‘Now Look at Me’: Dutton Fulfills Her Promise in Sandburg Welding Program

  Aaron Frey
  Friday, March 26, 2021 5:44 PM
  Campus News

Galesburg, IL

During her senior year at United High School, one of Lexi Dutton’s classes went around the room and each student said what they were excited to learn about. Dutton responded that she was going to graduate early, attend Carl Sandburg College and learn to weld.

The teacher didn’t believe her.

“It made me mad. It just irritated my soul that they didn't believe me,” Dutton said. “I knew what they were doing. They were just pushing me. But when they told me that I wouldn't do it, I was like, I'm going to go get my welding degree.”

She’ll make good on that promise to herself this May when she graduates from Sandburg with her American Welding Society Level 1 certificate.

“This was one of the best experiences I've ever had,” Dutton said. “I love Sandburg. I've never felt more at home at a school. I'm going to remember college for the rest of my life.”

The Little York native said she had long planned to go to Sandburg because “it was the closest to my house,” but knowing she could attend college for next to nothing through the Sampson Promise program made her decision even easier. 

Sampson Promise is a financial assistance program available to Sandburg students who are recent graduates of United or Monmouth-Roseville high schools or were home-schooled in those districts. It covers a percentage of a student’s tuition at Sandburg, based on their length of attendance at the Warren County schools. Students who spend their entire K-12 education there can have their full tuition covered. A similar program, Galesburg Promise, is available to graduates in Galesburg District 205.

“I 100 percent believe that most of my friends wouldn't have gone to college if it wasn't for Sampson Promise,” Dutton said. “Sampson Promise motivates people that don't have the funds to go to school, so I think that's awesome. It's a great thing.”

Dutton first got interested in welding about three years ago while working on a demolition derby car. One of the things that caught her attention was the money welders can make. The median pay in 2019 for welders, cutters, solderers and brazers was $42,490 per year ($20.43 per hour), according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“That’s a good head-turner,” said Dutton, who described welding as “sewing with fire.”

Still, when she arrived at Sandburg, she didn’t even know how to turn the machine on. A lot has changed for her in less than a year of learning under instructor Ian Milligan.

“It’s been so magical,” Dutton said. “I had no idea what MIG was. I didn't know what oxyacetylene welding was. I learned about all of that stuff so quickly, and it's so easy to catch on to. It's amazing that we don't have a million welders in the world, honestly.”

While women make up just 5 percent of the workforce in the welding industry, according to the organization Women Who Weld, Dutton said she’s never felt out of place at Sandburg while learning a trade that has long had a wide gender gap. Now she’ll even send Milligan photos when she spots things out in the world that are poorly welded, insisting she could have done a better job.

“Now that I'm running my own machine,” Dutton said, “honestly, all it does is make me look cool.”

Dutton is uncertain what her future holds after graduating this spring, but she knows she’ll have plenty of options available to her after learning an in-demand trade. She’s thought about working at Midstate Manufacturing in Galesburg, and she’s had interest from John Deere about working there. At the very least, she’ll be able to say, “I told you so.”

“It all started because someone told me, ‘No, I don’t think you should do that because you’re a girl,’” Dutton said. “Now look at me.”

To learn more about Sandburg’s welding program, contact the Carl Sandburg College Welcome Center at 309.345.3500 or welcomecenter@sandburg.edu.

Lexi Dutton

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Aaron Frey