Sparks fly and metal melts as Plainfield resident Eric Gasiorowski works on a project in the Joliet Junior College welding lab. When it’s complete, he shuts down the equipment and pulls off his welding gear to examine his finished product, thinking about his upcoming graduation in December– and how far he’s come since his first days as an adult student at JJC.
Before JJC, Gasiorowski worked as a paramedic and EMT for 22 years. He loved his job, but after two knee surgeries, he was forced to give up the trade. A career change was necessary.
That’s when he thought about welding, and turned to his local community college.
As a veteran who served in the U.S. Army Reserves from 1983-1989, he heard that JJC had educational opportunities for veterans. He contacted Cheryl Hlavac, JJC veteran and financial aid coordinator, who told him about a veterans education program that would allow him to take classes for free. Through the program, however, Gasiorowski had to fully commit to his schoolwork, and remain unemployed outside the college.
Being a full-time student was a challenge at first. Gasiorowski found himself staying up late finishing homework, and taking on new responsibilities as a part-time stay-at-home dad, such as cooking dinner, making sure his kids’ lunches were packed and that they got to school on time. His wife, an ER nurse, started working full time to support the family.
But Gasiorowski enjoyed studying welding, something he knew right away that he wanted to pursue– not only because he liked to work with his hands, but also because of the high demand for workers in the industry. According to the American Welding Society, an increase of 200,000 welders is expected by the year 2020 because many current welders are reaching retirement age.
Gasiorowski treats welding as an art form, with each weld different in its own way.
“You have to be very meticulous when it comes to welding,” said Gasiorowski, who now works as a welding assistant in the lab. “It’s a lot of hard work, but you get what you put into it.”
He’s glad he chose to study at JJC, especially because the college just upgraded its welding lab. The lab has nearly doubled in size, and boasts 18 individual welding booths, an upgraded 110-volt electric system, and a new ventilation system. The lab underwent these improvements thanks to the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training Grant (TAACCCT) JJC received from the U.S. Department of Labor in 2012.
“At JJC, I feel like we get more of a diverse education,” Gasiorowski added. “JJC bridges the gap. You’re in the machine shop, welding lab, math class. We learned that all these subjects come together. You don’t only learn about welding, but you learn about blueprinting, industry maintenance, and why pipes are the way they are.”
Gasiorowski believes his commitment and hard work has gotten him to where he is today, but he wouldn’t have had such a great experience at JJC without the support of the college’s faculty and staff. Welding instructor Greg Foster spent many hours helping him improve his skill; Career Services Employee Relations Coordinator Layton Cooper helped him fine tune his resume so that it’s ready by the time he graduates in December; and Hlavac aided him in his transition to student life.
Another great thing Gasiorowski enjoys about JJC’s welding program is that the instructors do a great job molding their students into well-rounded welders.
“Now, there’s finally an end in sight,” Gasiorowski said. “JJC has made me realize that I can do anything I set my mind to.”
When he graduates this December, Gasiorowski plans to look for a job working with pipes in the oil or petroleum industry.
For more information about JJC veteran benefits, visit http://www.jjc.edu/financial-aid/Pages/veterans.aspx. For more information about the welding program at JJC, visit www.jjc.edu/technical, or contact Foster at firstname.lastname@example.org.