Overcoming Learning Obstacles Through the Power of Welding

This article appeared in the July 2, 2019, issue of the student newsletter.

Take a person who has a passion for art and enjoys working with his hands, and you have a great recipe for a future welder.

The question often asked, however, is “How do I get started?” Thanks to DCCCD’s Guided Pathways to Success model, a Mountain View student can take welding classes, along with the required core credits needed, and earn an associate degree.

Meet Jonathan Sessoms. As a senior in high school interested in welding as an art form, Jonathan had two things on his mind — going to college and pursuing a career doing something he enjoyed. After enrolling at MVC, the path to success was laid out for him with the exception of one problem: Jonathan battles with dyslexia.

Dyslexia is a disability that is neurobiological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. So, tasks that many of us take for granted, such as reading, writing or comprehension, become daily roller coaster rides of confusion and frustration.

But Jonathan wasn’t about to let difficulties in the classroom slow him down. Instead, he used them as motivation.

“I was really worried about going into the workforce, knowing I didn’t want to get stuck behind a desk,” Jonathan said. “Once I got comfortable after my first welding class, I felt energized to try and do things nobody else had done.”

Meanwhile, classes such as English 1310 and others were a struggle, but not without success. Jonathan explained, “In my English class, my problem was I would look at words and they would flip around, and if they didn't flip around I would get thrown off by the lines on the page and my eyes would skip around.”

Jonathan’s spark came thanks in large part to instructor Robertus van der Wege. An experienced welder and designer, van der Wege also deals with dyslexia. He recently gave a TEDx presentation on overcoming his own struggles with it.

“Jonathan picked up on the lessons, felt confident in talking to me about his classroom experiences, and showed some pretty good ideas early on,” van der Wege said. “He wanted to do noncliché items and had a pretty creative mind all on his own.” As time went on, the two bonded and decide to raise the bar of success a bit higher. Really high.

Then came a competition that ultimately gave Jonathan’s artistic talents some well-deserved attention. The League for Innovation in the Community College is an international organization dedicated to catalyzing the community college art movement. A Student Art Competition enables students to compete with their peers across North America. The first stage in the competition is a local, juried exhibition and competition of works by art students from the seven DCCCD colleges.

With classes going well and plenty of encouraging supporters, Jonathan decided to tackle the League for Innovation competition and create a piece. In a competition dominated by paintings, the 21-year-old decided to weld what would turn out to be his finest piece yet. With instructor van der Wege pushing him on, Jonathan created “Cosmos.”

“I sat there for a couple of hours looking at these rings I had left over from a project,” Jonathan said. “I played around with these rings for about three hours trying to figure out what I could do. I eventually found something I liked by drawing it out. I placed the pieces on the table and liked it. It took about four days to make from start to finish.”

Four days of work turned into the accomplishment of a lifetime, with Jonathan winning MVC honors and advancing on to the second round of the League for Innovation competition. The next round takes place in January 2020, with winners from each of the seven DCCCD colleges competing against each other for a chance to advance to the national level. 

As for Jonathan, he has one more class to finish before becoming eligible for his associate degree. After that, he expects to pursue further art programs or join a trade school for plumbing. 

In the end, Jonathan has one message he lives by — one that has helped him find tremendous success. 

“Don’t doubt yourself, and if you want to try something, just go do it,” Jonathan said. “It’s trial and error, but everyone has their own thing. You just have to go find it.”