As a Gaithersburg High School sophomore in late-’60s Maryland, Becky Lorenz didn’t want to take home economics with the other girls — she wanted to weld with the boys. So she circulated a petition and staged a successful sit-down strike outside the principal’s office.
“I actually took welding all of the rest of my time in high school,” the machinist and NASA-trained welder, now 63.
Lorenz, who teaches welding at Frederick Community College and Montgomery College and founded the “woman owned and operated company” Aerospace Welding Services, LLC about five years ago, faced the expected setbacks over five decades in a 96% male industry: sexual harassment, being admonished as unladylike for cursing and earning less at times than her male peers, for example.
“I think my work speaks for itself, you know?” Lorenz said. “It took a lot of years of trying… being dedicated and being stubborn and just keeping my nose to the grindstone and not allowing myself to give up.”
That is an understatement – Lorenz has continued welding through interferon therapy for hepatitis C, chemotherapy for uterine cancer and her ongoing fatigue from lupus and fibromyalgia — in part, she said, because she doesn’t want to be perceived as weaker than her male peers. “I don’t want to be seen as less than any other welder,” she said. “I push myself pretty hard … I rest when I can, and I keep going.” Plus, welding is a labor of love: “I love the art of it … It’s beautiful,” she said. “It’s like every day is the Fourth of July.”
Lorenz, a self-dubbed “welding advocate,” frets that her profession is “aging out” and urges more young people to enter the field. “We need to encourage men and women, but women make very good welders because women have that eye to detail, and patience (and hand-eye coordination),” she said.
All told, Lorenz believes she’s succeeded “because I really won’t take any crap from anybody.” “You have to be that way if you’re in a male-dominated field. You can’t be a shrinking violet,” she said. “You have to stay focused — you can’t let either a person or an illness or life get in the way of your goal.”
She lives by her own punny slogan. “If you’re going to do it,” she says, “do it weld.”