Leveling the welding field
Clark’s welding instructor Tatum Parsley ’13 aims to prove that welding is a trade for all people
Sparks shot out from a flame that melted and fused two metals. Holding a welding torch and wearing a welding helmet and heat-resistant gloves, Tatum Parsley ’13 showed her students how it’s done.
Parsley is a full-time instructional welding technician and the welding outreach coordinator for Clark College’s two-year welding technology program, where hands-on, one-on-one learning meets the latest professional shop equipment. It’s also where Parsley found her passion. She was a student in the program 20 years ago and has worked in this male-dominated trade ever since.
Since October 2021, she has been guiding Clark students by demonstrating different welding techniques and critiquing their work, helping them hone their skills. More recently, she has been working for Clark’s new welding outreach program, which aims to dismantle the myth that welding is a job only for men. Thanks to Parsley’s outreach work, more and more of Clark’s welding students are women.
Parsley’s introduction to welding course has five women, out of 20 students. “That’s a lot,” she said. Of the program’s 45 students, 10 are female, which is double the previous year.
Caleb White, head of Clark’s fabrication and welding technology department, said it’s the most women who have been enrolled in the program at the same time in the eight years since he’s worked at Clark. He credits the rise to Parsley’s recruitment efforts.
The new outreach program was launched in spring 2021, with funding through a statewide Career Launch initiative.
“We want to attract and retain a diversity of students—men, women, people of color and nondominant groups,” said White.
Welding never occurred to Parsley, who was born and raised in Vancouver, until after she graduated from high school in 2000. She planned to be a kindergarten teacher. But then a friend told her about the pay, benefits and union support of being an iron worker.
“I thought, I could do that,” she said. “I’m an artistic person and I like working with my hands. And I like working by myself, which you do quite a bit with welding.”
It meant taking some courses at Clark—and being the only woman welding student in the summer of 2005.
Before her first day of class, Parsley said she “was very nervous. I had never welded before. And walking into a classroom with all guys and a male teacher, I was afraid it would be a ‘boys club.’ But they took me in right away and we were all learning together.” Her instructor, Myron Wurzer, now retired, “was the nicest person you could meet, and he made welding fun. Everyone had a positive attitude, which made it easier to be there.”
Parsley took only two welding classes, then got a job building steel boxes and tire chain hangers for trucks. In 2013, while working, she took a sculpture-welding class at Clark that is no longer offered, and started making art from scrap metal, bike chains and old tools. She still makes metal art. Over the years, she kept thinking about being an assistant instructor and, after applying twice, she was hired. Someday, she said, she’d like to be a full-time instructor at Clark.
“I get to be with people who do the same thing I love to do. We all get to be in the same happy bubble of welding,” Parsley said.
Man’s world no more
First-year welding student Julia Faith said, “Tatum levels the playing field. It’s a man’s world we’re breaking into and it’s encouraging knowing it can be done, and done well. She’s a great role model. And she’s done welding for so many years, she shows you the tricks of the trade and helps you refine your own techniques. You might not get it the first time you try, but she does a good job of expressing that the practice and effort you put in will show in your work.”
Parsley has promoted Clark’s welding program to all the high school welding teachers in the Vancouver School District. She also attends career fairs and campus open houses. She stresses the variety of welding careers that awaits successful students, from steel production and pipe fitting to aerospace construction and HVAC.
“Clark has the best welding facility in the region and knowledgeable instructors, and it’s a very inclusive environment. It gives me a great sense of pride to see women help to break down the barriers,” said Parsley. But what’s most important to her is that “all students gain the right skills and knowledge to go into any area of welding and succeed.”
Claire Sykes is a freelance writer whose articles appear in alumni magazines around the country and in publications covering the arts, health and wellness, business and community, and philanthropy. Visit her online.