When Abby Jones walked into the Marble Falls High School welding class her freshman year for the first time, she had something to prove.
But not to her male classmates.
“Part of why I wanted to join welding is so I can prove to myself more than anyone that a girl can do what guys do,” she said.
At the time, Jones, now a sophomore, was the only girl in the class.
This year, she and sophomore Emma Seely have not only demonstrated they can weld with the boys, they are also among the best at their respective levels. Jones and Seely qualified to compete in the Skills USA Texas contest April 22.
Unlike past years, the competition will be held virtually with competitors building in their school shops as judges monitor them via Zoom. Students will receive instructions on what they are building at the beginning of the timed contest.
For Seely, qualifying to compete in the Welding I category at state competition during her first year in the welding program solidified her decision to pursue welding as a career.
“I went into the (state-qualifying) test feeling super scared and like I wasn’t going to do good,” Seely said. “But, really, it’s all common sense stuff I’ve learned in the shop.”
SkillsUSA is a national organization dedicated to helping high school workforce programs excel and create skilled young professionals. It hosts local, state, and national competitions every year, give students a chance to compete in occupational and leadership areas as well as technical information testing.
In combination with the trade programs, Marble Falls High School has a SkillsUSA student chapter to help students market themselves and pursue careers in welding and construction.
Jones began welding as an elective last year after seeing a presentation on the craft. Seely joined the welding program this year and, like Jones, enjoys showing people that women can succeed in welding, despite gender stereotypes sometimes associated with the trade.
“There are three girls in my class, and all of them are super-talented kids,” Seely said. “The boys are always like, ‘Wow! I didn’t know girls could do that.’”
Student-welders spend at least three hours a week in the shop, learning how to build things and how to maintain safe welding practices. According to welding instructor Scott McDonald, students participating in trade electives work toward various certifications that give them marketable skills for the future.
Jones believes the skills she’s learned through the welding program will help her as she pursues a career as a hand surgeon after graduating. Her favorite build so far is the three-tier plant stand she made as a Christmas present for her aunt.
Sophomore Tiffany Row will also compete at the state contest, representing the construction program in the Construction Trades Tool Identification category.
In addition to competing, students in the welding and construction programs frequently build community projects, like the recent barbecue pits installed at Cottonwood Shores parks.