Author Archives: Amanda Sotelo Sotelo

TSTC recruiter serves as inspiration to students

(FORT BEND) – Yulonda Durst, who survived a childhood of poverty and overcame personal hardships as an adult, is now at Texas State Technical College as a student recruiter hoping to help young people find a better life through education.

Durst was raised in Beaumont and as a young girl, along with her four siblings, was homeless, usually forced to spend days apart from her family.

“We were a large family, and it was difficult for family to take all of us in,” she said. “But through it all my mom remained positive, kept us praying and reminded us that struggles were temporary.”

And temporary they were.

Durst and her family slowly moved up from homelessness to a house with no electricity to the projects and finally to a house they could call their own after Durst’s mother married.

The Beaumont native grew up to be a licensed cosmetologist, a youth pastor for New Hope Deliverance Ministry, a church in her hometown, and a college graduate.Yulonda Durst - TSTC Student Recruiter

She earned an associate degree from a technology school in Beaumont in Business Computer Information Systems in 2012 while working and raising her seven children.

“It wasn’t easy, but I wanted more for me and my family. So I pushed forward,” she said.

While juggling her salon, Graceful Hands Beauty Salon, established in 2005, a newfound career as a financial aid representative at her alma mater, and her family, more life challenges were thrown her way.

A fire, which was ruled arson, destroyed her salon on Thanksgiving Day 2016 and a divorce left Durst in pieces and feeling discouraged.

“I didn’t rebuild. I wanted a brand new start,” she said. “And it was while looking for a place to live in the Houston area that I drove by TSTC and told my children, ‘I’m going to work there someday.’”

It was only two weeks before Hurricane Harvey that Durst and her children began a new life in Houston. She said she is thankful that her family was okay and their properties did not suffer damage.

“We were blessed, but many weren’t so lucky,” she said.

Knowing this is what encouraged her to volunteer at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston and work as a FEMA contractor for four months before getting a job at TSTC.

Durst is now the newest student recruiter at TSTC’s Fort Bend County campus and said she was immediately impressed with the campus and its employees.

“At TSTC I feel like we’re all equal. I’m part of one great, big family,” she said. “It’s all hands on deck, no matter your position. There’s so much unity.”

Durst has many goals for her new position, but her main one is to encourage higher education in students who don’t see it as a possibility.

“I always tell students that education is the key that opens doors,” she said. “I believe everyone has the potential of getting a college degree.”

Durst added, “TSTC is a two-year college that places students on a career path,” she said. “When a student enters TSTC they are taking steps toward a new career and life.”

Durst, who is still a youth pastor, said she hopes to grow with the college by being the continued support TSTC students need.

For more information the programs offered at TSTC’s Fort Bend County campus, visit

Registration for Summer and Fall 2018 begins April 2.

TSTC alum has healthy career at Valley Baptist

(HARLINGEN) – It all started at Texas State Technical College for Linda Gonzalez, director of Health Information Management at Valley Baptist Medical Center, where she has been for three decades.

The Harlingen native graduated with an associate degree in 1993 from TSTC’s Health Information Technology program.

“If not for TSTC, I wouldn’t be where I am now,” she said. “To move up the ladder I needed a degree and I am thankful that TSTC gave me that opportunity.”

Gonzalez’s first experience in the health information and medical records field started in high school when she worked for a local doctor’s office. After high school she continued working there and tried university life.

“A four-year university wasn’t for me at the time. I was fresh out of high school and needed a break,” she said. “Plus I was really enjoying my work.

In 1987, while still working full-time for the doctor, she joined the Valley Baptist Medical Center family as a part-time birth certificate clerk. She eventually moved up to assembly and analysis clerk and healthcare statistics clerk.Linda Gonzalez - TSTC Health Info. Tech alum

“By this time I knew I wanted to make this my career and I wanted the chance to become a manager or director, so I knew what I had to do,” she said.

That’s when she enrolled at TSTC after hearing about the program from her then colleague Ana Gonzales. Gonzalez is now a Health Information Technology instructor at TSTC.

“I would go to work at 3 a.m. every morning so I could complete my work by the time I would leave for school,” she said. “Was it hard? Yes, I was always sleepy and would find myself dozing off in class, but so worth it.”

Immediately after receiving her associate degree she applied for and appointed to a manager position overseeing the statistic clerks, beginning the next journey on her career path.

Gonzalez went on to receive her bachelor’s degree from the University of Phoenix in Healthcare Administration to move up as director at Valley Baptist.

The 52-year-old now oversees a staff of 51 employees, 24 of which are also TSTC graduates, and she sits on the TSTC Health Information Technology advisory board, providing updates and recommendations to program instructors.

“TSTC graduates have always been top picks for Valley Baptist,” said Gonzalez. “We recognize their skills and the fact that they come on board ready to hit the ground running.”

Gonzalez added that over the 30 years she has been at Valley Baptist their support for TSTC students and graduates has never faltered, even allowing students to complete their clinical rotations at both Valley Baptist locations in Harlingen and Brownsville.

“I’m here to support and to encourage all of them (students) to be the best they can be and to continue pursuing specializations in their field,” she said. “They all have so much potential.”

Students who pursue an associate degree in Health Information Technology will learn the skills needed to manage health information across computerized systems and its secure exchange between consumers, providers, government entities and insurers and will also be trained in billing and coding.

TSTC’s program is also accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management Education (CAHIM), allowing TSTC graduates to take the national exam needed to obtain the credentials of a Registered Health Information Technician improving career possibilities and increasing salaries.

Health Information Technology is offered at TSTC’s Harlingen campus and is also offered 100 percent online.

Registration for Summer and Fall 2018 begins April 2.

For more information on the program, visit

TSTC Biomed student finds opportunity in booming medical industry

(HARLINGEN) – Richard Ruiz, a Biomedical Equipment Technology student at Texas State Technical College is expected to graduate next month with his associate degree, but already finds himself working in the field.

“It all happened so quickly,” he said. “I was only looking for an internship, but ended up with so much more.”

The La Feria native is completing his internship work and has a permanent position at XOtech, LLC, a Service Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business federal contracting company in Utah that focuses on providing services to the Department of Defense.

The 28-year-old is contracted by the Medical Equipment Concentration Site 88th area as a Biomedical Electronic Technician 1 overseeing the maintenance and repair of medical equipment in the healthcare setting.

Richard Ruiz - TSTC Biomedical student

“I am so blessed to have been given this opportunity,” said Ruiz. “This is a huge stepping stone for me.”

Prior to pursuing a career path in Biomedical Equipment Technology, Ruiz enrolled at TSTC as a Dental Hygiene student, but realized it was not the path he wanted to follow.

So, he applied to TSTC’s Vocational Nursing program and unfortunately did not get accepted.

“I’ve always loved the medical field and anatomy and physiology, but I was lost,” he said. “I had no idea what to do.”

Ruiz ended up taking a summer semester off to work and earn money, and then stayed out longer than expected.

“I lost momentum and enjoyed the money I was making, but when my fiancé and I learned we were expecting a baby everything shifted,” he said.

The jobs he was working at places such as Peter Piper Pizza, Dollar General and in the oil field suddenly were not enough for Ruiz.

“I needed to do more for my family and I knew I could only do that with an education. And that’s when I found TSTC’s biomed program. I immediately fell in love,” he said.

He credits God and all of the instructors in the Biomedical Equipment Technology program for his success and doubled income.

Richard Ruiz - TSTC Biomedical student

“I wouldn’t be where I am today without God, TSTC and the training I have received,” he said. “Everything got me ready for something amazing.”

Ray Longoria, TSTC Biomedical Equipment Technology instructor, said he was not surprised when he learned about Ruiz’s placement.

“Richard is an excellent student always demonstrating great initiative, leadership and teamwork,” said Longoria. “He has a bright future and I see him becoming a lead technician and even opening his own business one day.”

Longoria said when students like Ruiz move on, which they rightfully should, it’s a bittersweet moment.

“Ruiz did so much for us. He always helped other students, helped us around the lab and even with recruiting,” he said. “We’re so proud of him, but we’re going to miss him.”

Students like Ruiz get extensive hands-on training during their time in the program with the latest technology and equipment being used in the healthcare field.

The program currently works closely with TSTC’s Allied Health and Emergency Medical Technician departments, Culture of Life Ministries’ free health clinic, Loaves and Fishes and Ace Medical, maintaining and repairing their medical equipment.

As for Ruiz, who now lives in Utah with his family, he said it is this training that prepared him for his new career and gave him the confidence to pursue it and dream big.

Ruiz hopes to one day open his own biomedical business.

For more information on Biomedical Equipment Technology at TSTC’s Harlingen and Waco campuses, visit

Registration for Summer and Fall 2018 begins April 2.

Student Success Profile – Yolanda Reyes

(HARLINGEN) – Yolanda ReyesTexas State Technical College Agricultural Technology student Yolanda Reyes expects to graduate with her associate degree next month and boasts a 3.6 grade-point average.

When the Brownsville native is not busy in class or studying, she is organizing fundraisers and showcasing her program at the Rio Grande Valley Livestock Show as president of the TSTC Agriculture Club. She also volunteers in her community regularly with TSTC Student Life.

What are your plans after graduation?

After I graduate I plan on returning to TSTC to pursue an associate degree in biology and then transferring to Texas A&M-Kingsville for a bachelor’s degree in Wildlife Management.

What’s your dream job?

My dream job is to become a game warden. This career combines my love for nature, animals and law enforcement. It’ll be the best of both worlds.

What has been your greatest accomplishment while at TSTC?

My greatest accomplishments have been being able to maintain a GPA above 3.5 and having the opportunity of becoming a student leader within my program’s club and Student Life.

What greatest lesson have you learned about yourself or life?

The greatest lesson I have learned is to not give up. I must overcome the obstacles that are thrown my way and reach for my goals. I never thought school was an option, I didn’t have the money, but with hard work, saved money and financial aid, here I am.

Who at TSTC has had the most influence in your success?

First there are my two Agricultural Technology Instructors Sam Gavito and Norberto Mendoza. They are great motivators, give great advice and encourage me to keep going. Next, are my mom and sister. I can’t leave them out. They are the reason why I work hard and want to succeed. They are always pushing me to think of my future and support my dreams and goals.

What is your advice for future TSTC students?

My advice for future TSTC students is to not limit yourself. Everything you are doing, you are doing for you. So don’t let others discourage you. Keep working toward your goals.


Student Success Profile – Moses Guerrero

(HARLINGEN) – Moses GuerreroBrownsville native Moses Guerrero is an Automotive Technology student at Texas State Technical College. He expects to earn his certificate in Summer 2018.

When the 20-year-old isn’t busy studying or working on cars he volunteers with TSTC’s Student Life Office, Student Government Association and TSTC’s Automotive Car Club.

What are your plans after graduation?

After I graduate I hope to work at a ranch as a technician for heavy duty equipment such as tractors. I also plan on continuing my education to pursue certification as a marine technician.

What’s your dream job?

My dream job is to become a marine technician and work on boats. I hope to either work on a cruise ship or open my own shop.

What has been your greatest accomplishment while at TSTC?

My greatest accomplishment has been passing all of my classes with A’s and B’s and learning how to operate the machinery and tools I need to have a successful career in my industry.

What greatest lesson have you learned about yourself or life?

The greatest lesson I have learned is that if I work hard and maintain focus I can achieve my goals and ace my skills.

Who at TSTC has had the most influence on your success?

My automotive instructor Adan Gutierrez has had the most influence on my success. He has so much experience in the field and is full of knowledge that he loves sharing with all of his students. He is an inspiration and I hope someday that I can be as successful as he is.

What is your advice for future TSTC students?

My advice for future TSTC students is to use all of the resources available to you, from the Student Center to the library, don’t be afraid to ask questions and get involved.

TSTC takes proactive approach to emergency situations

(HARLINGEN) – With recent school shootings and always a plan on how to be proactive, Texas State Technical College recently hosted a Civilian Response to Active Shooter Events (C.R.A.S.E.) training for all students, faculty and staff.

The training was hosted by TSTC’s Police Department and presented by Sargent Eduardo Patiño.

TSTC Police Chief Aurelio Torres opened the training with a message.

“This training is not meant to scare you, but to teach you situational awareness,” said the chief. “By the time you leave today you will know how to create a plan and take action should the need arise.”

Torres added that an active shooter is only one of the many man-made hazards someone can face.

C.R.A.S.E. was developed by the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training (ALERRT) program at Texas State University in 2004 and has since grown into a world-wide comprehensive training.Active Shooter Training

In April 2017, TSTC’s Police Department hosted more than 100 law enforcement officials from across the state for the C.R.A.S.E. Train the Trainer course. The first for the Valley.

At TSTC, nine officers in the police department are certified to teach this material.

“You are not helpless. What you do matters,” Patiño told his audience.

He reviewed the defined actions an individual can take in the face of an emergency: Avoid, Deny, Defend.

“If you can leave, leave. If you can’t leave, deny access by locking a door, creating a blockade and turning off lights and if you have to, defend yourself and those around you,” he said. “Our goal is to get you to deliberate an action, fight or flight. Don’t freeze.”

According to Patino’s presentation, there were 179 active shooter cases between 2000 and 2014, with an increase of shooter events at education and commercial entities through the years.

TSTC’s Provost Cledia Hernandez said it is TSTC’s goal to be proactive and equip the TSTC community with the information and training they need to be prepared.

“One well-trained person can make a difference and change the outcome of a situation,” she said. “If one can do this, imagine a whole team.”

TSTC allied health student Candie Cerda said the presentation was an eye opener.

“I never really took the time to think about what I would do in an emergency situation,” said Cerda. “After today I feel more prepared to take action during the unexpected. I’m also going to share this information with my sister who is a teacher. You just never know.”

Cerda went on to say that she feels safe at TSTC, but even though, she is pleased that the college hosts trainings like C.R.A.S.E.

TSTC works year-round to ensure the safety of the entire TSTC community by helping staff and faculty with department walkthroughs and assessments and making sure there is a plan in place.

The TSTC Police Department is also working closely with the college’s Student Government Association to create presentations specifically for students.

“Our job is to serve and protect and equip everyone with the tools they need to make the best decisions during an incident,” said Torres. “Being proactive is important and it begins by encouraging others to report suspicious activity and with training.”

To report suspicious activity on campus, call the TSTC Police Department at 956-364-4220.

TSTC gets international exposure

(FORT BEND) – Texas State Technical College recently hosted a delegation of 21 Chinese educators from Nanjing, China for a tour of the campus and discussions about Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) training and career opportunities.

TSTC Provost Randy Wooten said it was a pleasure being able to welcome the delegates on campus from Fort Bend County’s sister city Nanjing.

“It was great being given the opportunity to host these educators on campus,” he said. “The visit was focused on technological training and advancements and aligned well with what we offer at TSTC.”

The teachers were selected as part of a teacher exchange program through the Nanjing Education Bureau.

J.J. Clemence, Fort Bend County Global Initiative public relations director and Congressman Pete Olson’s Asian community outreach director, said each teacher was hand-picked from more than 1,000 schools in Nanjing and required to pass an English exam.


“These teachers are the top from each school,” Clemence said. “And the goal of this trip was to further expose them to STEM studies in the United States, which is why TSTC was an important stop for us.”

Clemence further explained that the teachers’ are visiting for 12-days touring local high schools in the Lamar Consolidated Independent School District and Fort Bend Independent School District and sharing resources and ideas with local educators.

“Technical careers are growing in demand in China and this visit has been eye opening to the delegates,” she said. “This has allowed them to see the importance of a technical education and hands-on training.”

Ning Nei, a high school chemistry teacher in Nanjing, said the TSTC campus and the focus on hands-on training was impressive.

“This college combines teaching with the practice of new technologies and that’s amazing to me,” she said. “It’s a perfect method that I hope to take back to my school and implement.”

Nei also said that she was able to exchange teaching resources with the faculty she visited, which will help her take what she learned back to her students.

TSTC’s Robotics Technology was popular among the delegates.

Guxiao Chun, a high school physics teacher, said he is excited to share his experience with his students when he returns home.

“TSTC is thinking innovatively and coming here has encouraged me to push my students into a technical career,” said Chun. “I’m excited to tell them about the robots and the hands-on training I witnessed.”

Chun added that he realized he can do more for his school and students by focusing on STEM.

Wooten said he was pleased with the positive responses received by the delegates and that these types of visit expand the TSTC brand internationally.

“They were impressed with the type of machinery and tools our students get to use in our labs,” said Wooten. “Opportunities like this are rare in China.”

He went on to say, “Positive responses like these make our brand more valuable and sought after. It gives us world-wide exposure.”

Clemence said she hopes to continue growing the relationship between these Chinese educators, Fort Bend County and TSTC.

“This was a great experience for everyone involved,” said Clemence. “And we hope in the near future we’ll be able bring students from China over to visit Fort Bend County and possibly study at TSTC.”

For more information on the programs offered at TSTC, visit

Registration for Summer and Fall 2018 begins April 2.

TSTC Interview Practicum Sees Growth

(HARLINGEN) – For the first time in nearly a decade, Texas State Technical College’s Interview Practicum saw its highest number of participants and had to be extended to three days.

The Interview Practicum is hosted every Fall, Spring and Summer Semesters by TSTC’s Industry Relations and Talent Management Office and usually lasts two days.

At least 260 soon-to-be TSTC graduates from 17 programs attended this year’s event that consisted of mock job interviews, resumè building and interview skills workshops.TSTC Interview Practicum

Each student participated in three rounds of interviews, each 30 minutes long, and is provided constructive feedback on how to improve his/her resumes and interview skills.

“The growth the program has seen is exciting,” said TSTC Industry Relations and Talent Management Director Viviana Espinosa. “This is the highest number of students we’ve ever had participate.”

Espinosa added that she is happy to see an increased amount of faculty gaining awareness of the interview practicum and are taking advantage of it for their students.

“We host these events for our students with the goal of helping them gain the confidence they need for a successful job interview,” said Espinosa. “For some this is their first interview ever and it’s important they practice talking about their skills and themselves. This is the hardest thing to do.”

TSTC Wind Energy Technology student Wade Reynolds said he loves that TSTC holds events like this for its students.

“It’s thoughtful, useful and great all around,” he said. “I’m leaving today’s event more confident and prepared for the future. This was my first interview so now I know what to expect.”

The 21-year-old will be earning his associate degree next month and said he has already begun looking into jobs so the critiques he received were invaluable.

Viviana Aguiniga, TSTC Dental Hygiene student, will also be graduating in April and said the practicum was a great learning experience for her.

“I was so nervous coming in,” she said. “But now I’m leaving with great feedback, advice and more confidence. There’s no doubt that I’m prepared for what’s to come.”

She added that the interview process is no longer unknown territory for her and she is grateful to TSTC for providing this opportunity.

As the number of students who participate in the interview practicum grows, so does the number of volunteers who help coach these students.

More than 120 coaches made up of industry partners and community business leaders conducted 750 interviews during the length of the event, many of which go on to hire TSTC graduates.

Some coaches are seasoned and some are brand new and excited to join TSTC in this effort.

This was the first time Fastenal General Manager Gilbert Garcia.  Participated as a coach Fastenal also hires TSTC students for positions at their locations throughout the Rio Grande Valley and Kingsville.

“For me helping students succeed is a team effort and I’m looking forward to being a part of this process,” said Garcia. “TSTC has helped us a lot by sending us great graduates who are eager to learn and have a great work ethic. This is my way of giving back.”

Espinosa said she is looking forward to working closely with all industry partners and local business leaders for future interview practicums or other events such as the upcoming Industry Job Fair.

“We are so appreciative of everyone who comes out to help our students,” she said. “And we look forward to growing these relationships and getting our students placed.”

TSTC’s Industry Job Fair is April 5.

For more information on Interview Practicum or to become a volunteer coach call the Talent Management Office at 956-364-4940.

Student Success Profile – Jesse Lopez

(HARLINGEN) – Jesse LopezHarlingen native Jesse Lopez is an Education and Training student at Texas State Technical College. He expects to graduate with his associate degree in Spring 2021.

The 19-year-old is also active on campus as a Student Government Association (SGA) Senator for Education and Humanities and will be running for SGA Treasurer in the upcoming election.

When Lopez is not on campus, he can be found teaching music and singing with his church choir.

What are your plans after you graduate?

After I graduate I plan on transferring to Texas A&M – Kingsville through TSTC’s University Center and pursue a bachelor’s degree in education, specializing in music.

What’s your dream job?

My dream job in to become an elementary music teacher here in the Rio Grande Valley. I hope to inspire children to pursue music if that is their passion and to create musicians and artists for our area.

What has been your greatest accomplishment while at TSTC?

My greatest accomplishment so far at TSTC has been becoming a senator of the SGA. It has allowed me to get out of my comfort zone, meet new people and help make a difference.

What greatest lesson have you learned about yourself or life?

The greatest lesson I have learned is to never say no. Always try something new and help people out. You never know what you’re going to learn or who you’re going to meet.

Who at TSTC has had the most influence on your success?

The people who have had the most influence on my success are the SGA officers: President Isela Rodriguez, Vice President Thalia Gutierrez and Secretary Miguel Zamarripa. Last but not least, is TSTC Student Life Coordinator Belinda Palomino. They are all examples of great leaders and they have showed me what it takes to be one and have helped me grow as a student and person.

What is your advice for future TSTC students?

My advice for future TSTC students is to be outgoing and active on campus. This is important because you need to have fun and enjoy college. It will make all the difference in your college experience.


TSTC hosts local artist exhibit

(HARLINGEN) – With a notepad, pen and camera in hand, Texas State Technical College Digital Media Design student Robert Lopez walked around the J. Gilbert Leal Learning Resource Center (LRC) admiring paintings of vivid color and textures by Macarena Pena, also known as Ma K Art, during Thursday’s artist meet and greet.

“As a designer, artists like Macarena and events like this inspire my work and creativity,” he said. “Everything from the colors and textures are of great significance for me.”

Lopez and nearly 30 other visitors to the exhibit celebrated the artist and her works titled, “Sunday at Chapultepec” and “Remembering Mexico.”

The artist and McAllen native became blind in 1999 at the age of 30 after a sudden illness about a year before losing her sight, Pena had begun trying her hand at art and revived her artistic abilities as a blind artist in 2015 when she became co-founder of Visual Challenges Art.Macarena Pena at TSTC's Artist Meet and Greet

Pena told students and community members that her memories have turned into dimensional shapes and there is no more darkness because of art and painting.

“It is not what I can do, but what I can inspire others to do that make the difference in my art,” Pena said.

Pena uses a painting form unique to her circumstance with the help of her husband and family. Her art begins with a sketch that is then outlined with a glue gun allowing the artist to feel her canvas and shapes when she paints with her hands.

“I tell everyone that my eyes are blind, but my mind and my brain are not,” said Pena. “I choose designs and colors based on memories from when I could see.”

All of Pena’s art can be touched by spectators. She said she will never put a “Do Not Touch” sign next her art.

“My main purpose with my art is to open doors to people who are visually impaired,” she said. “The texture I use opens vision.”

For nearly a decade, LRC Director Nancy Hendricks, has hosted artists like Pena and their exhibits as a way to expose students to the culture of art and those that contribute to it.

“I do this because I love art and the shows are a great way to engage our students and the community,” said Hendricks. “It’s a fun way to get our students involved and show off our campus.”

Hendricks said Pena came recommended and when she spoke to her and heard her story and journey she knew this was the exhibit she needed to display this year.

“Macarena is a fantastic person and artist,” said Hendricks. “She is an inspiration to many and I want our students to see that no matter what, you can be successful. And we are extremely grateful that Macarena’s work is in our library.”

As for Lopez, he said, “It was great getting to meet Macarena and talking to her about her inspirations for her work. I’m glad that TSTC gives us opportunities like this that we may not get otherwise.”

Pena’s art will be displayed through April 28 at the TSTC LRC. The exhibit is free and open to the public.

For more information on library resources or art shows call 956-364-4708.