Head of her class

Female state welding champion ponders her future

March 7, 2006
By: Stephanie Vaughan

At a time when it's becoming more and more difficult to find skilled workers, it's encouraging to read about people like 18-year-old Jessica Jelinski who are studying and pursuing careers in metalworking. Jelinski is putting her welding training to good use winning competitions and working on interesting projects.

Jessica Jelinski practices her GTAW skills.

Mike Tomsyck had a welding machine, a street rod to build, and one problem.

He didn't know how to weld.

So he called a friend, Paul Hart, for a recommendation. Hart, who works as an exceptional-education aide at Lincoln High School in Wisconsin Rapids, Wis., had just the right person in mind.

The next thing Tomsyck knew, he was on the phone with 18-year-old Jessica Jelinski — a high school senior who'd just won first place in Wisconsin's SkillsUSA welding competition.

An Interest in the Nontraditional

By most accounts, Jelinski wasn't a traditional high school student. Uninterested in mainstream after-school activities, she was drawn to different classes: woodworking, metals, and blueprint, for starters.

Today, with two SkillsUSA regional championships and one state first-place medal to claim as accomplishments, Jelinski is on her way to earning her welding diploma from Mid State Technical College in Wisconsin Rapids later this year — and beginning her future in an industry that needs young, skilled workers more than ever before.

Jelinski shows Mike Tomsyck's son, Al, what she's doing on his dad's street rod.

Jelinski has come a long way since she built her first toolbox in a metals class at Lincoln High School. She cut her welding teeth on shielded metal arc welding (SMAW) and gas welding.

"Welding has always come easy for me," said Jelinski, the first girl in at least 14 years to take first place in the state's SkillsUSA welding competition. "This was a way for me to do the things I like and take the skills I have and compete."

Jelinski's parents weren't surprised when their daughter expressed interest in manufacturing-related classes. And the fact that she wasn't taking the traditional route that many of her classmates chose didn't matter.

"People said, "It's nontraditional,' and I said, "So what?'" said Jelinski's mom, Joni.

From Welding Rods to Street Rods

Jelinski's drive and accomplishments in welding have gotten her noticed not only by the local media, but also by companies interested in hiring her. Although she's dedicated to finishing her education first, she's made some time to earn her keep through welding.

Case in point: Mike Tomsyck's street rod.

Upon getting Tomsyck's request for a welder, Hart thought of Jelinski and her reputation.

Jelinski goes to work on Tomsyck's street rod.

"She was a first-place welder in the state," Hart said. "She's real dedicated and helps people out [in SkillsUSA]. She has good leadership skills."

So since last September Jelinski has completed hours of work on Tomsyck's street rod made from a 1928-29 Ford Model A pickup truck with 1927 Ford Model T doors. For example, she's moved and welded brackets, helped replace the wood in the frame with steel, and provided the transmission with a new cross member and gussets. Her next job will be to help move and reinstall the master cylinder.

Tomsyck said he's appreciated Jelinski's attention to detail.

"She's definitely a free spirit," he said, "[but] she seems to be intent."

Cruising Into the Future

Street rod fabrication — including work on a hot rod her dad's been building for 12 years — is just the beginning for Jelinski.

In addition to her welding classes, she's taking business administration and marketing courses to round out her education. She most enjoys gas tungsten arc welding (GTAW) aluminum and titanium and entertains the idea of opening her own shop someday.

Tomsyck's street rod is made from a 1928-29 Ford Model A pickup truck with 1927 Ford Model T doors.

Although she's not sure where welding will take her, she's enjoying the opportunities she's had and is getting. Her dad, Conrad, thinks her skills will be useful as the manufacturing industry evolves. Although unskilled labor jobs may not always be in demand, skilled labor always will be a necessity.

"I think we're going to see a resurgence in manufacturing. [The need for] welders, draftsmen, skilled labor will be there," he said. "The better you get and the more you know, the more opportunities you'll get."

Being 100 percent into learning about welding also will be a benefit to Jelinski now and in the future, Joni said.

"She has always wanted to go all the way with something — that's the reason she is the way she is today," she said.

But perhaps even more than Jelinski's drive and skill, the welding industry's openness to hiring women will do nothing but help propel her future.

"It's nice that our school is so well-prepared for that," Hart said. "The traditional molds are being broken by that."

Stephanie Vaughan

Stephanie Vaughan

Contributing Writer