Decorating a cake isn’t that different from welding.
At least that’s what Amanda O’Byrne, a cake decorator turned welder, likes to think.
“They are different, but at the same time, it’s about straight lines, it’s still designing stuff and there’s that instant gratification,” O’Byrne said. “You see it, you put it together and then there’s this completed object that you made.”
O’Byrne will graduate today from the Clarkston branch of Walla Walla Community College as the best welder in her class.
Originally from Spokane, O’Byrne has lived in the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley for about four and a half years. She has eight years of experience as a cake decorator and baker — a job she has always loved.
The 27-year-old got a late start on her higher education journey. She had planned to go to Eastern Washington University straight out of high school, but she didn’t know what she wanted to study.
“I figured I might as well not take out loans and spend money on an education if I wasn’t ready,” O’Byrne said. “I didn’t want to just mess around and party when that’s not really what I think education is for. If you go there, you need to learn something to better yourself, or better your community, and I just wasn’t ready.”
About three years ago, she started taking online courses for a business degree, but one day, as she drove past WWCC, she noticed a message about the welding program on the college’s readerboard. That’s when O’Byrne decided she’d give it a shot.
“I like hands-on stuff and I thought, ‘I might as well give it a go,’ ” she said. “And then I fell in love with it.”
She completed the two-year program and will be leaving WWCC with an associate’s degree in welding technology, as well as certifications in heavy structural welding.
Ideally, she’d like to build bridges and skyscrapers, which would mean she’d have to relocate out of the valley.
O’Byrne is eyeing Oregon or Seattle, but first, she needs to gain some experience outside of the classroom. She is in the process of applying for jobs in her chosen field while also working at the bakery of the Clarkston Albertsons.
Although she’s excited to start her new career, she doesn’t know if she’ll ever give up cake decorating.
“I love when you see someone’s face and they are just so happy by something so small or simple,” she said. “It makes me happy to see that.”
With a degree in hand, O’Byrne plans to take some time off to recuperate and explore the valley with her fiance, Rachelle Gill.
To put herself through school, O’Byrne had to work full-time, while being a full-time student, which often led to 13-hour days of double duty.
O’Byrne said her experience at WWCC has been nothing short of amazing. She said her instructor, Howard Holland, is an incredible welder and said he’s “by far one of the best people I’ve ever met in my life.”
“It is a smaller campus,” O’Byrne said, “but I feel like people are more personable and they have that opportunity to take that time to help you more as opposed to bigger schools.”
For those who are looking for a possible career change but are too afraid to take the jump, O’Byrne said to “just do it.”
“You never know until you try something,” she said. “I didn’t know if I was going to like (welding), but I figured I might as well give it a go. ... It doesn’t hurt to know a million things and it doesn’t hurt to try different things. It makes you a better person; you see different perspectives and you understand people in a different way.”
As she enters into a career of welding, O’Byrne will likely be a minority in the male-dominated field. But that doesn’t bother her. Holland, her instructor, always told her “the best welders are women.”
“You just have to go in, do your job, do it well and they will see that,” she said.
Tomtas may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or (208) 848-2294. Follow her on Twitter @jtomtas.
If You Go
What: Walla Walla Community College (Clarkston campus) commencement ceremony.
When: 4 p.m. today, followed by the nurses’ pinning ceremony at 5:30 p.m.
Where: Clarkston High School auditorium, 401 Chestnut St.
More information: There will be 125 graduates. No tickets are required to attend.