(From left) Lauren Hall, Lynn Eaton and Alexandria Divinie are the only three female students currently enrolled in the welding program at Patrick Henry Community College.
In a career largely populated by men, some women might think twice about signing up. But three women enrolled in the welding program at Patrick Henry Community said they didn’t have any second thoughts about their intended careers.
“My grandpa is a welder, my dad is a welder and my brother is a welder – I’ve been around it my whole life,” said Alexandria Divinie, who will finish the welding program this summer. “They’re really proud of what I’m doing.”
Divinie started at PHCC in 2010 when she came back through the Middle College program to earn her GED (General Education Development) certificate. She has already certified in MIG (metal inert gas) welding and is working to gain other certifications.
First-year student Lynn Eaton said she was introduced to welding in her high school agriculture class and “just loved it. The kicker is I thought I wanted to do early childhood education. But after moving in with my last foster family and helping with the kids, I learned very quickly that I do not like bodily fluids.”
Eaton transitioned to PHCC from Franklin County High School through the Great Expectations program. From there, she said she met Dwight Bower, a welding instructor at PHCC, and decided welding was the program for her.
Lauren Hall started at PHCC as a student in the human services program, but found it wasn’t the right fit.
“My mom always said I needed to find a trade because it was good for you,” she said.
At a wine convention, Hall said she saw someone with little butterflies welded out of spoons. “I was like, ‘I could totally do that.’ And then I got into the welding program and realized it was nothing like that. It was dirty, heavy and rough – and I loved it.”
Hall said her family didn’t think she would be interested in the program.
“They knew I was going to try it, but being me, I don’t think they thought I would like it or finish it,” she said. “But they are enthralled that I’m getting ready to finish up this summer.”
Being the only three females in a class full of men could be intimidating to some, but Divinie said she feels like one of the guys.
“I feel really comfortable; I thought it was going to be awkward and weird because I’m a girl, but everybody has treated me just the same,” she said. “They’re like brothers.”
Hall said, “They really treat you like another one of the guys. Sometimes I’ll be welding and there will be two or three people peeking in your booth ready to tell you what you did right or wrong. All my classmates are really helpful.”
Bower said Divinie, Eaton and Hall have been a joy to have in class.
“They do as well as the guys do,” he said. “If you really think about it, women have an advantage over some men because they have better handwriting. Welding is an art.”
Bower said they put the pressure on for everybody else to do well in class. Eaton also works with Bower as a work-study student cutting metal, doing cleanup and organizing supplies.
“These girls are going to have promising careers,” he said. “The certifications they’re earning can go anywhere in the nation – they are the key that unlocks the door, but they still have to go in and prove they can do it.”
PHCC offers instruction for seven different welding certifications. Welding Instructor Randy Smith said his student Divinie is on her way to finishing most of them.
“She’s taken a flux-cored arc welding test. It came back x-rayed, and now she’s certified,” he said. “She’s in the process of taking her second welding test … Welding runs in her family, and she’s taken to it very quickly. She wants it all – she’s a welder.”
Christy Yaple, director of the Middle College and Great Expectations programs, said she’s very proud of Eaton and Divinie and what they’ve accomplished.
“The Middle College and Great Expectations staff could not be more proud of these two ladies,” Yaple said. “Both of them have surpassed many obstacles in their lives and have proven to have the drive and determination to reach their academic, career, and personal goals. We are truly overjoyed to be part of their experience as they continue on this successful path.”
Looking to the future, Divinie said she hopes to get a job working for a company like Deere-Hitachi, which produces parts for various John Deere and Hitachi machinery.
Eaton said she’s hoping to stay in school for a while, but after graduating, she wants to work in the shipyards around Virginia Beach.
Hall said she wants to pursue a position at FreightCar America in Roanoke, and maybe move to Virginia Transformer Corp. after gaining some job experience.