TSTC student honored with campus award

(WACO, Texas) – Thomas Pechal, of Temple retired in August 2019 from Temple Fire and Rescue, where he was a firefighter and paramedic and also worked with community education and public information.

A week later, he was attending Texas State Technical College’s Waco campus working on a new career in Environmental Technology and Occupational Safety Compliance Technology.

“In that line of work, you are training and studying and learning new topics while in class,” Pechal said. “That is part of what a firefighter’s responsibility is: learning new things, staying relevant, and practicing new skills.”

Pechal received Associate of Applied Science degrees in Environmental Technology – Compliance and Occupational Safety Compliance Technology this spring at TSTC. He is also the spring recipient of the Mike Torres Jr. Leadership Award.

Pechal said he enjoyed what he learned in the two programs, including confined space training and calibrating a monitor to take air sample readings. He did a required internship at MTC in Temple, specializing in forklift battery handling and food processing equipment.

“No matter what job you are doing, you have to do it safely,” Pechal said. “The role of the safety professional is to advocate for the worker and make sure they can do their job safely and go home at the end of their shift.”

Lester Bowers, TSTC’s statewide chair of the Environmental Health and Safety department, said he admires Pechal’s willingness to take on difficult and demanding assignments and his ability to think for himself.

“Thomas is goal-driven, works extremely hard, and has learned discipline, excellent time management and concentration, with the quality and preciseness of his work being a testament to it,” Bowers said. “He is one of the most reflective and thoughtful students I have had in my class.”

Pechal is currently doing job interviews in Central Texas.

“I am excited about the future, no matter what happens,” he said. “I am looking forward to this next phase in life after school. I can take the knowledge and skills and apply that to help other people stay safe in the work area.”

Pechal grew up in the Temple and Houston areas and is a graduate of Rogers High School and Temple Junior College.

The Mike Torres Jr. Leadership Award is given to honor the memory of Waco native Mike Torres Jr., who taught in TSTC’s Digital Media and Design program until his death in 2005. According to the Waco Tribune-Herald, Torres graduated from Bishop Louis Reicher Catholic High School and TSTC’s Commercial Art Advertising and Integrated Digital Image program.

The award signifies qualities that Torres was known for courage, honesty and integrity. The award is given each semester at commencement to a candidate for graduation who is nominated by TSTC faculty and staff members. It was first given in fall 2011, according to TSTC archival information.

For more information on TSTC, go to tstc.edu. 

TSTC Culinary Arts graduate makes sweet treats

(WACO, Texas) – Texas State Technical College Culinary Arts graduate Adilene Camarena launched her Waco bakery, Around the World, in April 2020, with high hopes, fierce determination and a generous helping of optimism. The bakery is at Union Hall in downtown Waco.

One year later, the Hillsboro native reflected on her experiences and reminisced about her time in the Culinary Arts program.  

“It was a really good experience, and it helped me learn how to work with recipes and make them better as I go along,” Camarena said. “I did the full program, with baking as my specialty.”  

Camarena graduated with an Associate of Applied Science degree in Culinary Arts in 2016. She was already sure about where she wanted to go and what she wanted to do when she got there.

Clad in a simple black apron, she now stands proudly behind a glass case stacked with shelves of brightly frosted cupcakes, flaky puff pastries, and international treats like Canadian Nanaimo bars and French macarons. Camarena’s sugary brainchild is nestled in a quiet corner of the bustling food court. 

“I lived in Waco when I went to TSTC. I really loved downtown, which has been growing and getting bigger,” Camarena said. “When the opportunity popped up, I took it. I know there’s potential here.” 

Opening a bakery in the middle of a global pandemic was an especially precarious roll of the dice. But Camarena believes her mentors and training at TSTC helped prepare her to successfully run her own bakery.  

“I took Advanced Pastry Shop with Chef (Paul) Porras; we learned methods and basic skills like how to make breads, cookies and cakes,” Camarena said. “All the chefs always gave good advice from their own experiences, and I enjoyed my time learning from each of them.” 

Culinary Arts instructor Michele Brown considers Camarena’s success to be an example of an underrated program that has produced multiple local restaurant owners over the years. 

“We’ve got chefs at country clubs, hospitals and doing fine dining. One of our graduates is head chef at Lula Jane’s, and another one owns HonkyTonk Kid BBQ,” Brown said. 

Head chef and partner at Waco restaurant and bakery Lula Jane’s, Stacy Russell entered the Culinary Arts program after years in the auto mechanic industry and commented on how his training at TSTC prepared him for his current role as head chef. 

“Those classes helped me in more ways than one. All the classes in the program were much-needed skills I used when I started at my first job,” Russell said. “Those that really love culinary arts will do what it takes to soak it all up. Always make the food that inspires you, and never lower your standards.”

Camarena’s inspiration is the core of her business model and resulted in her bakery’s theme. It would be easy to assume the young baker might be hesitant or indecisive, but one conversation with her proves otherwise. The confidence and passionate professionalism just beneath the surface stand out the longer you talk to her.  

“I sell things like Nanaimo bars, and I have Canadians come in that get so excited — they always buy them,” Camarena chuckles, adjusting the mask that her smile has shifted around her face. “I’ve done a lot of research for different recipes for this place because the concept is ‘around the world.’”

Indeed, the bakery provides a sampling of desserts from around the globe, and the Waco community has quickly adopted it and made it a local staple for desserts and baked goods. Camarena’s one piece of advice to aspiring students? Tap into that resource. 

“Join a community and get involved. Connect with people, especially local business owners,” Camarena notes. “Once you’ve done that, everything sort of falls into place with the right people beside you.”

Waco has invested in economic sustainability by supporting homegrown entrepreneurs like Russell and Camarena, a fact she expressed her gratitude for in the warm, humble tones distinctive to her character.

“I’ve learned along the way and gotten to meet a lot of people and make a lot of friendships,” Camarena said. “They decide to choose me as their baker and the place they buy their desserts from. That’s become something I’m very proud of.” 

Registration continues for the summer and fall semesters at TSTC. For more information, go to tstc.edu. 


TSTC Culinary Arts students poised for success

(WACO, Texas) – Texas State Technical College Culinary Arts students are ready to make their dreams come true when they graduate this spring. 

“I feel as if this program has prepared me for more than I ever imagined,” said Mikhaila Hoffman of College Station. “The long-term goal is to eventually own my own bakery. That probably won’t happen for a while, but that’s been my dream for a long time. I feel more prepared than I thought I would.” 

Equipping students with the skills they need to find employment in the food industry is the crux of the Culinary Arts program’s curriculum. Students learn food sanitation and safety practices, proper handling of kitchen equipment, menu planning, catering and nutrition. 

The Culinary Club’s vice president, Dequan Carter, of Waco, praised instructors’ knowledge and encouragement of their students. 

“TSTC is a great program, the chefs are always there to help, and the skills they teach you will be needed in any well-established restaurant,” Carter said. “They teach you great knife skills that will help you in the long run. Skills that I didn’t have are now refined with the help of the chefs.” 

Students can work toward an Associate of Applied Science degree in Culinary Arts or certificates of completion such as Culinarian, Culinary Assistant and Culinary Specialist. Each program requires sanitation and safety courses, but specialty classes like International Cuisine and Advanced Pastry Shop offer students the chance to discover what they are passionate about. 

“My favorite class would have to be International Cuisine because we make foods from around the world,” said Emmanuel Walker of Waco. “It gives you a sense of what other cultures and regions have to offer.” 

Vickie Bradford, of Corsicana, makes the hourlong commute several times a week to attend classes at the Greta W. Watson Culinary Arts Center at the Waco campus. She voiced her appreciation for the program’s specialty baking classes and the experience she has gained at TSTC. 

“Baking is my passion. I love making pound cake, pineapple upside-down cake and lemon cake,” Bradford said. “I have a couple of favorite classes that I’m going to miss, but the top of my list would be Chef Brown’s baking class — it was very challenging and fun. I enjoyed her class because at first I thought it would be a piece of cake. Wrong!”

Students develop skills they need to own and operate their own establishments, such as hospitality supervision and management. They learn proper plate presentation, sauce creation, and butchering and cooking of meat, poultry, seafood and game. 

Walker is an aspiring restaurant owner and SkillsUSA competitor. Students like him gain confidence in their abilities and ambitions during their time at TSTC. 

“My experience here has been one of the best adventures in my life. The skills that I have learned are all of the things that I would need to be successful,” Walker said. “I see myself possibly starting my own restaurant. It may take some time, but with the right motivation and consistency, I’d be able to do more than own a restaurant and start a small franchise.”  

According to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics and onetonline.org, Texas currently employs the second-most restaurant cooks in the nation. The market is booming for Culinary Arts students like these, who are just starting their careers and ready to claim their dreams, one step at a time. 

“I’ve always loved cooking from a young age, and I want to be a head chef sometime in the future. My parents moved to the U.S. for me so I could have better opportunities,” Carter said. “I’m going to keep pushing for my goals to be the best that I can be, no matter what comes my way.”

Registration continues for the summer and fall semesters at TSTC. For more information, go to tstc.edu. 

TSTC Culinary Arts program ready to fill area restaurant jobs

(WACO, Texas) – Now is a good time to enter the culinary arts field because there is a need for skilled workers.

“I have never seen such a staffing shortage across the board right now, whether it is cooks, front of house, or food runners,” said Kyle Citrano, president of the Waco Restaurant Association and managing partner of George’s Restaurant and Bar No. 2 in Hewitt.

Citrano said Texas State Technical College’s Culinary Arts students and graduates should thrive as good cooks or servers.

“There is a need and shortage, and they have all of that in their favor,” he said. “They can go into a restaurant tomorrow, and someone would probably hire them.”

Michele Brown, lead instructor in TSTC’s Culinary Arts program in Waco, said students and graduates need to look at benefits and how the business of their choice is going to help advance their careers.

Brown cited a budding partnership with Kalahari Resorts and Conventions in Round Rock, which has recently hired students and graduates of TSTC’s Culinary Arts programs in East Williamson County and Waco.

“The nice thing about working with a group like Kalahari is they have more than one property,” she said.

Dorothy Lentis, a 2013 graduate of TSTC’s Culinary Arts program and owner of Alpha Omega Grill and Bakery in Waco, said students and graduates need to have patience and become good at multitasking. She said this and other skills can be learned with lots of practice and a culinary arts education.

“(At TSTC) we had to plate all the food we made in a professional manner that could be sold in a restaurant,” Lentis said. “We were judged on knife cuts, the gelatinousness of the sauce, the presentation and, of course, the taste.”

Citrano said restaurants in the Waco area felt the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. He said not every restaurant had the ability to offer to-go and delivery options while still maintaining food quality, as well as health and safety standards.

He said that since George’s reopening after being closed for six weeks due to the pandemic, the restaurant has been affected by shortages in staffing and the availability of meats and other goods. But he said patrons’ support for the restaurant is still high.

“The staff is making the best money they have probably made working here,” he said.

TSTC’s Culinary Arts program has had to adapt to the pandemic by offering to-go meals to on-campus faculty, staff and students in lieu of in-person dining. The program’s students have also learned to adapt to the changing pandemic situation.

“They can go out and do whatever is thrown at them,” Brown said. “They have shown their leadership skills this semester.”

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has projected more than 158,000 chefs and head cooks will be needed by 2029. This will be driven by restaurant patrons who want high-quality, healthier meals.

In May 2020, Texas had 4,900 chefs and head cooks earning an annual mean wage of more than $57,000, according to the federal labor statistics agency.

Registration continues for the summer and fall semesters at TSTC. For more information, go to tstc.edu. 

Perry’s decision to attend TSTC based on helping family

(SWEETWATER, Texas) – Growing up on a farm in Jacksboro, Kenneth Perry was constantly repairing equipment.

When it was time to choose a career path, Perry said he had two career options, and both included Texas State Technical College.

“My school counselor told me about TSTC’s programs. It was either going to be diesel or airplanes,” he said. “Anything that had a motor, I liked to work on it.”

His decision, in part, was made on the farm. The family 18-wheeler became his, and he decided to enroll in the Diesel Equipment Technology program. He is currently studying for an associate degree he can use on the farm and later in life.

“I wanted to be able to work on the farm and help my dad,” Perry said. “I also like the small environment we have in Sweetwater.”

While Perry has been used to working on trucks and tractors, he admitted that some areas still give him issues, especially the lab sessions’ transmission portion.

“There are so many moving parts. If you put it together wrong, you will not know it until you are done,” he said. “There is more tedious work when it comes to the transmission, so you have to pay attention.”

Perry said having instructors who have been in the field has helped him improve his skills.

“The instructors want you to figure out what is being done wrong before they come in and help,” he said. “They have set this up so we can learn all of the details.”

Perry does not know what his long-term plans are, but he knows he will put his knowledge to use helping his father on the farm.

“I will go home and drive the diesel and work on things for my dad,” he said. “I know that I will be able to work on our tractors and trucks. I will also be hauling hay and anything else for my father.”

Perry also knows that having a degree will help him when he does begin looking for a career.

“I am going to be prepared for work. Having a degree will be important, and TSTC is known for having graduates hired,” he said.

Instructor Shannon Weir said companies look for students like Perry, who show initiative while in school.

“Companies are always looking for good people to work on their trucks and equipment,” Weir said. “The best thing is many companies trust our graduates.”

With oil prices increasing, Weir said more companies will begin looking for employees. According to onetonline.org, the need for diesel engine specialists in Texas is expected to grow by 14% by 2028. That forecast is higher than the national growth of 3%. (I was a little confused reading this paragraph. Are the ONet.org numbers for Texas or nationally? And, where does the thre percent come in?)

Perry said he is pleased that he decided to make working on heavy equipment a career.

“This decision set me up for a lifetime,” he said. “I am happy to be learning a skill that will help my family.”

For more information, visit tstc.edu.

TSTC student adds paramedic to family’s list of first responders

(BROWNWOOD, Texas) – Anthony Monaco has been around first responders his entire life.

When Monaco lived in New York, his father was a volunteer firefighter, and his mother was a nurse. After his father’s job moved the family to Fort Worth, Monaco wanted to continue the family tradition.

After high school, Monaco attended a firefighter academy and was hired by the Stephenville Fire Department. He said the department operates both the fire and emergency medical services operations for the community.

Monaco completed an EMS program at his fellow firefighters’ suggestion and decided to take it one step further. He enrolled in Texas State Technical College’s Emergency Medical Services Paramedic program and now is nearing graduation.

“My entire life has led me to TSTC, and I love it,” he said.

Monaco always enjoyed watching his father rush out to a fire call.

“It was an all-volunteer department, and I knew he was helping people,” he said. “When I was a kid, I would run around the house with his bunker gear on. I knew being a first responder was in my blood.”

Moving from New York to Texas, Monaco said he did not know what to expect. He was surprised at how quickly he was able to adapt to a different environment.

“Texas grabbed me from the start. Everyone has been so friendly,” he said. “I am definitely making this my home.”

That friendliness carried over to TSTC.

“Everyone is so welcoming and wants to take care of us. They want everyone to succeed,” he said.

That includes his instructor, Tim Scalley.

“He works daily to put the things he learns in class into his work,” Scalley said. “It is good for paramedics to learn how to do things in class so they are prepared for the next call they go on during work.”

In working toward becoming a paramedic, Monaco admitted that some of the lab sessions were difficult.

“The trauma scenarios we go through are some of the hardest,” he said. “We have to do a full assessment of the situation of a multivehicle accident and fix each life threat at a time.”

Monaco, who describes himself as a lifelong athlete, likened being in the lab environment to being on a practice field.

“I love sports and always told myself to practice like I would play the game,” he said. “I know the better I practice, the better I will perform in the field. That is how I am pursuing my education.”

Monaco said he noticed his critical thinking skills are heightened when working in the lab.

“I have to keep my mind open, like I would in the field, to assess what I am doing on a patient,” he said. “This is the best way for anyone to learn.”

Monaco said knowing he will join an elite list of people known as paramedics will be rewarding. Texas has more than 20,000 paramedics employed statewide, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. The need for paramedics is expected to increase 11% by 2028 in Texas, according to onetonline.org.

“My family is proud I am pursuing a dream, and I am proud to be doing it at TSTC,” he said.

For more information, visit tstc.edu.

TSTC students see career opportunities in Industrial Systems program

(ABILENE, Texas) – One of the first things students learn in Texas State Technical College’s Industrial Systems program is that many job opportunities await them after graduation.

That was the reason why Jacob Nelson, Levi Taylor and Dalton Tiner decided to enroll in the program. What they have learned over their first two semesters is that they made a good decision for a career.

“There are so many different areas we can choose from. This truly is a jack-of-all-trades program,” said Nelson, of Abilene, who is pursuing a certificate in the program.

Industrial Systems students learn to install, operate, test and maintain equipment in various facilities. The three students, along with their classmates, are learning industry-standard safety procedures, mechanical and electrical skills, diagnostic techniques, how to read and interpret schematics, and how to work with motors, pumps, chillers, boilers, and programmable logic control systems.

Nelson said his family worked in many of the fields covered in the program. It was a perfect opportunity for him to expand his knowledge.

“I am pretty good at welding and working with my hands. I wanted to broaden my skills in that area,” he said, adding that he plans to study for an associate degree.

Taylor, of Hawley, is also pursuing an associate degree in the program and has been impressed with what he has been able to learn in a short time.

“I have learned there are a lot of opportunities available for people who study in this program,” he said.

According to onetonline.org, electrical technician positions are expected to grow by 8% in Texas over the next decade.

That trend has led to younger people enrolling in the program, something instructor Daniel Diaz likes to see.

“With many of our students starting younger, it gives them more time for growth in the industry,” Diaz said. “All of our students see success in the industry. This program helps get them off on the right foot.”

Nelson said having Diaz as an instructor helps him know that what he is learning will be used in the field.

“All of the experience he has had in the field is helpful,” Nelson said. “We know that when we read something, the instructors will tell us about that and how it applies to what we may see in the field. They have seen it, so they can explain it to us and give us their experience in that situation.”

Taylor said having state-of-the-art equipment to train with was another reason he chose to attend TSTC.

“I am a very hands-on person, and having time in the lab is the best part of the program,” he said.

Tiner’s father studied Industrial Systems at TSTC more than 10 years ago. Having the lab sessions today is something that Tiner, of Brownwood, is proud to talk to his father about.

“He had to do a lot more reading back then. He told me that having the equipment here is going to help me prepare for a career,” said Tiner, who is pursuing a certificate of completion in the program.

For more information, visit tstc.edu.

TSTC Computer Programming Technology prepares students for the industry

(HARLINGEN, Texas) – Computer Programming Technology at Texas State Technical College equips students with the essential tools they need to continually stay in demand in this rising industry.

The job outlook for computer programmers has not slowed down. In fact, the remote work environment that many people have become familiar with will lead to the need for more technicians who understand the gadgets and gizmos of the devices that connect us to the rest of the world.

“We have not seen a decline in demand for computer programmers and do not expect to see one anytime soon,” said TSTC instructor Shelby Coffman. “In addition, we have been very encouraged to see our recent graduates of the Computer Programming Technology program around the state find employment after graduation despite recent events.”

According to thebalancecareers.com and indeed.com, responsibilities of computer programmers include developing, testing and implementing programs on multiple operating system platforms, creating and publishing technical diagrams to support coding efforts, and integrating new functions into existing applications.

Coffman said that much of the work can be done from a programmer’s own home.

“Computer programming can generally be performed with the resources that most people either already have or are within reach, like a computer and broadband internet connection,” he said. “Aside from the actual act of programming, communication with teammates and clients can be performed remotely utilizing virtual meeting applications.”

Shannon Ferguson, an instructor in the TSTC Computer Programming Technology department, said that TSTC is not only teaching students what it takes to dominate in this field, but also changing the curriculum when needed to keep up with the standards of the industry.

“Technology, as well as industry demand, is continually changing and evolving,” he said. “Like most programs at TSTC, the Computer Programming Technology department regularly reevaluates and adjusts our curriculum to meet the needs of industry partners and demand.”

He said that the ultimate goal is creating graduates who are ready to get to work.

“We work closely with our departmental advisory board to ensure we teach the skills and topics that industry is looking for in prospective employees,” Ferguson said. “Our goal is to make sure that we produce graduates that are ready for the workforce.”

To learn more about TSTC, visit tstc.edu.


Photo caption: Computer Programming Technology at Texas State Technical College equips students with the essential tools they need to continually stay in demand in this rising industry.

Helping to save lives motivates EMS instructor at TSTC

(HARLINGEN, Texas) – Students enrolled in Texas State Technical College’s Emergency Medical Services program are in good hands as they learn from instructors who not only have knowledge of the industry, but also have experienced working in the field themselves.

TSTC Emergency Medical Services instructor Ruben Ramirez spends his days in the classroom while also coordinating the curriculum’s classes with the Texas Department of State Health Services. His passion for the field has allowed him the opportunity to help prepare the next generation of emergency medical services professionals for an industry that will always need them.

Why is the emergency medical services profession important?

It is important because of the role we play in public safety. We provide an entry point for the public to gain access to emergency medical care and transportation to the emergency room when needed. At the time of a medical emergency, the public dials 911, and first responders are activated to provide emergency care, giving them access to medical care.

What inspired you to become an instructor?

I really love emergency medical services. The experience I gained in the industry has given me so much. I feel that teaching others about my past experiences is the right thing to do, and I want others to learn from my experiences. I want to give back to the profession as my previous instructors did with me. I have the best of both worlds as an instructor. I get to teach about a profession that I love with a passion.

What do you enjoy most about your career?

As an instructor, seeing the look on my students’ faces and hearing the excitement in their voices when they obtain and reach their goal of becoming an emergency medical technician or a paramedic is always worth it. Being able to interact with a wide variety of students, from traditional to nontraditional, and helping them obtain their educational goals is something I love.

What do you enjoy most about this field?

The ability to say “I helped save a life today.” Being able to make a difference in someone’s life by performing CPR or just holding a hand when somebody is scared and giving them comfort. We are there so that they know they are not alone during a scary and stressful moment. This profession makes for a rewarding career that few will answer the call to, and those that do will have a lifelong, fulfilling career.

To learn more about TSTC, visit tstc.edu.

Photo caption: Students in the TSTC Emergency Medical Services program receive hands-on experience as they make their way through the curriculum. (Photo courtesy of TSTC.)

East Texas industrial systems jobs are ready for TSTC graduates

(MARSHALL, Texas) – Rush Harris, executive director of the Marshall Economic Development Corp., said the need for industrial systems workers is being seen right now. 

Harris said he recently has spoken with two companies that need new workers. He said more than 20 companies in Harrison County and surrounding counties are searching for industrial systems employees.

This means job opportunities for graduates of Texas State Technical College’s Industrial Systems – Electrical Specialization in Marshall.

Edward Chaney, TSTC’s statewide chair of the Industrial Systems Technology program, said students focus on an array of skills in hands-on labs. Some of the classes taught in Marshall focus on basic hydraulics, basic electrical theory, compressors, and programmable logic controllers.

“Our students in Marshall are given a heavy dose of electrical skills but are also backed up with the mechanical skills needed to tie the two together and make a well-rounded technician,” Chaney said.

He said the goal is for students to experience as much as they can about the work they will encounter after graduation.

“We don’t have near enough students to be able to fill the demand for good technicians,” Chaney said. “With an Industrial Systems Technology skill set, graduates have plenty of options available for placement, so the jobs are out there.”

Harris said industrial systems, like other technical fields, will see many workers retiring and newer employees needed to fill positions in the next few years.

“This creates an excellent opportunity for a high school graduate to move on and get an accessible two-year education specializing in industrial systems, where they will likely earn well above the median household income in Marshall,” Harris said. “These skills are in demand and can be learned for a reasonable price that allows a single person to make more money than most combined households bring in.”

The highest-paying career in the industrial systems field in the third quarter of 2020 in the East Texas Council of Governments’ 14-county region was electrical and electronics repairers, powerhouse, substation and relay, with those workers earning an annual mean wage of $70,800.

Harris said in the Marshall area, there are more than 2,100 workers in jobs that involve industrial systems. Their annual wages can be as high as $66,000, depending on industry and occupation.

TSTC’s Marshall campus offers an Associate of Applied Science degree in Industrial Systems – Electrical Specialization and an Industrial Systems Mechanic – Electrical certificate. Students have the opportunity to earn an Environmental Protection Agency Section 608 technician certification for handling refrigerants.

Registration for the summer and fall semesters continues at Texas State Technical College. For more information, go to tstc.edu.