Any minute now, the rusty husk of a muffler on Magnolia Romero Castellano’s car will fall off.
“It’s hanging down really low,” she said. “I don’t know how long it will last.”
Castellano is unconcerned and unperturbed. Thanks to a brand-new bilingual welding program at Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC) and a scholarship funded by the rock band Metallica, she now can use her own hands to fix it.
In May, Castellano was among the first students to earn a technical diploma in MATC’s inaugural bilingual welding program.
“I had never done anything with welding before this,” Castellano said.
“But I always wanted to learn everything there is to know about repairing a house and building a house. Welding was part of that.”
Castellano was born and raised in Mexico City and came to Milwaukee in 2000. She began taking English as a Second Language classes at MATC in 2005 and received her GED diploma from MATC in 2013.
She worked in several factories over the next 10 years while raising her two children. She started to take ESL courses at MATC once again, this time with her mother. At the MATC Education Center at Walker’s Square, she noticed an ad for the bilingual welding program and signed up.
The program started in June 2022 with 12 students getting practical, theoretical and technical training in welding fabrication from instructor Karen Feliciano.
Feliciano moved to Milwaukee from Puerto Rico at age 15. She learned English as a second language in school and sometimes struggled to understand her lessons. She worked as a welder for several years, then helped develop a bilingual welding program at Waukesha County Technical College. She came to MATC in 2021.
“Magnolia was one of my top students and welders in her class,” Feliciano said. “She was always the first one there and the last one to go. She never gave up and always was eager to learn more and get better at anything she was doing.”
Castellano attended welding classes first at Walker’s Square, then at MATC’s Oak Creek Campus. She also watched plenty of welding videos on YouTube, she said. Much of the classes were in Spanish, but some specific welding terms and concepts were imparted in English, she said.
“The coursework was hard, but I really appreciated all the help Karen gave me,” Castellano said. “She was very patient and very generous with her time. She always found the time to help me when I needed it.”
Rocking a scholarship
Besides having an attentive, responsive instructor, Castellano hasn’t paid anything to attend MATC. She earned DACA Plus Scholarships for non-U.S. citizens last summer and this summer. She received a Mexican Fiesta Scholarship in Fall 2022, and a Metallica All Within My Hands (AWMH) Scholarship in Spring 2023.
AWMH was established by the members and management of the band Metallica in 2017 to help students explore hands-on careers in “heavy metal” fields like welding, automotive and diesel technology, truck driving, computerized manufacturing, and HVAC. They created the Metallica Scholars Initiative in partnership with the American Association of Community Colleges.
“Our goal for the Metallica Scholars Initiative is to shine a light on workforce education and support the next generation of tradespeople,” AWMH Executive Director Pete Delgrosso.
In 2022, MATC received $100,000 from the AWMH initiative for scholarships. “This funding helps students enroll in our high quality, in-demand programs that meet local employer and community needs, leading to careers that provide family-supporting wages and better lives,” said MATC President Vicki J. Martin.
Right now, welders can make about $20 an hour as starting pay, Feliciano said. “There are so many companies desperate for good welders right now,” she said. “It’s a great time to get into the field.”
A second group of 15 students is expected to start in MATC’s bilingual welding program in the fall, said Maria Rodriguez, a coordinator in MATC’s Manufacturing, Construction & Transportation Pathway.
Another 17 potential students are on a waiting list. “It has become a popular program for us,” she said.
With her welding classes completed, Castellano plans to take carpentry and electricity courses at MATC in the fall. She’s even considering purchasing her own welding equipment, so she can do repairs around her house – like fixing her car muffler.
“I have learned through the welding program that I like to see how things get put together,” she said. “I like learning these new things. And if you want to learn, MATC has the tools to help you.”
This article was originally posted here.