As excited as he is about starting his career after he graduates from Lewis-Clark State College in the spring of 2020, Francisco (Cisco) Perez is just as thrilled to help other students.
Perez, a junior from Pullman, Wash., earned his Associate of Applied Science degree in Welding Technology last spring and is currently working on his Bachelor of Applied Science in the same area. Upon graduation, he plans to move to Seattle and finish his apprenticeship hours with the Boilermakers Local 104 Union.
In the meantime, Perez is enjoying his time at LCSC, both in the welding shop and helping others find that same spark with their education that he found with welding. Perez is a peer mentor at LCSC and helps new freshmen and transfer students build a foundation for personal success at the college. Peer mentors work closely with students enrolled in the new student orientation class and provide academic, social, and emotional support while also introducing these students to campus resources, policies and procedures.
“For me it’s not about the thought of teaching freshmen, but it’s the thought of giving them the tools they want so they can be hungry and reach for things themselves,” Perez says. “I want to inspire them to do things for themselves and to take their education more seriously. They have higher education at their fingertips and they get to choose what they want to go into. The ability to be able to choose is almost the most empowering thing about college.”
Earlier this semester, Perez says one of the students assigned to him set up a meeting to discuss her major. Perez says the student was pursuing a career in nursing because her mom had always wanted to be a nurse and she wanted her daughter to become one. However, that’s not what the student wanted.
“She was very capable, very smart, and did well in high school by taking dual credits,” Perez said of the student. “She did everything to go the extra mile so academically she could be successful in any single area. But she was struggling internally and externally about pursuing a degree she wasn’t sure about. I told her it’s come to a point in her life where she has to tell her parents that it’s now her turn to shine. She has proven to them that she is more than a capable student and is more than willing to put in the work and time, but now it’s her turn to choose. So she did that (talked with her mom) and now she’s pursuing a degree in biology.”
The technical programs at LCSC allow prospective students to come to campus and shadow current students to see what they do in the program. Last year, four regional high school students shadowed Perez.
“I remember feeling accomplished and proud of my trade when I could see that I had sparked a flame of inspiration in some of the high school students and had given them the extra push to go over their comfort zone,” he says.
“My inspiration is inspiring other people. I get my kicks from helping people better themselves. We live in a world where most people think it’s a competition and therefore will try to tear each other down. What inspires me the most is building other people up. In other words, my inspiration is love for one another.”
Perez says he gained a new perspective on life when he was 11 and moved to Pullman with his mother from Bogota, Colombia, which has a population of more than 7 million people. They made the move after his mom was hired to work in the Washington State University’s Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences as an anesthesiologist.
He says he didn’t speak a word of English when he arrived in Pullman and spent about six months learning the language in middle school. He says it was a culture shock moving to a much smaller city, but soon began to enjoy how open and respectful people were.
He took metal shop classes all four years at Pullman High and knew by his senior year he wanted to pursue welding as a career. Because he wants to work in the Pacific Northwest, he decided to find a college to attend in the area. He knew about the LCSC welding program from previous students at Pullman High, who graduated from LCSC. They came back and talked to some of the Pullman classes and how a few had gone on to become engineers or welding inspectors.
“I knew LCSC had a good program from hearing about it first hand from people who went through it,” Perez said. “But the program has been more, absolutely more, than what I expected. When I came here, I realized not everything that I had been taught was wrong, but basically what I had been taught was how to make things appear good aesthetically. When I came to LCSC, the focus is on how to make everything perfect and do it any day of the week no matter the conditions. So I guess that degree of fine-tuning was not what I had expected. I was a bit blown away by that.
“Yet as crazy as it sounds, I can go into the shop right now and perform any weld with any precision with any metal and any process that you like and could probably pass the bend test, just because of what I have been taught here.”
Perez says he owes a lot to former instructor Don Health-Simpson, who retired last spring after 39 years at the college.
“He pretty much worked in every aspect of the industry so he was kind of my main inspiration because that is something I would like to do, dip my toe into everything,” says Perez, who would also like to try underwater welding because it doesn’t seem possible. “That’s mainly why I’m in the field. You are doing things that seem like they should not be possible.”
Perez says he wants to start his career with gas tungsten arc welding, called TIG/GTWA welding, because almost every metal can be used and the weld doesn’t produce sparks.
“When you think of welding, you think of a guy strapped in leather to protect himself from sparks flying everywhere,” Perez says. “But the TIG process is really nice, clean, and quiet. The looks of the finished product with TIG is really pleasing and aesthetic. I really like it because it’s so versatile. You can weld a pipeline or you can make a sculpture to put on your desk.”
Perez says that Dammon Everhart, who replaced Heath-Simpson, also has been helpful. Perez says both Gehring and his wife were in the boilermaker industry and when Lonny learned about Perez’s interest in TIG welding, he set up an area for Perez to come in and practice.
“I can practice just like the guys who are in the union so that after graduation, when I apply for the apprenticeship, I should be able to pass whatever test,” Perez says. “It’s really a good set up because the program gives us a lot of hours toward our apprenticeship (about 2,000 hours of the 7,500 hours required).”
Perez says he took to welding right away.
“I think the main thing is just the ability to be able to create the world that you see around you, whether it’s a bridge, a car, a boat, or an airplane,” Perez says. “It’s almost like having a superpower to create with such a destructive force. I think that’s why I’m sort of attracted to it.”
Perez says he also gets artistic with his work and will make gifts for special occasions. Recently he made a small sign out of aluminum as a four-year anniversary present to his girlfriend.
“It is a lot of fun to go artistic with it because I was never really great at drawing or painting,” he says. “So I finally found something. It’s similar to making sculptures but you get to use a medium that is very unconventional so that’s what sort of makes it seem impossible, but very fulfilling.”
Perez says he is pursuing his four-year degree for a couple of reasons, but the key one is that it gives him a backup plan. He says if something should physically happen to him where he can no longer weld, he could still be an inspector or own his own business.
“I can’t say enough good things about the technical programs at this school in general,” Perez says of LCSC. “I think the skill gap and the labor gap is wider now more than ever and it’s only growing wider because the younger generation doesn’t seem to be as interested in the trades. So to find a college that supports its technical side just as strongly as its academic side, to me, just seems extremely good. I can’t say enough good things about it. If I could convince more people to join the technical field and pick up more crafts, I would.”