FEMALE WELDER TRIUMPHS OVER FEARS
By Jana Carver
Inez Mickel’s dream of being a welder began with a father who believed in her.
Growing up in Greensboro as the only girl in a household with four brothers, her dad stressed the importance of an education and urged Mickel to never limit herself. “He would say, ‘You better learn all you can,’” Mickel recalls with a smile.
The idea of becoming a welder never occurred to Mickel, 32, until she watched the movie “Flashdance” for the first time as a young girl. The popular ‘80s drama tells the story of a female welder who dreams of being a dancer. Before seeing the film, Mickel hadn’t realized that women could work in a male-dominated field such as welding. This revelation struck Mickel and sparked a lifelong passion in her for the craft.
“The movie ‘Flashdance’ inspired me not only to weld but to strive to try to step out of my comfort zone into a position completely unknown to me,” Mickel said. “The movie is that of a woman’s will to triumph above her fear of failure. That’s what I want to be: triumphant.”
It was Mickel’s father who explained to her that women could weld too and encouraged her later in life to go after that dream. She credits her father for raising her to be the strong woman she is today.
“I’m not sure what everybody else’s dad did, but my dad believed in me” she said.
Now, as a mom to two young girls, ages three and 12, she’s instilling in her children those same lessons her father taught her.
“I tell them that it doesn’t matter if you’re a girl. You still have the same standards in success,” Mickel said.
Mickel’s dream to weld led her to Guilford Technical Community College, where she is completing a diploma in welding technology.
“Education has always been a big thing for me, so GTCC being an educator to me – I can’t really put it in words how much I am appreciative of it,” Mickel said. “I can’t see myself doing anything other than being at GTCC learning welding and improving myself. … Once you start, it’s kind of like you get the welding bug.”
Mickel enjoys the concentration welding requires and finds it challenging and rewarding.
“One must be present in mind and body” she said. “My favorite part of welding is succeeding in creating a perfect weld and knowing that it was only me that accomplished such a feat.”
Donald Ellington, department chair of welding technology at GTCC and Mickel’s instructor, has watched Mickel grow over the program’s three semesters. He said she has more than proven herself in the program and has come into her own.
“She has taken to the amount of discipline that is needed,” Ellington said. “She’s toughened up a little bit. That’s what it takes to be a female in the welding world. … You can’t push Inez around.”
Ellington said that Mickel also has shown remarkable perseverance in the face of every challenge. Every week, Mickel tries to make the department’s hall of fame, which started in 1995 and contains almost every type of weld the program covers. In order to make it into the hall of fame, the weld has to be perfect. And according to Ellington, there is only one piece that has never been mastered: a Shielded Metal Arc Welding (SMAW) groove weld test in the 4G (overhead) position.
“Overhead welding is the most challenging because it is like threading a needle, that’s on fire, in the dark, over your head, with the possibility of boiling oil being poured on you,” Ellington said. “You must get beyond the pain in your muscles, which start screaming halfway through. The weld takes 45 minutes to an hour to complete.”
Ellington said that Mickel has come very close to perfecting it. But for Mickel, close isn’t good enough.
“I want to leave something here,” she said. “I don’t want to just come to school. … I want to be able to say, ‘I left that 4G here.’ … It’s a big thing to me.”
Mickel not only wants to make herself proud, but also her father and her daughters. Her determination and her willingness to take risks have allowed her to thrive in the program, and Ellington is confident she will continue to succeed.
“I think the sky’s the limit with Inez,” he said.
In May, Mickel will graduate from the program and has the potential to make as much as $30 per hour starting out in the industry. She’s looking forward to her father seeing her graduate and achieving her dream.
“When you meet somebody’s parents,” Ellington said, “Or you see their grandparents there (at graduation), or their uncles, and you see this large extended family, or even just one person, you realize that it’s not just one person taking this class, it’s a family.”
— April 27, 2016