Renee Saloka

Renee Found Her Niche in Welding

When Renee Saloka moved to Decatur a few years ago, she was not sure what she wanted to do for a career. She’d completed some college and had worked at a naval shipyard in Virginia as a welding inspector when a friend suggested she look into the welding program at Richland Community College. With only two weeks until school was to begin, Renee feared she wouldn’t be able to get the funding in time to begin classes.

“I talked to Mrs. (Tricia) Cordulack and said I can’t afford college on my own and I’m not able to get financial aid. She found all these scholarships — she really helped me out. We were able to sign up that day and two weeks later I started,” explained Renee.

As part of the welding degree program, Richland students are required to complete a special project and Renee, now very close to receiving her degree, was given the opportunity to help design and create a replica of a human eye that will eventually become a walk-through exhibit at the Children’s Museum of Illinois. Dr. John Lee, a local ophthalmologist, approached Richland Community College with the idea to build an eyeball that would be seven feet wide by seven feet tall.

“We all started collaborating — what are we going to do, how are we going to make this. We started slowly building it and you can see the progress.  We’re near completion. I just need to do a little bit more welding on it and then we’re going to put it in the Children’s Museum and you can walk in and out and you can learn about the eye. I plan on going to see it whenever it’s there [at the Children’s Museum]. I’m going to look at it and say ‘I built that.’ That’s kinda cool.”

Though welding isn’t typically a female-dominated career, Renee has proven that this is a job that anyone can do regardless of gender. The instructors have been very encouraging about her progress through the program. She praises the welcoming staff for helping her feel comfortable when starting the program.

“It doesn’t matter what your background is, as soon as you come into that door, you’re all welders. I absolutely encourage other women to get into the welding program. Just because you’re a woman doesn’t mean you can’t be a welder.”

“I’m hoping that, like when I was a welding inspector, I can weld on submarines and carriers. I want to be doing something important for my community or even my country.”

Shortly after completing her spotlight video, Renee secured a welding position at Caterpillar, even before she completed her degree.