Washington County Career Center senior Amber Suprano, 19, may be one of the few females that have gone through the school's welding program, but that has not stopped her from topping her class and getting a head start on her career.
Suprano, who hails from Warren Local Schools, is closing in on her last six weeks at the Career Center.
She did not qualify for national competition at the Ohio SkillsUSA state competition Wednesday, but with a slue of accomplishments including being at the top of her class, an "Outstanding Welding Student" award and her placement in the center's School to Apprentice welding program with Pioneer Group, Suprano is well on her way to defying a gender gap and beginning a successful career.
Mike Foster, left, of Matheson Valley Gas, and Rick Scharenbroch, center, of Miller Electric, present Washington County Career Center student Amber Suprano with brand new gear to use for the SkillsUSA State Competition for Welding last week.
JACKIE RUNION The Marietta Times
"My dad is a welder for Thermo Fisher, so I came to the career center to try it and found out I was good at it," Suprano said. "Welding is dominated by males, and this is a good way to set an example for other girls."
Suprano's father also went through the welding program at the career center, and Amber decided to stick with it when she realized she had somewhat of a natural knack for it, in addition to her hard work ethic.
"She's got good confidence and good skills, and she should serve as an inspiration to young ladies that this is something that you can do that's worthwhile," said Keelan McLeish, the program's instructor.
Welding senior at the Washington County Career Center.
Placed first in SkillsUSA local and regional welding competitions.
School to Apprentice program with Pioneer Pipe.
Will enter Plumber and Pipe Fitters Union as a second-year in five-year program.
First student in program to pass and receive all seven welding certifications.
The career center's welding program offers a bridge into several careers, including pipe fitters, weld inspectors, general welders and shop foremen.
Suprano placed first in SkillsUSA local and regional competitions, and is currently awaiting the final results of her scores on the six state competition welding tests, which include assessment in metal straightening, welding, plastic repair and structural analysis. The competition was held Tuesday and Wednesday in Columbus.
Though the welding program at the career center has 18 students, Suprano was chosen as one of six to participate in the second year of the School to Apprenticeship program in partnership with Pioneer Pipe in Marietta, a company that she currently works for while still in school.
Suprano was the first student in the program to pass all seven certification tests this year.
"This is a program that works, where students walk out of here into skilled, lifelong careers that are in demand," McLeish said. "This isn't just something they go to school and do and then we cut them loose."
Because of Suprano's advanced skill level in the program, she will join the Plumbers and Pipe Fitters Union upon graduation as a second-year in its five-year apprenticeship.
"She works hard, and she beats all the boys," said Dave Archer, the chairman for the apprenticeship program. "It's a win for education, it's a win for students and it's a win for companies who need these students."
There is just one other female welder in the program, but Suprano said there is still a sense of equality.
"I like the challenge, because I know girls can do anything that guys can do," she said.
Archer said next year, the U.S. will be short some 250,000 welders, and said the program needs more people like Suprano who are dedicated and good at what they do.
"I'm excited to get out into the real world," Suprano said. "(Welding) takes a lot of hard work, and a lot of practice, but if you stick with it you can go far."
McLeish said the desire for more women to join the field and the need for highly-skilled workers means that welding can serve as a lifelong career option if Suprano chooses.
"You can leave, travel, do anything, and you can come back to welding and always have a profession," he said.
Suprano said she has a long way to go before she finishes her apprenticeship, leaving her ample time to consider her career options.
"After that I can become a journeyman, and I can work anywhere in the United States," she said. "I'm even interested in starting my own business, but there's a whole variety of things I can do."
Though she said she was not pleased that she did not place high enough to qualify for nationals, Suprano said she was glad to get the state competition experience in before graduation.
"It was tough competition, and a lot of them have been training for this for years," she said. "But it's a learning experience. Welding is something you can always approve on."
The School to Apprentice program out of WCCC is officially approved by the Ohio Department of Labor, and Pioneer Pipe reaches out to participating career centers in Washington, Noble and Monroe counties to help build programs and supply equipment.
"This is something where the students are not just doing something in a classroom then have to go on the job and learn everything," McLeish said. "They're doing hands-on work right here that will be about the same thing they will do at a job."