he welding program at the River Parishes Community College Technical College Gonzales Campus awarded the first female apprenticeship on Thursday, April 26, at a joint meeting of students and the American Welding Society. Kaitlyn Purpera of Sunshine was awarded the first ever apprenticeship that targets women in industry.

Purpera said it's amazing to be selected for this honor, and the pressure is definitely on for her to shine. She received scholarships through the American Welding Society and Zachry, meaning her education is now entirely paid for.

Welding instructor Jeremy Whittemore said everyone at RPCC is incredibly proud of Purpera and her accomplishments. He said the apprenticeship is awarded by Zachry through BASF.

"The two of them have partnered up with our college, and they wanted to focus on welding apprenticeships and solely on women because there's such a need and a push for women in welding and industry right now," said Whittemore.

Purpera currently works two days a week at Zachry, and she spends the rest of her time in school finishing her education. Whittemore added that the school is happy to work with students to help them finish their degrees while earning a salary as well.

"She's able to take advantage of all the opportunities both in the field and practical and then come back and learn all the theory and fundamentals and what we can offer her," said Whittemore.

Purpera said being able to get both theoretical and practical experience helps her in the long run. She said in her line of work, hands on learning is more effective in helping her master the skills she will need throughout her career.

"I'm able to sit in the classroom and know from experience what they're talking about and vice versa," said Purpera.

Purpera said the hands on experience she is able to get while still in school is priceless. She said the value of getting to know the people she works with and building relationships is hard to put into words because in the field, those are her brothers.

"I'm proud to say I'm a plant worker. I'm proud to say this is who I work with because they're so great," said Purpera. "They took me under their wing. They're really showing me the ropes."

Purpera noted that being a woman in a male-dominated field comes with added pressure. She said she wants to show other girls who are interested in the field that they can achieve great things too.

"I'm thinking about all the little girls out there who want to do this..." said Purpera. "For me, the pressure is paving a path for that little girl."

Purpera works hard and strives for perfection, and it has certainly paid off. She said anything is possible if you put your all into what you want to achieve.

"It just all depends on what you want out of life," said Purpera. "You strive for greatness, you sacrifice, you put everything you've got on the line, then you'll get the reward."

The award was handed out at the second annual student night for the welding program. Whittemore said he started the the student appreciation night because he wanted to focus on the students.

"I want to focus on the students, and I want to show them how much we appreciate them," said Whittemore. "Because without them, we don't have a job."

Whittemore added that it's not just about students who are currently enrolled in the program. It's also about showing off the brand new facility to prospective students. Whittemore, who also serves as the chairman of the Baton Rouge section of the American Welding Society, gave a presentation on the welding program and the career opportunities that come with it.

April is National Welding Month. Whittemore said he wants to highlight that and draw attention not only to the program at RPCC, but also to the field and what it has to offer. For more information on the welding program and all the opportunities at the school, visit rpcc.edu.