When Merri Stafford was ready to make a career change in 2011, she explored MCC’s welding classes.
“I’ve always liked to work with my hands, but I haven’t had the opportunity until now,” said Merri, 37. “Not only did MCC have the biggest and best welding department out there, but my folks attended MCC and have always been pro-community college, for the price and for professors who care.”
Her parents, Larry and Kathy Stafford, graduated from MCC in 1967 as members of MCC’s second graduating class. At that time, Mesa operated as an extension campus of Phoenix College on Main Street in Mesa. The Staffords remember attending classes there and in various places around Mesa while the Southern and Dobson campus was being built. Larry had an electronics class at a nearby mortuary. Their commencement was held at Rendezvous Park in Mesa.
“We always encouraged our kids to begin their education at a community college,” Kathy said. “We loved MCC. The teachers were more accessible and it’s a good first step into college. Once you earn that associate’s degree, they can’t take that away.”
Kathy remembers the college’s dirt parking lot at Southern and Dobson, often causing her to attend classes in muddy shoes.
“It rained a lot that winter,” Kathy said. “One time when I was driving my dad’s old Buick, I lost the muffler in the parking lot and went back and found I had run over it in the mud.”
Kathy said it felt classy when all the classes moved to the Southern and Dobson Campus. After graduating with their associate’s degrees, Kathy and Larry went on to attend Arizona State University. Kathy graduated with a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education and Larry took electronics classes.
Fast forward to 2012, daughter Merri received a certificate in welding from MCC and industry credentials from AWS (American Welding Society) in GTAW (gas tungsten arc welding) and GMAW (gas metal arc welding). She recently accepted a TIG welder position with Sytech in Spokane, Washington.
“I enjoyed learning a trade and having teachers who wanted you to succeed, as opposed to just punching a clock,” Merri said. “I liked that there were professors who are still working in the industry because they provided me with information on what employers are looking for and prepared me for the job market.”
While at MCC, Merri was invited by welding faculty Robert Holmes to assist in creating a new campus sculpture by artist and MCC alumnus Geoff Coppola. The sculpture, named AllisOneenOsillA, symbolizes the unity and dedication of students and educators to innovation and creativity in science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM).
Merri said it was fun to be involved in the sculpture, which is composed of 2,600 ceramic blocks and weighs 1.1 ton.
“I like doing artistic work,” Merri said. “I’m not artistic, but this allows me to be.”
Her parents are proud of her work.
“When we graduated, I never thought we’d have a daughter who would be part of the creation of a permanent fixture on campus.”
The Stafford family continues to return to MCC for further education in various fields. After completing her welding classes, Merri returned to MCC and earned a certificate in AutoCAD (a design tool used primarily by engineers and architects) in 2016.
Larry, who has always been a hobby welder, recently returned to MCC.
“Merri enjoyed her welding classes so much, I decided to go take a couple classes,” Larry said, chuckling.