A Family Bonded by Welding | MillerWelds

A Family Bonded by Welding

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Mike Fontes began teaching his daughter Kory Fontes to weld when she was about 10 years old. The family was raising lambs and needed to build a pen. Now the father-daughter duo work side by side teaching the next generation of welders as instructors at Cuesta College, which has a main campus in San Luis Obispo, California, and satellite branches in Paso Robles and Arroyo Grande.
Kory and Mike
shop and classroom
welding application shot
shop environment

Mike Fontes began teaching his daughter Kory Fontes to weld when she was about 10 years old. The family was raising lambs and needed to build a pen.

Mike put a welding helmet on his young daughter and put the stick electrode in her hand. It didn’t start well — Kory remembers there were tears.

“After two times, all of a sudden it got real quiet,” Mike recalls. “The next one, she struck an arc, she welded it, she lifted her head up, she looked at me and said, ‘Dad, I got this; don’t worry about it.’ Then she took off and welded the rest of the panels. I was very proud of her.”

That early lesson laid a foundation that later flourished, when Kory realized during her college courses that welding could be a career for her.  

“I took an advanced welding class, and that was really what got me hooked on it — and really actually enjoying the process of welding,” Kory says.

Now the father-daughter duo work side by side teaching the next generation of welders as instructors at Cuesta College, which has a main campus in San Luis Obispo, California, and satellite branches in Paso Robles and Arroyo Grande.

Dynamic welding duo

Mike has taught at Cuesta College for 23 years, after spending a number of years as a welder in the industry. He studied in a two-year welding program and then attended the four-year welding technology program at California State Polytechnic University. After a few years of working in the welding industry, Mike was taking a course at Cuesta College to update his welding certificates when the instructor told him he should join the staff to teach welding.

“I said, no, I’m not a teacher,” Mike says. “But I went through the interview process, and I’ve been teaching here ever since. So it’s been a really great thing.”

Mike is one of two full-time welding instructors at Cuesta. Kory, one of seven part-time instructors for the program, is in her second year as a welding instructor at the school.

Kory took her dad’s welding classes to earn her associate degree in welding technology from Cuesta — while she was studying for her master’s degree in agricultural education from Cal Poly. Kory has a bachelor’s degree from Cal Poly in agriculture sciences and is certified to teach ag education at the high school level.

“I realized that if I want to get a job, I needed to increase my skill set,” Kory says. “I was going to Cal Poly; working two, three jobs; and I took classes here. It’s just a matter of identifying the need, finding something that you love and then just going with it.”

A few years ago, Kory began teaching welding to sixth- through ninth-graders in the “College for Kids” that Cuesta holds each summer. The College for Kids welding program is one that Kory and her older sister actually attended when they were young.

“Two of my daughters went through that program and now, lo and behold, one actually ended up teaching it,” Mike says. “So I think that’s pretty cool.”

After a few years teaching in the College for Kids, Cuesta asked Kory to join the welding program as an instructor and “come teach the big kids,” she says. That’s how dad and daughter came to teach in the same welding program.

“We’re kind of this dynamic duo around here,” Kory says. “It’s just a very unique experience.”

“It’s been great — we support each other, and it’s been a great team effort,” Mike says.

A growing program

Cuesta College offers an Associate of Science degree in welding technology, in addition to several specialization certificates and American Welding Society (AWS) certification classes. The program generally offers 13 classes among the multiple campuses and enrolls about 200 to 250 students at any given time. Cuesta students compete in numerous welding competitions and have taken home awards in the Welding Thunder and SkillsUSA events, to name just two.

A pipe welding class was added within the last several years to support the Local 403 Plumbers and Pipefitters. The program also added courses in metallurgy and welding metallurgy, and Mike teaches a welding power supply class where students learn to repair welding machines.

“We’ve added programs and we have custom tailored it to meet the needs in the area,” Mike says. “We’re grateful that we have a very robust program to cover quite a bit of information.”

Cuesta’s welding classrooms are stocked with plenty of Miller® equipment, including XMT® 350 multiprocess machines and Dynasty® machines for TIG welding.

Kory has also been working on increasing outreach to high schools in the area, and hopes to specifically recruit more female students into welding.

“I have four women in my beginning welding class and I’m consistently encouraging them. I think I could help develop a passion in some of these young kids,” Kory says. “I’ve really taken to the college kids, and I enjoy their motivation and their drive and their enthusiasm for the subject.”

It’s enough to make a dad proud.