Automotive students get taste of life in field

(HARLINGEN, Texas) – Texas State Technical College Automotive Technology students are getting a feel for what it will be like in the shop.

With TSTC going to online classes, the students enrolled in the program are now working remotely. According to lead instructor Miguel Zoleta, this could be what students experience in the workforce.

“The remote learning will be difficult for the students since this is an 80 percent hands-on course,” Zoleta said. “There will be online or remote learning out in the field. As technicians in dealerships, future graduates are going to be learning via online training.”

Zoleta said students will attend course lectures, which account for 20 percent of the course, during online classes.

“They will also do online tests and quizzes, as well as online training videos on equipment they are using in their course,” he said.

With remote learning, Zoleta will not be able to spotlight the program for prospective students. But he knows that the TSTC recruiting team will work to inform students.

“Throughout this time that we will be working remotely, our enrollment coaches and recruitment team are also coming up with new ideas to attract new students,” he said.

Technology is also being used to promote the program to prospective students, Zoleta said.

“We have made presentations and PowerPoints to advertise our program,” he said. “This material can be sent to prospective students via email to help attract them to our program.”

TSTC offers an Associate of Applied Science degree, as well as an Automotive Technician certificate. Zoleta said the program can lead directly to jobs, especially at local dealerships.

“There is a large demand for automotive technicians. With an associate degree, students can work either in the gasoline industry or in the diesel industry as this industry is growing at a really fast pace,” he said.

With many people not leaving their homes due to COVID-19, Zoleta said vehicles should be routinely checked.

“A walk-around inspection every morning should be done just to make sure their tires are in good condition and properly inflated,” he said. “People should also check under the hood to make sure all fluid levels are within specification and the drive belt is in good condition.”

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Tovar overcomes obstacles to find welding career

(HARLINGEN, Texas) – Nacona Tovar did not expect to have a career in welding like his father. But as an adult, something changed, and he picked up his own welding torch.

After receiving his welding certification from Texas State Technical College in December, Tovar was hired by BNSF Railway in Fort Worth. Someday he would like to return to TSTC to work on an Associate of Applied Science degree.

A native of Sebastian, Tovar, 20, and his family moved to Harlingen when he was four. He learned to work at an early age by “picking whatever was grown in the fields behind his house.”

When he was seven, Tovar said he began playing football and after practice would help his father when he was in his shop.

“I would help him with whatever he was welding together,” he said. “I picked up on what he was doing and continued to do that as a kid.”

Tovar originally wanted to follow in his mother’s footsteps by going to medical school.

“I was going to do physical therapy because my mom was in the medical field,” he said. “My dad did not want us (Tovar and his three older brothers) to be welders. I do not know what really happened, but I turned back to welding.”

All four Tovar brothers are now welders.

Tovar said his first college choice did not offer a welding program. He turned to TSTC and with financial aid started taking classes.

He is no stranger to doing things on his own. At the age of 16, Tovar lived by himself, including two months in his truck, before starting college.

“Compared to some of the other kids I know, I had a drive no one else seemed to have,” he said. “I went out on my own and had to pay my way.”

Tovar said “it hurt” to live in his truck, but “I am on my feet now.”

He said the TSTC faculty and staff helped him during his time in school. He said his goal is to fine-tune his craft with more classes.

Tovar can see the difference in his welding since finishing his TSTC coursework. It is all thanks to his instructors at TSTC.

“My dad taught me the simple things. The old-timers thought that if it held together really good, they were done,” he said. “I actually learned in school that there is a lot more to it.”

Tovar said his instructors were more than just educators.

“I have become really good friends with them. I can still call my instructors and ask for help,” he said. “That is what I like about TSTC. People will still help you.”

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New TSTC Electrical Lineworker Technology Pole Lab Taking Shape in Harlingen

(HARLINGEN, Texas) – More than 40 poles have been installed at Texas State Technical College’s outdoor lab for the new Electrical Lineworker Technology program to debut this fall in Harlingen.

The program is benefiting from the construction of the 12-acre, 100-pole yard at the corner of Rio Hondo Road and 29th Street. Eric Carithers, TSTC’s statewide department chair for distribution and industrial electrical systems, said another 60 poles will be installed before the fall semester begins in August.

Carithers said the program’s two instructors will install wiring and crossarms and do other work to get the outdoor lab ready for students. Instructors will use the program’s new lift truck and bucket truck to do the work.

“We do have materials in the process of being ordered right now,” Carithers said.

TSTC’s program is projected to have 40 students in the first cohort. The students will work toward an Associate of Applied Science degree in Electrical Lineworker Technology or an Electrical Lineworker certificate.

The program’s students will also work toward a commercial learner’s permit, and eventually a Class A commercial driver’s license, in two semesters of the program. Victor E. Blalack III, TSTC’s executive director of Strategic Partnerships, Workforce Training and Continuing Education in Harlingen, said students’ work will be a combination of online and instructor-led training during the first semester.

“The second semester is broken into four, two-week driving sessions, and at the end of a two-week session, that student will be ready to take their maneuvering skills and road examination,” Blalack said. “Upon successful completion of the skills and road test, a Class A CDL will be awarded.”

The need for electrical power-line installers and repairers is projected to grow to about 128,900 jobs through 2028, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The agency predicts population growth in cities will spur the increase in employment.

Texas had more than 11,400 electrical power-line installers and repairers as of May 2018, according to the federal agency. Cameron County had 130 workers earning an annual mean wage of $56,660 in 2018.

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Zoerner sees opportunities for wind energy students

(HARLINGEN, Texas) – One job need that is not going away anytime soon is that of wind energy technician.

Texas State Technical College Wind Energy Technology instructor Patrick Zoerner said that in light of today’s headlines, more people may look to change careers.

“I think what is happening today (with COVID-19) will open up everybody’s eyes,” Zoerner said. “People will be asking themselves, ‘Is this what I want to be doing (careerwise)?’”

The Harlingen campus offers a two-year associate of applied science curriculum in Wind Energy Technology and a three-semester certificate program for wind energy technicians.

“I think we will have a good influx of students coming this fall,” Zoerner said. “I think that it, along with the lineman program we are starting, will be good for the local workforce.”

Zoerner always tells new students they will need to have thick skin to work inside a wind turbine cell. But he also preaches safety “first and foremost.”

“This is not for the faintest of hearts. It is going to be hard work,” he said. “You are going to have to work in the heat. It could be up to 160 degrees in the cell at the top.”

With TSTC temporarily moving to remote classes at this time, Zoerner said current students will have several tasks to complete online, including researching wind energy companies.

He said most of the students had completed climbing requirements prior to this semester.

“It has been a lot of refresher stuff this semester,” Zoerner said of tower climbs. “I had them climb to allow them to go through the cycle on a routine basis. It (the extended spring break) should not really affect us.”

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Davila helping fellow veterans at TSTC

(HARLINGEN, Texas) – Cristobal Davila served his country for eight years. Today, he is helping veterans transition to civilian life at Texas State Technical College.

On a daily basis, Davila, who is a Department of Veterans Affairs school certifying official at TSTC’s Harlingen campus, processes college applications, as well as showing veterans how to apply for GI Bill benefits.

Davila is no stranger to TSTC. After serving three years in the U.S. Army and five years in the Army Reserve, Davila attended TSTC, earning an associate degree in Business Management and a certificate in Automotive Technology.

He said after serving in the military, he knew he had to transition to civilian life.

“I was going to go to school for my future and to provide for my family,” he said. “When I got out of the service, I had no idea what I was going to do. When I had my kids, I knew that I needed to go back to school for them. It was not just about me anymore.”

Davila is now sharing his TSTC story with other veterans. He is noticing a trend in the fields veterans are looking at as a new career.

“They are wanting to go to the technical side of the workforce. Things like cybersecurity, welding and architecture,” he said. “That is just what I have seen from the students I have helped.”

Since he is both a veteran and a TSTC graduate, Davila said it is easy to talk to former service members about going to school.

“It is good to be around my peers. A veteran knows a veteran,” he said. “People know that I understand what they might have gone through. I think it is easier for them to open up to me because I am a veteran.”

Davila said working in TSTC’s Veteran Services department helps fulfill something he has missed since leaving the military.

“I do miss the camaraderie with my fellow service members. I like to hear some of the stories from the combat veterans when they come in,” he said.

Davila said his new position gives him the chance to do something special on a daily basis.

“I like the fact that we have the Veterans Center for them. We have them covered when they are looking to work in the civilian world,” he said.

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TSTC grad passes education values on to his son

(HARLINGEN, Texas) – Harlingen’s Juan Garcia knows the value of an education. He passed that value on to his son, who is now attending Texas State Technical College.

Garcia obtained his GED through TSTC and was thankful the college staff showed him different career options. But he did not stop after earning his first associate degree.

“They guided me each step of the way. They showed me the different programs that were available at TSTC,” he recalled of his first time attending TSTC in 2000-01.

Garcia took advantage of one of those programs and earned a certificate in Automotive Technology.

“Two years later, I received an associate degree in Automotive Technology because I wanted to become an instructor at TSTC,” Garcia said.

Then something changed. Garcia was introduced to the world of machining.

He returned to TSTC and earned both a certificate and an Associate of Applied Science degree in Precision Machining. Prior to his graduating in 2015, Delta Centrifugal Casting in Temple offered him a job.

Even at work, Garcia has not stopped educating himself.

“I have cross-trained to move myself up at Delta,” he said. “Today, I run the stock area at our facility.”

His TSTC instructor, Isaac Gonzalez, knew Garcia would be a good fit at Delta.

“I spoke with him at an event, and he was interested in what the machine shop was. After that, he loved the fact that if he thought of it, he could make it,” Gonzalez said. “The thing that got him was that Delta is a great company, and all of the students there felt at home. With Juan, Delta loved his commitment and hard work, and that led to his promotions. As instructors, this means that we are teaching the right things — that students can start from the bottom and with hard work you can climb the ladder.”

Garcia credited TSTC for preparing him for the workforce, which in turn has led him to personal milestones.

“I signed off on my house, and that was awesome,” he said. “I would not have succeeded if it were not for all of my instructors and everyone at TSTC.”

Garcia is proud that his 19-year-old son, Juan Alexander Garcia, continued the family tradition at TSTC. The younger Garcia is currently taking classes in digital imaging at the Harlingen campus.

“I have always told him that education should be the first step. Every parent preaches that to their children,” Juan Garcia said. “I am watching him work toward success. In the end, I know that he is going to see the results that TSTC has done for me.”

Juan Alexander Garcia said watching his father take classes motivated him.

“I wanted to make a better life for myself and my family,” he said of the decision to attend TSTC. “I watched my dad taking classes, and I knew that I wanted to do the same thing.”

The younger Garcia is finishing his second semester at TSTC, and he already knows what he wants to pursue.

“I plan to open a photo studio so that I can teach other people,” he said. “I want to inspire people to see things from a different perspective.”

Like his father, Juan Alexander Garcia said the TSTC faculty and staff have helped him on a daily basis.

“Everyone is very responsive and willing to help you. TSTC is a great place to go to school,” he said.

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TSTC Cybersecurity Program: Make It Difficult for Hackers to Get Information During COVID-19 Crisis

(MARSHALL, Texas) – As East Texans adapt to an uncertain future of self-isolation and businesses reducing hours or temporarily closing, online shopping is becoming the way for consumers to acquire what they want.

And for those people who do not shop online much, they could be a prime target for scammers.

“From a security perspective, the most important thing a consumer can do is make it difficult to get their information,” said Amy Hertel, an instructor in Texas State Technical College’s Cybersecurity program in Marshall. “Most consumer hackers will give up quickly if challenged.”

Hertel said people should use a “defense in depth” approach to create multiple layers of security. She recommends consumers follow cybercrime and security journalist/blogger Brian Krebs’ three rules: If you did not look for it, do not install it; update what you have installed; and if you no longer need it, get rid of it.  She added to Krebs’ guidelines: If it seems too good to be true, it is.

Hertel said people should have an active antivirus system and a software firewall, along with a secure home network.

“Put a password on your router and wireless networks, and hide them from anyone that might be driving by,” she said. “Make sure your router is encrypting your network traffic so your usernames, passwords and banking information are scrambled and cannot be seen.”

In 2018, the Better Business Bureau received more than 28,000 complaints and at least 10,000 scam reports nationwide related to online shopping.

“With identity theft, there is never a 100 percent guarantee that it will happen to you, but there are things you can do not to become a victim,” said Mechele Agbayani Mills, president and chief executive officer of the bureau’s Central East Texas office in Tyler.

The bureau recommends consumers do online research before making purchases through social media and websites. The agency advises to research sellers, use a credit card for secure online payments, take time to think about purchases and keep documentation of all orders.

Mills said consumers should be aware of fake websites, malware and clickbait when perusing the internet. She said not to shop when using Wi-Fi hotspots because they are not secure.

“If a hacker is in the vicinity, they might have access to your information,” she said.

Mills said consumers should utilize locally-owned stores as much as possible.

“You can verify the legitimacy a little better, and when you go there, you are supporting the local economy,” she said.

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Safety a Top Priority in TSTC Welding Technology Program in Waco

(WACO, Texas) – In Texas State Technical College’s Welding Technology program, the issue of safety is as hot as the sparks flying off welding torches.

The program has an orientation during the first semester before classes start for students to learn how to prevent injury to the hands and eyes, along with other topics, said Carl Wilmeth, lead instructor in TSTC’s Welding Technology program in Waco.

The students take safety quizzes to see what they know before they begin welding. And, they learn how to do a job-safety analysis used to describe problems and hazards before lab work begins.

Wilmeth said the program simulates as closely as possible what happens in the welding industry regarding health and safety.

“By the second semester, we are hammering them real hard on safety,” he said.

Mark Wilfert, an instructor in TSTC’s Occupational Safety Compliance Technology program in Waco, said the work of welders is guided by separate general industry and construction industry regulations set forth by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The regulations are taught in two classes that students take in the OSCT program.

Wilfert said people who do welding should wear eye protection, protective gloves, hearing protection, a leather protective shirt, nonslip boots, and helmets with the proper shading. He said the degree of shading on helmets is determined by the type of welding being done, as mandated by OSHA.  

Some of the risks Wilfert said welders can encounter if not properly protected include electrocution, vision problems caused by bright lights, and eye and skin injuries.

The precautions taught in TSTC’s welding classes highlight not only the value of earning a degree at a college like TSTC< but also the importance of workplace safety. 

Many workplaces have occupational health and safety specialists and technicians who inspect and test equipment, draft workplace processes for safety and health, and investigate workplace incidents. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has predicted that the need for workers will rise to more than 125,000 by 2028 due to an aging workforce and insurance costs.

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TSTC HVAC Graduates in Harlingen to Experience Smart Technology in the Workplace

(HARLINGEN, Texas) – Today’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning technicians need to know more than basic electrical theory and refrigeration principles. As technology evolves, so does the need to be familiar with how smart technology is being used in HVAC systems.

Jorge Cabrera, lead instructor in TSTC’s HVAC Technology program in Harlingen, said fifth-semester students take Advanced Air Conditioning Controls, which covers building automation systems.

“This is a new course we started teaching in Harlingen,” Cabrera said. “We used to concentrate more on the residential side of the industry, but we are slowly moving to get more students into commercial air conditioning and refrigeration.”

As technology evolves, so do the skills of HVAC technicians who can receive training through outsourcing or equipment manufacturers.

“Technology has definitely changed our industry, and we try to keep up with new technologies,” Cabrera said. “Now, technicians have to know about W-Fi  and some thermostats can be controlled with a phone, computer or tablet. Technicians will have to set up these devices with the homeowners’ Wi-Fi networks.”

Cabrera said some of the tools that technicians use to troubleshoot for problems include Bluetooth technology to create reports at job sites.

Cameron County had 270 HVAC technicians in May 2018, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The number of jobs for HVAC mechanics and installers is projected to rise nationally to more than 414,000 through 2028, according to the agency. The growth is expected to come from residential and commercial construction.

Cabrera said workers retiring from the HVAC field also contribute to the need for new workers.

“I definitely see growth in our area,” he said. “Last summer, which is our busiest time, we kept getting calls from contractors needing people.”

TSTC’s Harlingen campus offers the Associate of Applied Science degree in HVAC Technology and an HVAC technician certificate.

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New program allows students to receive real-world training while earning college credit

(BROWNWOOD, Texas) – Texas State Technical College will provide Brownwood High School students a chance to experience real-world training while earning college credit.

The 3M Manufacturing and Academic Partnerships (MAP) program, which will begin in the fall of 2020, will allow students to study a career in manufacturing. The MAP partnership between TSTC, 3M and Brownwood Independent School District was unveiled in February to the public and local officials.

TSTC Brownwood Associate Provost Raquel Mata said the goal for the 2020 school year is to have students take dual enrollment classes. By 2021, Mata’s goal is to implement an associate of applied science degree curriculum in Industrial Systems at the Brownwood campus.

TSTC received a grant from the 3M Foundation to purchase MecLab Trainers that will be used in the program. The Brownwood 3M plant manufactures reflective sheeting for highway signs, license plates, protective clothing and security laminates.

Through the MAP program, Brownwood High School students will have the chance to learn the basics of creating and using schematic designs, circuit diagrams and technical drawings; building models; creating simulations; and developing and constructing electronic and pneumatic circuits.

“I think this is a fantastic opportunity for our students to get exposed to career pathways they typically would not look at,” said Ray Tipton, executive director of the Brownwood Municipal Development District. “This is a partnership that is innovative and outside of the box.”

Mata hopes other industries in the Brownwood area get involved.

“This program is set up to replenish our workforce,” she said. “This is a good partnership for TSTC, Brownwood ISD and 3M. I look forward to its future.”

Tipton said that after learning of the grant opportunity, his first call was to TSTC.

 “I think this is a program that will change kids’ lives,” Tipton said.

After nearly a year of planning, TSTC and Brownwood High School are ready to start the program, but expansion to other school districts is possible.

“I would like to see other schools in our area, Bangs and Early, take part in the program,” Mata said.

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