Sparking Creativity

Kris Albro, ’17, can take the heat. The 32-year-old graduate has worn a variety of hats ranging from firefighter to F-16 Air Force mechanic and bodybuilder to automotive shop co-owner. Now, she sports a 3M Speedglas welding hood.

“The spectrum of what you can accomplish in the welding industry is so big. It’s not your father’s welder anymore. It’s a very different culture in a different playing field. And women are welcome 100%.”

When Albro returned to civilian life following a three-year career in the U.S. Air Force, she discovered that she missed the military mindset, so she enrolled in The Citadel’s veteran day program, where she majored in criminal justice with a minor in intelligence and homeland security. “The biggest thing is to get your degree,” she says, “because that teaches you so much.” The Citadel helped her develop her patience, open-mindedness and leadership skills, and now she’s in her element when she’s mentoring others.

After graduating, she became a co-owner of an automotive repair shop before her artistic yearnings led her on the path to a career in welding. She credits Arclabs Welding School in Hanahan for honing her welding skills in both utilitarian and artistic fabrication.

Albro had spent two years fabricating for a light fixture company when she received a call from her former Arclabs instructor, who told her it was time to come home and teach. “Teaching, like most things in my life,” she says, “seemed to find me somehow—somehow weasel its way into my brain.” She recently succeeded in mentoring one of her own students on his path to certification through the American Welding Society for two forms of welding.

Kris Albro, ’17, a veteran graduate and professional welder, teaches welding to high school students in Grants Pass, Oregon. Credit: Cameron Pollack / The Citadel

“He knocked it out of the park,” says Albro. “I’ve never seen anyone bloom and gain confidence and just figure it out like he has.”

Albro has always had an artistic streak. In high school, she painted with acrylics. Later, she became interested in sculpture, and today, she incorporates a variety of metals into her sculptural expertise and has been experimenting with copper in particular. She is well versed in gas metal arc welding, gas tungsten arc welding, shielded metal arc welding and flux-cored arc welding. She’ll implement whichever of these methods is most appropriate for the project. However, she most enjoys teaching shielded metal arc welding because students delight in its being “like a really big sparkler.”

In 2019, Albro started her own business, Meltdown Metal Art, where she accepts commissions to make custom art. “Time is the most difficult thing about that business—making sure you can balance work, life, a side business and give clients appropriate expect-by dates.” When projects take longer than planned, Albro recalculates and does what is needed to get the job done.

Hiccups are to be expected. One time, her mother accidentally backed her car over one of her projects. “She didn’t see it in the driveway and backed right over it.” Albro now laughs when recalling this moment because that piece of artwork, a sign, was already rather flat. Most of her nature-inspired metal work is more three-dimensional, including blooming flowers and vibrant wine toppers.

Albro’s best advice to young artists:  “When you’re frustrated, slow down. If I’m frustrated, my vision’s already cloudy for the piece because I’m angry at it, and I really don’t care about it right now because it’s making me so mad. So a lot of times, the best thing you can do is just stop, walk away for an hour or a day. Sometimes it’s been a week that I’ve had to walk away from stuff and then come back with fresh eyes to reevaluate what the problem is and how to fix it.” Albro also takes this approach to her interpersonal relationships.

She continues to be impressed and surprised with the welding communities online. True, she is on a first-name basis with industry leaders from companies like CK Worldwide, but what she finds more meaningful is the mentoring she is able to give the young people seeking her guidance. “I’ve been mentoring mostly young girls all over the country who are often in rural areas and don’t necessarily have the exposure to other females in the blue-collar industries.” She has even helped students in Europe learn how to weld via video call.

Albro’s next adventure: teaching high school welding in Oregon, a state that she had never been to before. “I was offered the job on a Thursday around 4 p.m. I flew out at 5 a.m. on Friday. I shook his hand on Sunday, agreed to take the job and put in my notice at my other job on Monday.”

She looks forward to meeting her new students and adjusting to the slightly drier climate more favorable to flux, which controls the flow of the molten metal.

Albro’s creativity keeps her on the move. This next adventure is sure to spark her passion.

Alaina Rink earned her undergraduate degree from the College of Charleston in secondary education English and taught in the Charleston area for four years. She is currently working as a graduate assistant in the Office of Communications and Marketing while pursuing a master’s degree in English.