Updated: Jan 5
By Juliet Martinez
On a metal divider in the Industrial Arts Workshop studio in Hazelwood, someone has written this message in chalk, “Just for today, I will be kind and compassionate to myself and others. I am grateful for today. I am enough.”
Industrial Arts Workshop (IAW) teaches welding to teens, but their program goes far beyond introducing young people to a potentially lucrative career in the trades. Executive director Tim Kaulen told me on a recent visit to the studio at 5434 Herbert Way that their approach comprises three core and complimentary elements: technical skills, soft skills and mindfulness.
A systematic approach
In the past year, Mr. Kaulen has expanded the teaching and administrative staff at IAW and adopted a welding curriculum that leads students through a series of welds taught on industry standards. They can track their progress, and if they are hired or seeking further training, they can say exactly what they know how to do.
This systematic approach is working for 16-year-old Leila Garcia of Reserve Township, who joined the afterschool program last fall. Mr. Kaulen said she has been burning through the curriculum, mastering skill after skill. She told me in November that attending the program gives her an ego boost.
“I’ll turn around in my booth and have like seven people watching me,” she said. “And they’ll all be like, ‘Who taught you how to weld?’ I’ve only been doing it for four weeks and I’ve gotten super good at it. There’s things I’m still struggling with... But I’m getting better.”
Learning to create together
That atmosphere of encouragement comes out of the code of conduct the students created and agreed on together.
“We asked the students what they thought they needed to work in a safe, interesting space,” Mr. Kaulen said. The students made suggestions and then voted on the ones they felt were most valuable; that became a contract they all signed. It includes values like supporting one another, being safe and respecting each other.
“That style of discussion and exchange is really one of the attributes that help the students come together as a team,” Mr. Kaulen said. “It's what they do together and the support they create for one another.”
Summer welding bootcamp students further developed their ability to work as a team when they collaborated with peers from the Center of Life KRUNK music program and the Ambassadors for Social Justice to design and create a public sculpture piece. The process involved discussions, drawing and prototyping of several concepts that emerged.
The concept for the final sculpture, Hands of Unity, came from 15-year-old Anthony Minniefield of Hazelwood. He said the idea came to him from watching the process itself unfold.
“I looked around and saw us all working together, coming from all different cuts of the cloth of Pittsburgh, so I just thought about... we’re unified, working all together,” he said.
The hands are framed with rebar and covered with different shaped pieces of metal. Mr. Minniefield said each shape is unique, like the people who collaborated on the project.
Mr. Minniefield is one of several summer welding bootcamp students who continued coming to the studio in the fall. Mr. Kaulen said the more experienced students like to help the beginners. One of them, Andrew Rejametova, joined as a student in 2018. After high school he went to college, but he felt it was not a good fit. So he obtained a community college welding certification and is now one of the instructors.
Breathe before you weld
Another instructor, James Byron, brings more years of experience to the studio. He emphasizes mindfulness in his teaching.
“Welding is a kind of meditation,” he said. “You’re focusing on this one point, you know, just a molten puddle in the dark, and all your thoughts are kind of concentrating, so it already is a meditation.”
The veteran welder started his career at 15 and taught at Triangle Tech, but a motorcycle accident in 2019 forced him to change directions. Now he takes art classes at Slippery Rock University and teaches his trade to a new generation of metalworkers.
“Before I have them weld pretty much anything anytime, we take a deep breath,” he said. “It helps with a lot more than just welding.”
IAW students tested both their mindfulness and technical skills when they participated in a competition sponsored by the Pennsylvania Talent Pipeline Project on November 29. Hannah George, a 14-year-old from Mt. Lebanon, said she relied heavily on the mindfulness techniques she has learned at IAW, especially when she was presented with blueprints.
“I hadn’t really worked with blueprints before, so they were a little scary,” she recalled. “But then I kind of just focused, I calmed down and I was able to read them. They were easy to read, just a little new to me.”
Mr. Byron said he tries to teach the students self-compassion instead of self-esteem.
I noticed that several students were practicing self-compassion after the competition. I had talked to them beforehand, and they were optimistic about winning. When none of them brought home a prize, they were philosophical rather than dejected.
“I made a few mistakes, of course, because it was my first time,” Ms. George said, adding, “It was fun!”
As the community forming around IAW grows, it is bringing art, design, skill-building, teamwork and mindfulness together in a way that enriches students’ lives whether they continue with a career in metalwork or not.
As instructor Mr. Byron said, “We don’t just teach welding.”
Students aged 14-18 can apply for the IAW spring afterschool welding program at https://iawpgh.org/ by January 25. The program is free of charge.
Juliet Martinez is the managing editor of The Homepage.