Future bright for college-bound female welder

Butler Tech student excels in male-dominated world of welding.

Butler Tech student Rhane Napier’s future is as bright as the white, hot sparks flying off her welding torch.

The high school senior, who scored a 34 out of a possible 36 on her ACT college test, is being hailed as a star in the career school’s welding program after being offered more than a half-dozen academic scholarships from universities across America.

The 18-year-old Napier, who lives in Fairfield, has chosen to attend Ohio University in the fall and plans to double major in mechanical engineering and computer science.

She credits her two-year welding class at Butler Tech for solidifying her decision, saying the class, which is almost all male, helped flame her interest in engineering while building her self-confidence.

“I’m more assertive because you have to be here,” Napier said looking about the classroom-workshop filled with teenage boys.

Any initial resistance from her male classmates – there are only three girls among the 49 students in this year’s class of juniors and seniors – long ago faded once the boys understood her commitment and skills at welding and engineering, she said.

Her formula for other girls’ success in historically male areas of study: “You have to be interested in engineering more than you hate sexism.”

More women nationwide are pursuing welding as a career.

According to the American Welding Society, since 2010 there has been a 40 percent increase in female members. Women now comprise 5 percent of America’s welders, according to the most recent study by the group.

And welding pays well.

Average pay for a welder is more than $36,000, while experienced, specialized welders can make more than $100,000.

Job openings for welders, cutters, solderers and brazers are projected to grow 4.4 percent in Ohio through 2022, with about 400 job openings statewide a year, according to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services' Bureau of Labor Market Information. Most of the job opening projections are due to replacements needed for retirements and turnover, according to the state government statistics.

Butler Tech welding technology instructor Shane McKinney has taught more than 1,000 students in the program during his 24 years at the Butler County career school but said he has never seen a student – female or male – with Napier’s talents.

“Intellectually, she is off the charts,” McKinney said. “She is the strongest academic student I’ve had here in 24 years. She sees things at a different level.”

Napier is competing in the technical math division later this month in the high school Skills USA Ohio contest in Columbus.

The career school is also sending its first, all-female auto technology team to the competition.

Her conversations switch easily from computer coding to World War II feminist history to the overabundance of lousy metal welds on most furniture.

Michael Beauchat, spokesman for Butler Tech, said the welding program was among the first areas of study offered when the career school opened in 1975.

“It remains one of our most competitive high school programs because there’s so much opportunity after graduation. A student can start a career right out of high school or go on to college and open up a set of new opportunities,” Beauchat said.

Napier illustrates how career technical education classes can “kick-start a student’s interest in a career path,” he said.

“It’s not just about learning technical skills,” Beauchat said. “It’s combining them with academic learnings to see a career path.”

A student in welding, he said, may come expecting just to learn how to connect metal to metal.

“They eventually see how that job fits with engineering, advanced manufacturing and quality control. It can open their eyes to a world of possibilities they never expected,” he said.

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