"The beauty of welding is that you can travel the world,” said Juanita Lopez-Escobar. “You can work anywhere if you're a welder."
Lopez-Escobar, who lives in Forest Grove, found her true passion for welding through Portland Community College’s "Discover Manufacturing and Construction Trades" on-ramp class. Taught by Kali Giaritta, the course opened doors for Lopez-Escobar that she never thought possible.
“They had different companies there that represented welding, manufacturing and construction,” said Lopez-Escobar. “You get to see what is interesting and what works for you and then talk to Kali to see what the program is about.”
Her journey into welding began in the fall of 2022 when she joined the on-ramp class after discovering a flier from the Employment Department. The experience proved to be life-changing as she got to tour a PCC welding class, met a welding instructor, and connected with PCC’s Career Pathways – a program of stackable, short-term training certificates.
“‘Discover’ classes are open to anyone in the community who wants to learn more about their options for careers and college,” Giaritta said. “Most people don't know what a career in machining, CADD, welding, or microelectronics would look like. This class helps students envision the end goal, and helps them map out the path to that goal.”
For Lopez-Escobar, learning a trade was not just about earning a living; it was about empowerment and personal fulfillment. Lopez-Escobar added, “I had a dream to learn a trade so I could say, “I did this! I know how to do this!”
Her determination only grew stronger as she realized the support network she had in Giaritta and her instructors. They reassured her that age was no barrier to learning something new, and with their guidance, she began her journey into welding.
Through PCC’s new Integrated Education and Training (IET) Program in welding, she found an efficient career pathway to achieve her dream at the new welding shop at the Rock Creek Campus. The program promised to train her in just two terms, and the best part was that her tuition would be fully covered. This opportunity allowed her to continue working while pursuing her certification during the summer.
“‘Discover’ classes offer a chance for students to explore their options so they can make a confident decision about which path to choose,” Giaritta said. “They foster a welcoming environment where prospective students can learn about resources for student success, and connect with other students who are starting a similar journey.
“Juanita came into the ‘Discover’ class with a great attitude,” she continued. “She was motivated to learn and wasn't afraid to try new things. When our class visited OMIC and welding instructor Lucas Briggs asked for a volunteer to help with a demo, Juanita was the first student to raise her hand.”
Lopez-Escobar’s path to welding was not without challenges. Her family immigrated to the United States from Mexico when she was just 12 years old, and she faced difficulties adapting to a new culture and language. Nevertheless, she persevered, raising her first two children by working in the manufacturing industry and seizing every chance to acquire new skills.
After the birth of her third child, she realized she needed to secure a higher-paying trade to provide a better life for her family. Her determination led her to welding when she noticed a demand for welders in her workplace. Despite her initial struggles, she knew this was the path she wanted to take.
Her story is a shining example of the impact that educational programs like PCC's “Discover Manufacturing and Construction Trades” and the IET Program in welding can have on individuals seeking a brighter future. One of the key benefits of welding training is the high demand for skilled welders in a wide range of industries. By undergoing welding training, individuals can position themselves for lucrative career opportunities and job security in a diverse array of industries that depend on welding for their operations.
So, welding is not just about joining pieces of metal together; it’s about forging a path towards a fulfilling and prosperous future. Lopez-Escobar’s journey exemplifies the beauty of welding and serves as a beacon of hope for those aspiring to find their passion and build a successful career in the welding industry.
“Don’t be scared,” she advised. “There are always people here to help you out as you start something new. Doesn't matter what age you are, it will be hard but you can do it.”
Interested in discovering a new career? Visit pcc.edu/opportunity-center/jobs/discover-classes/, or call 971-722-2688.