Danielle Fenn

Spartanburg Community College

"I had found a college that would invest their time and money into my education, and all I had to do was invest in myself."

My name is Danielle Fenn. I came to Spartanburg Community College around 10 years ago and started studying nursing. Around that time, my mother got sick, so I started working all the time to try and support her. For 10 years, I was just working and trying to take care of her, and that pressure started tearing me down. I started getting on drugs and became an addict. 

I eventually got sober after landing in jail, and that was two months before she passed away. That was her dying wish — to see me sober. When she passed, I felt like I could live my life finally. Don’t get me wrong — I love my mom, but while I was taking care of her, I felt like I was drowning and not living my own life.

I had always worked in restaurants and in mills — double shifts at Hamrick Mills and as shift leader at two different Subways — but I realized I wanted to do something more with my life. And that’s how I got back into school.

Why did you decide to go to a technical college?

My mom was a doctor of psychology and taught college classes, and my dad was a truck driver. He ended up making more money than my mother did. So I was like, “Okay, let’s go for a technical field.” Even in my senior year of high school in Florida, I signed up to learn massage therapy at a local technical college because I wanted to have a job to support myself while I was going to college. So technical college was always in my plans.

When I came to Spartanburg Community College, it was because I felt they were people who would accept me as I was. As a 31-year-old woman trying to change her life, it felt a little more accepting. And my favorite part was that they told me that if I kept my grades above a C average, the government was willing to invest in my schooling [through the Workforce Scholarships for the Future program] and pay for school. I had found a college that would invest their time and money into my education, and all I had to do was invest in myself and my education.

How did you decide to get into welding?

I’m still figuring it out, but I eventually want to start my own welding business and work on oil rigs or do underwater welding. 

I like the challenge of showing the boys I can do it, too. I can be like, “I don’t care if I’m a girl. I can do it better than  you.” That extra bit of challenge — of being a welder that looks like me — makes it interesting to me. I’m fighting for a place in my field and fighting for respect from people who might not want to talk to me because I appear ignorant about the subject. 

I also like the feeling of making good welds. It’s a challenge, and you have to have a steady hand. It’s like trying to color in between the lines, while you’re holding up a gun with a heavy rope attached, having to move it all in a straight line while looking through a dark helmet. If you don’t do it perfectly, you’re not going to do a good weld. Plus, I really like the welds I get from TIG welding. They have chameleon colors when you do it right. It’s really pretty.

What are your instructors like?

In my first semester, I was doing a plate weld for a test. My teacher looked at it, and it was a 100. But he told me to turn it around and do my welds again. I was like, “What?” But I did them again, and he docked me two points, so it was a 98 instead of a 100.

I think he was trying to show me that you can’t be too cocky, that you’ve always got room for improvement. I was like, “Aw, you knocked me down a notch, but I appreciate it.”

It sounds like the people you met through SCC tried to push you to have success.

Yes, they were so helpful, even when I dropped out of school because of COVID. Even after I got better, I had respiratory problems. Now, I’m a welder, and I work in a mill as a weaver, so there’s a lot of fibers and fumes in what I do. When I went to the doctor, they said I needed to take the stress out of my life or I was going to die.

At the time, I was working 12-hour shifts and going from school to work, five days a week. On the weekends, I was just studying. So to get rid of the stress, I quit my job and I quit school. It took me a while to get better, and when I got my clean bill of health, I wanted to get back into school.

When I quit, I didn’t do it the best way. I was so scared, I didn’t call my teacher or anyone. But SCC welcomed me back. I told them what happened, and they were completely understanding. They told me exactly what I needed to get back into school — it was so easy.

You’ve been through a lot to get to where you are. What are you the proudest of?

I’m most proud that I finally applied myself to school, and that I’ve got straight A’s. In high school, I was a decent student, but I never tried. Now, I’m finding out that I’m a go-getter. I never noticed it until I needed to do things myself, but I get it now.