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Regina Santaniello teaching welding students.

Forging Ahead – A Career in Welding

After finding success in the traditionally male-dominated field, Regina Santaniello hopes to inspire and guide other young women

By Anne Denogean, External Relations

In the early 2000s, Regina Santaniello found herself a single mom of a newborn baby and looking for a career to support them. New to Tucson, she asked a female friend, “How do you make money in this town?”

The friend’s response was succinct and surprising: “welding!” And how could Regina learn to weld? “Take welding classes at Pima Community College,” the friend, a Pima machining student, told her.

There began Regina’s journey from Pima welding student to Pima graduate to working in the field and then returning to Pima this fall as a provisional full-time faculty member. Her story is a testament to her dedication and to the unwavering support she received from Pima faculty and staff.

As a young adult, Regina was working in New York City as a waitress and taking music classes at the State University of New York. During visits to her parents, who had moved to Tucson in 1998 from the state of Washington, Regina “fell in love with the mountains and just the mellowness of Tucson compared to Queens.”
Regina moved to Tucson in 2001. She initially sought waitressing jobs, hoping to replicate the income she had earned in New York City establishments. However, Regina soon realized, "I wasn't going to make $1,000 a week as a waitress."

She explored other career options, including becoming a certified nurse’s assistant. But her employment in nursing homes ended when she became pregnant. She was let go because her employer decided her small stature and pregnancy made her a health risk, particularly as she moved or lifted patients.

Regina Santaniello Headshot
Regina Santaniello
Photo by Joshua Lamoreaux, External Relations

By 2004, Regina was supporting herself and now two children as she had begun fostering a teen-ager that she encountered while working in a youth group home. She was ready for more training that would improve her financial prospects. She sought the guidance of Pima’s advisors, who helped her apply for financial aid and plan her schedule toward a degree in welding.

"When I made my appointments, they were so helpful,” Regina said. “I felt like I could ask them a million questions, and they always answered.”

Regina juggled classes, full-time work and motherhood. Pima’s flexible schedule, supportive instructors and on-campus childcare helped her manage the load.

After just a year of studies, she was able to obtain a welding job. She later became a welding lab tech at Pima and enrolled her son in the childcare center at Downtown Campus, which meant she could eat lunch with him on the grassy mall and quickly pick him up after she finished work or classes (Pima currently offers childcare at the Desert Vista Early Learning Center and has grants for subsidized childcare).

Regina earned her Associate Degree of Applied Science (welding) in 2007. But she wasn’t done yet. Then-lead welding lead faculty Ken Bice and then-Dean Terry Forster encouraged here to enroll in the 90/30-degree program at Eastern New Mexico University (ENMU). She earned her bachelor’s degree in occupational education and her teaching certificate in 2011 from ENMU, with all her credits from Pima transferring toward the degree.

“If they hadn't mentioned it, I probably would have just settled for where I was,” she said.

"What Pima and this journey taught me was how to become resilient"..~ Regina Santaniello

Regina worked in the field, taught welding at Cholla High School, entered welding sales and taught welding as an adjunct at Pima. This fall, she became a full-time provisional faculty member at Pima, which long had been her goal.

“What Pima and this journey taught me was how to become resilient. It was tough but I didn’t give up because I had a support team, especially at Pima, keeping me going because they kept telling me ‘you can do this,’” Regina said.

When reflecting on her unique path, Regina emphasized the importance of humility and learning from experienced professionals in a field that is both traditionally male-dominated and skews toward older workers. Those workers have a wealth of knowledge that they are happy to share.

She advises her students to be humble and to listen more than they talk: “We prepare you to get into entry level jobs, but the welding industry will teach you how to be a welder.”

Regina especially hopes to inspire her female students by sharing own experiences. Don’t go in with a chip on your shoulder, she advises them. “The men in the industry, given the opportunity to teach and having someone want to learn from them, they really like that. I have had such great teachers in the industry.”

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