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Navy wife nurtures her creative side by welding

Behind the scenes work has always appealed to Chelsea Meeks, whose previous jobs ranged from dishwasher to radio programming assistant prior to her husband’s deployment to Hampton Roads.

When the Navy wife explored programs at Tidewater Community College, she wanted to nurture her creative side, too. She found her niche in an area many might overlook – welding.

Meeks is using her husband’s GI Bill benefits to work toward her Career Studies Certificate in Maritime Welding, a career, she says, that would allow her to find a career here and wherever the Navy takes the couple next.

“I’ve worked in the back of a kitchen, so hot, sweaty work doesn’t bother me,” she said. “I actually prefer it.”

While welding might be considered an unconventional career choice, for Meeks it was natural, as she grew up the daughter of a machinist. When an online job search became frustrating, she turned to TCC this summer to explore options, asking herself, “What would make me happy?”

While glassblowing was one prospect, she thought welding would be a more lucrative career that would also satisfy her creative niche.

“I like the challenge of making something out of nothing,” she said. “So far that’s been stick welding figures.”

Women often flourish in the field, says Professor Walter Duke, given the attention to detail they bring as successful welders must maintain extreme focus.

“The sparks don’t bother me, and when I put on my mask, I’m in my own place,” Meeks said.

She is one of two women in TCC’s introductory welding class; she even invested in a more feminine mask that reads, “I dare you to dare me” alongside a graphic of Rosie the Riveter.

Meeks is hopeful the welding classes pay off when she applies to TCC’s apprenticeship program with Norfolk Naval Shipyard next fall.