As a student in West Virginia Northern Community College’s welding technology program, Brandy Killeen found herself studying alongside men twice her age. Now, the student has become the teacher. The college recently hired Killeen as its first female welding technology instructor.
“It’s been great so far and I really like it. Before that, I was a lab assistant here,” Killeen said. The welding technology graduate — and now educator — is a single mother to a 5-year- old son. She recently worked full-time for Williams Lea Tag in downtown Wheeling.
“I actually started here for business at Northern and realized that they had welding classes while I was a business student and decided to switch over. I worked for Williams Lea as a legal document specialist for five years. I was working there while I was getting my degree here,” Killeen said. She acknowledged it can be intimidating for anyone going into the course, male or female.
“I was the youngest person in my class. And we had 30-, 40-, 50-year-old guys in our class, but just changing careers and not knowing what to do, not know how to start and just deciding to say, ‘I’ll give welding a try,’ is all it takes,” Killeen said. Killeen’s previous instructor had taken the program director position and told Killeen that she would be well-suited for the job.
“There were two open positions at the time and I asked him if it would be something good for me and he said, ‘I don’t know anybody better to put in for it,’ so it just happened the way it happened,” Killeen said.
While taking 19 credit hours at the college, working 36 hours a week and raising her five-year-old, Killeen’s parents assisted her with watching her son, Braydon. Though Killeen’s parents have since passed away, she knows they were helping her achieve her goals.
“Both my mom and dad were sticking it out with me. ...I feel like I was just sitting here in class with
some of these guys and now all of a sudden I’m teaching them,” she said.
“I was the youngest person in my class. And we had 30-, 40-, 50-year-old guys in our class, but just changing careers and not knowing what to do, not know how to start and just deciding to say, ‘I’ll give welding a try,’ is all it takes.” —Brandy Killeen
Killeen still works for Williams Lea on weekends, while working at the college on weekdays. Fellow welding instructor and program director, Matthew Pallisco, believes the two of them make a great team and he is happy to be working with her.
“When she first got here (as a student), I had first gotten here as an adjunct. I did teach her (and) she’s doing a wonderful job. She has a great work ethic,” Pallisco said.
One of Killeen’s goals for the college is to attract more female students in all applied science classes. She is proud to be the first woman to lead the way in this profession at the school.
“I think it’s kind of a big deal and they don’t treat me any different and that’s cool,” Killeen said.
She also educates early entry students from Brooke High School, some of whom may be able to obtain an associate’s degree before they exit high school.
“It’s nice to get students ahead of the curve and ahead of the game. Once they get their training, they get a job and you have all the resources right here. Not only does it get you employed, but it can save you money on a four-year degree and that’s a big deal,” Killeen said.
The college offers several courses in its applied technologies program, which Killeen encourages students to explore.
“There’s more than just welding and there are so many opportunities in this field. I know what it’s like to be at square one and I remember being there. Now I have all this knowledge and I want to level with these guys and tell them I remember what it was like starting out, so let’s start together,” she said.
Killeen hopes potential students know that this is a learned art and they, too, can make a career out of an applied science degree.
“That’s the big thing is setting a goal and working toward it,” she said. “Welding is a very teachable skill. Some people have it and some people don’t, but it’s teachable, so if you don’t have it, I can get you there. You have to have the work ethic for it — it’s a learned talent.”