May 9, 2011
Determined to make a life for herself and provide for her family, Mioshi Neal juggled full-time work,night classes, and single-parent duties to ultimately land her dream job—welding instructor.
Even after more than 30 years as a welder, Mioshi Neal, CWI, never gets tired of that initial look of shock on the faces of her welding students as they watch her lay a bead.
You know the look—teacup-sized eyes and a gaping mouth followed by some version of the phrase, "You really can weld!"
Neal is not offended nor is she surprised by it.
"A lot of people don't believe I'm a welder because I'm so small. When I tell men that I'm a welder, they look at me and say, 'No, you're not a welder.' They look at my hands, which have no calluses on them, and they don't believe me," Neal said with a laugh.
Regardless, once the 5-foot-1-inch Neal picks up a torch, she tends to make believers out of everyone. One of those believers was Richard Rowe, CWI/CWE, metal fabrication professor, and Neal's colleague at Johnson County Community College (JCCC), Overland Park, Kan.
"In all my years Mioshi is one of the very best welders I have ever seen. She is fair and shows respect to all students as well as a love for the welding trade. [She is a] great lady with an unlimited source of energy," Rowe said via e-mail.
It hasn't always been easy. There was a time when Neal had to learn how to make a believer … out of herself.
Neal credits her upbringing for instilling the value of hard work. Her father taught her at a young age always to attack life with specific goals and determination. His advice? Never depend on anyone else to take care of you.
"I wanted to make sure that whatever career I went into it would be something that would allow me to take care of myself and my family, regardless if my marriage worked out. My marriage didn't work out, unfortunately, but the career did," Neal explained.
Neal started welding in 1977 at age 19 when she enrolled in a seven-week welding class at the Kansas City Welding Institute. She liked the opportunities that welding presented and believed it was a trade that would help offer financial security for her and her family. She was also good with her hands and figured it would translate well to welding. But certainly it was scary being a woman in a male-dominated field.
"I felt like I was competing against them. I wanted to be the best and prove that I could be the best," Neal said.
Upon finishing the course, she went to work but lacked confidence in her abilities. As a result, Neal went back to school and enrolled in a nine-month program, but quickly found that she had the skills she needed all along.
"I was like, no way can a person learn how to weld in seven weeks. But I didn't have the confidence then that I have today. I actually finished that nine-month program in three months, so I did know how to weld. I just didn't have the confidence that I needed."
Neal bounced around different welding jobs until she was hired at SPX Cooling Technologies (formerly named Marley), where she worked for 20 years.
"I learned how to be a fitter as well as a welder and a grinder. I did everything from start to finish. This is where I really got a chance to perfect my skills."
Sometimes it can seem difficult to give 100 percent effort to a full-time job, particularly if you are, like Neal, a single parent with a family to think about. It takes hard work, sacrifice, and dedication. Free time and sleep are usually considered luxuries. It was Neal's work ethic and her determination that propelled her through the difficult times.
"I came from poverty so we never had anything growing up. My goal was to make it somewhere in life."
She had goals. For instance, she knew that by age 50 she wanted to become a welding instructor. She also knew that she wanted more education for herself. While working full-time at SPX, Neal enrolled in night classes at JCCC to earn an associate's degree. It took three and a half years of hard work and very little sleep, but in 2002 she did it.
Not long afterward Neal stepped into Rowe's welding lab at JCCC to take a 3G open-root certification test. Rowe was so taken aback by her welding ability that he offered her a position on the JCCC welding staff as an adjunct professor. It was the perfect stepping stone toward her goal.
In 2004 Neal again was juggling full-time work, teaching, and taking classes toward a bachelor's degree, which she earned from the University of Phoenix in 2006, when an opportunity became available for a weld trainer for Burlington Northern Sante Fe, which has a technical training center at JCCC.
"I thought that I wouldn't be able to do it, but then I was like, 'You know what? I'm just going to go for it.' So I applied and I got it."
She retired from SPX after 20 years and embarked on her dream of becoming a full-time welding instructor. She teaches GMAW, GTAW, SMAW, FCAW, oxyfuel cutting, plasma cutting, and oxypropane cutting.
Working alongside and now teaching men twice her size has reaffirmed the adage that respect is not given, it is earned. Neal would not be where she is today had she not dug deep down to find the confidence she needed to reach her goals. She encourages others, especially women, to be brave.
"Build your confidence and go for it. The money is out there to be made, if you want it. You just have to have the heart, determination, and the dedication to do it. It's not going to come to you; you've got to work for it."
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