especially since I knew Bates, I liked the college and the employees, and it was familiar and comfortable,” she says.

Now in her third quarter as a student in the Mechanical Engineering program, Paola is considering entering the University of Washington as a next step. “I’m a hands-on person, and switching to this new field, there’s a lot of computer work involved,” she says. “I’m learning so much in this program. When I graduate, I’ll have a great foundation and grasp of concepts, and my potential for success at the University of Washington would be greater.”

When Paola thinks about life before discovering Bates, she recalls she had no direction, no support, and she lacked drive. “Now, my life and my education are my choice, not anyone else’s. I am starting a career, not just a job. Earning a college degree means I’m accomplishing what I want to do in my life. Graduating with my AAS in Mechanical Engineering will show me that I’m capable of learning new things, I can be trained and succeed in the field, learn something new and use the skills along with my welding skills to create the best life for me,” concludes Paola.