From the time Jennifer Brinkley first worked with metal in her Pennsylvania middle school’s shop class, she was hooked. She went on to enroll in a vocational technical high school and studied welding, before earning a bachelor’s degree from the Pennsylvania College of Technology in welding and fabrication engineering technology in 2005.
Although welding can be used to do everything from creating beautiful works of art to fusing car parts together (Jennifer’s field), there’s nothing delicate about it. Welding is the process of fusing metal parts with melted filler metal made from the same material as the parts being joined. The point of contact, at the arc, reaches 7,000 degrees (as hot as the surface of the sun) and the bonding metal can exceed 400 degrees. While 94 percent of welders are men, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, Brinkley never let that statistic deter her from working in a field that interested her.
For the past several years, Brinkley has worked as a manufacturing specialist at Toyota Motor Engineering and Manufacturing North America in Georgetown, KY, which is Toyota’s largest North American facility and produces 2,000 vehicles every day. She is a project manager who oversees production of the underbodies of cars, supervising welds on the front suspensions, lower arms, fuel tanks, and rear suspensions of cars.
Brinkley has worked in the plant’s Body Weld production area on suspension projects for several Toyota models, including Camry, Rav4 and Avalon and has traveled to Japan and Canada for her work.
‘Step Outside Your Boundaries and Preconceptions’
Her own mother, a computer programmer and project manager, inspired Brinkley to consider a non-traditional career.
Brinkley notes, “Girls and young women should absolutely be willing to try something new and step outside of their boundaries and preconceived notions about what women can and can’t do.”
Brinkley says she encountered a lot of second looks, questions, and curious comments along the way.
“In my experience, many of the adults I became acquainted with throughout high school and college were interested and intrigued by my choice to pursue welding and many encouraged it,” she explains. “Many of my peers, though, made assumptions about my preferences and likes and dislikes based on my decision to pursue a nontraditional field.”
A fellow churchgoer, male, who welded with a local company constantly checked in on Brinkley’s progress through high school and college, and offered advice and guidance in how to deal with some of the issues that stemmed from being the minority in my courses.
“In more recent years,” she says, “I find that many people are fascinated by what I do at work and that I maintain a presence in a primarily male-dominated field.”
The Road to Success
Working as an RA in her dorm earned Brinkley free housing for two years, which helped to supplement her college tuition costs. She also tool the graveyard shift at a gas station and worked evenings at a tutoring center. Student loans and family support ultimately helped her to finance her undergraduate degree.
Brinkley was featured in Penn College’s “Degrees that Work” documentary series, co-produced with local TV station WVIA as a public service initiative intended to highlight career fields identified by the U.S. Department of Labor as having future growth opportunities. In the video, Brinkley states, “Everything that I do, everything that I’m a part of, goes on somebody’s vehicle.” To view the video, visit www.degreesthatwork.tv and click on welding.
Though she appears to be a success story, Brinkley doesn’t rest on her laurels.
“I don’t know that I’ve ‘arrived’ yet,” she says. “Every day is a new experience with what I’m doing and it’s very, very fun and challenging. I would say about three years into my career I really started feeling like I had a good, solid handle on what it is I’m doing. After some time, you start to relax and feel a little more comfortable about what you’re trained to do.”
Brinkley’s love for hands-on crafts fills her free time, too. She crochets and plays the flute, goes on dates, and plays with her two young children.
“I’m very much a girly girl outside of work,” Brinkley says. An avid reader, Brinkley’s favorite writer is Ayn Rand and recommends a few of Rand’s books, such as “The Fountainhead,” “ Atlas Shrugged,” and “ The Virtue of Selfishness (Signet),” to women interested in reading about strong female protagonists.
Any girls interested in careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), or welding specifically, can reach out to Brinkley with questions at email@example.com .