Category Archives: Abilene

TSTC Visionary Murray Watson Jr. Remembered for Service

(WACO) – Texas State Technical College mourned Wednesday the loss of former Texas legislator Murray Watson Jr., who filed legislation in 1969 to separate what was an arm of the Texas A&M University system into a stand-alone institution for technical education that would become TSTC.

“If there was ever a Mr. TSTC, it would be Murray Watson,” said Elton Stuckly Jr., TSTC’s executive vice chancellor and chief strategic relations officer.

Watson died Tuesday at age 86.

Watson was a state senator when he filed legislation to make the James Connally Technical Institute independent and rename it Texas State Technical Institute (now TSTC). Gov. Preston Smith signed the bill’s final version in May 1969 in Austin.

At TSTC’s 50th Anniversary Celebration in April 2015 in Austin, Watson was honored with a Founder’s Award.

Watson’s name is on TSTC’s student recreation center on Campus Drive. That factored into his wife, Greta, having been honored with the nearby Culinary Arts building being named for her.

“Murray and I walked out of the old (TSTC) system’s building, and we were about a million dollars short to build the new Culinary Arts Center,” Stuckly said. “I said, ‘Mr. Watson, I want you to think about something. Your name is on that (the recreation center) building. Wouldn’t it be nice for it (the new building) to be called the Greta W. Watson Culinary Arts Center? If you give us a million dollars, you could look at each other forever.’ It wasn’t a couple of weeks later that he called and said he was going to do it.”

Stuckly said Watson was a mentor who would give him advice.

“He always stayed in contact with me by email,” Stuckly said. “He was always looking for ways and ideas of how to make TSTC a better college.”

Stuckly said he and Watson always found much to talk about.

“He grew up in Mart, and I was raised in Penelope,” Stuckly said. “He always wanted to ask about TSTC first, then talk about farm cattle and his feed store and what I used to do on the farm. He said, ‘Elton, there aren’t many people that I can talk to who relate to those times.’”

Verna Lastrapes, a TSTC college outreach specialist, grew up knowing the Watson family in Mart. She said Watson’s family owned the local feed store, which she would visit as a four-year-old with her father at least twice a week to catch up with residents.

“Murray Jr. was a senior at Mart High School then,” she said. “I knew him well because he and my sister, Barbara, were friends.”

Pete Rowe, TSTC’s vice president for institutional development, hauled hay for Watson when he was a teenager in Mart. Rowe also graduated from Mart High School.

“It’s a personal loss for me because I loved him so much,” Rowe said. “He was a great mentor to me. He and Mrs. Watson have always been very kind to me and have done a lot for me in my life and career.”

Lastrapes said residents in Mart thought Watson would be president one day.

“He did not become president, but he did become our state representative and our state senator,” she said. “As a teenager, I remember helping campaign for him. Just about everyone in Mart campaigned for him.”

The feed store factored into Watson’s law career.

“When he lost the campaign for U.S. representative and went into private law practice, he had his office in Waco and one in Mart above the feed store,” Lastrapes said. “For years that is where he conducted all legal transactions with my daddy and other rural area farmers and businessmen.”

Rowe said Watson raised cattle andis sure he must have encountered on his ranch some of what TSTC teaches today.

“Murray was a highly intelligent person,” he said. “He was way ahead of the curve in the education field. He really studied education. He knew what to do.”

Lastrapes worked several years at the Brazos Higher Education Service Corp. Inc., which financed student loans. Watson was one of the organization’s founders.

“He had his own time schedule,” she said. “We began to say, ‘The starting time is when Murray Watson gets there.’ That was for everything!”

John K. Hatchel, chair of the TSTC Board of Regents, worked with Watson as a member of the Brazos Higher Education Service’s board of directors.

“He was very quiet, but he was consistent,” Hatchel said. “If there was a person who needed something or help, he was the first in line to do his part. He did it not expecting any accolades or thank-you’s. He just did it as a person.”

For more information on Texas State Technical College, go to


TSTC in Abilene to Introduce New Electrical Power and Controls Program This Fall

(ABILENE) – A new way to study power technology that keeps electricity flowing will debut in August in the Big Country.

Texas State Technical College will offer the Associate of Applied Science degree in Electrical Power and Controls this fall at the new Industrial Technology Center on Navajo Trail in Abilene. The degree is the first of its kind to be offered at TSTC’s four West Texas campuses.

Some of the skills that Electrical Power and Controls majors can acquire include an understanding of the National Electrical Code, how direct and alternating currents function, and electrical design.

“Our guys go to work with utilities and testing and maintenance in the wind industry,” said Dan Bateman, a senior instructor in TSTC in Waco’s Electrical Power and Controls program. “A lot of companies will hire a contractor to maintain their substations and generators. The companies come here to interview.”

The Woodlands – Houston – Sugar Land area has the highest number of electrical and electronics engineering technicians in Texas with more than 3,700, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. West Texas, excluding Amarillo, Lubbock, Midland and Odessa, had about 200 technician jobs.

Some of the other jobs graduates can go into include electrical and electronics repairers for substations, powerhouses and relays, and electrical and electronics engineering technicians.

Ryan Bartholomew, a human resources consultant at AEP Texas in Abilene, said he cannot consider applicants for jobs in the field without an associate degree. He said AEP Texas has hired TSTC Electrical Power and Controls graduates in the past.

“I build relationships with people and have phone conversations and try to make a cognitive effort to email TSTC and say, ‘When is your next graduating class? I have this job coming open,’” Bartholomew said.

The program’s instructor in Abilene, Kevin Staton, owned an electrical business in Virginia before moving this summer to join TSTC. He said students are in for a “wonderful experience” with the hands-on learning.

“You have to respect electricity or it will hurt you,” Staton said. “There is one thing you can count on, and that is always having a job in this field. It’s going to be hard for a computer or anything to take over this kind of trade.”

The Electrical Power and Controls program is part of TSTC’s Money-Back Guarantee, which promises graduates will secure jobs in their field within six months of graduation or receive their tuition money back.

For more information on Texas State Technical College, go to

TSTC and Hendrick Provider Network Celebrate TWC Skills Development Grant

(ABILENE) – Leaders from Texas State Technical College, the Texas Workforce Commission and Hendrick Provider Network gathered Thursday to commemorate a TWC Skills Development Fund grant.

The original grant amount was $110,512, which created or upgraded 66 jobs at the health care provider, but an amendment to the grant added another $121,044 and helped an additional 58 employees.

“We offer a great solution to working with industry partners and are fortunate to work with the TWC,” said Rick Denbow, provost of TSTC in Abilene.

Of the employees trained, 24 became certified medical coders, 10 became certified medical office managers and 35 earned certificates in medical front office skills. TSTC’s Workforce Training and Continuing Education partnered with the Practice Management Institute to fulfill the training.

Some of the classes Hendrick employees took at TSTC dealt with insurance claims processing, procedural terminology, advanced coding and auditing.

“Health care has been underserved in the education realm,” said Hendrick Provider Network Operations Manager Marjohn Riney. “The health care industry has changed. Nobody has been educating front office staff.”

Riney said the training has led to increased tenure among employees and an empowerment in knowledge and competence.

The regional economic impact of the grant is expected to be $1.2 million, said TWC Commissioner Representing Labor Julian Alvarez III, who presented the check.

“What you are doing is keeping up and listening to industry,” Alvarez said. “You are customizing training to industry needs.”

Hendrick Provider Network in Abilene is a multispecialty group with providers in cardiology, infectious disease, nephrology, orthopedic surgery and other medical fields. It is part of the Hendrick Health System.

“Hendrick is one of our primary employers, and their growth is critical to our economy,” said Justin Jaworski, executive director of the Abilene Industrial Foundation.

The Skills Development Fund has been used since 1996 to localize workforce training for Texas companies. This enables companies to work directly with local partners to develop training tailored to employees’ needs. The competitive grant has assisted more than 4,200 employers statewide, according to the TWC.

For more information on Texas State Technical College, go to

TSTC in Abilene to Host Registration Events This Summer

(ABILENE) – Texas State Technical College will have three Registration Rally events this summer in Abilene.

The events will be held from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on June 28, July 25 and Aug. 8 at the main campus at 650 East Highway 80 in Abilene. The events are part of an effort to make the registration process as easy as possible for incoming students planning to take classes in the fall semester.

“The registration rallies are important because it gives you an opportunity to meet instructors and clarify anything you need to know about programs and admissions,” said Rikki Spivey, a TSTC college outreach representative.

Visitors can take campus tours and learn about the 15 technical programs offered at TSTC in Abilene, including new programs in Industrial Maintenance, Electrical Power and Controls and Welding Technology.

Construction on the 56,000-square-foot Industrial Technology Center on Loop 322 next to Abilene Regional Airport is scheduled to be completed in time for the first day of the fall semester on Monday, Aug. 27.

People interested in enrolling should bring a copy of their driver’s license, high school transcript or GED, any college transcripts, proof of bacterial meningitis vaccination and TSI scores.

TSTC is having registration events at its 10 campuses throughout the state this summer. For information on the closest Registration Rally, log on to

For more information, contact TSTC in Abilene at 325-734-3608 or visit

Recent TSTC Graduate Returns to Hometown to Work

(ABILENE) – Stephen Heckler is glad to be home.

Heckler, 20, began work earlier this month in the network operations center at Acumera, a network-managed service provider in his hometown of Austin. He earned an Associate of Applied Science degree in Computer Networking and Systems Administration from Texas State Technical College in late April.

Heckler’s job as a technician involves fulfilling client tickets and answering telephone calls at the Northland Drive company.

“It’s going to be a great opportunity and a lot to learn,” he said. “It seems like a really good fit for what I want to be doing.”

Phil Stolle, director of Acumera’s network operations center, said it is a challenge finding qualified applicants with customer service skills and technical training who can work nontraditional yet flexible hours.

“Candidates who have real-world experience along with a course of study in networking/IT from TSTC are great candidates,” Stolle said. “In the specific role as a network operations center technician, it is a great opportunity for those looking to put their degree to use. One thing that I think candidates are really attracted to is that interviewing with Acumera is the opportunity to go deep in the field of network management.”

Heckler was home-schooled and attended private schools while growing up in Austin. When he was 8, he crashed his father’s computer. When Heckler was middle school-age, he searched online for a computer he could afford with his allowance.

He said college was not an option at first because he wanted to be a mechanic or work on computers because of his interest. He said TSTC exceeded his expectations.

“I have relatively good time-management skills already,” Heckler said. “It was not a big deal to go to class once or twice a week with a lab section and make sure the homework got done.”

He went to TSTC’s Abilene campus because his fiance is attending Abilene Christian University.

“I did not want to do theory and programming,” Heckler said. “TSTC was a good fit. I feel like I am prepared for work. I pushed and worked on the assignments, so if you put in the effort, you do learn a lot.”

Leo Chavez, an instructor in TSTC’s Computer Networking and Systems Administration program, said Heckler showed a lot of passion with his learning and spent a lot of time in the program’s combined classroom and lab.

“It is validation for the program since we certainly teach toward the smaller areas, like Abilene and Sweetwater,” Chavez said. “It says a whole lot about the things we teach in that you can take that and pivot to an Austin, and make it work well.”

Heckler said Chavez was an integral part of his success at TSTC and in finding a job so quickly after graduation.

“He has a way of communicating his passion for the material and getting the students excited about that,” said Heckler.

For more information on Texas State Technical College, go to


New TSTC Building Predicted to Generate Industry Interest in Abilene

(ABILENE) – Texas State Technical College’s expansion on Abilene’s east side is expected to be a magnet for growth.

“I think anytime you have a new building, it is going to generate interest,” said Rick Denbow, provost of TSTC in Abilene. “People start thinking about relocating or bringing in their company. If they see activity going on, they think this is the place to be.”

Construction on the 56,000-square-foot Industrial Technology Center on Loop 322 next to Abilene Regional Airport began in June 2017 and is scheduled to be completed in time  for the first day of the fall semester on Monday, Aug. 27. The building is the first on what is planned to be a 51-acre campus.

The ITC will have new technical programs for Electrical Power and Controls, Industrial Maintenance and Welding. The Emergency Medical Services program will move to the new building from its current location on East Highway 80.

The new programs factor into Abilene’s desire to build its workforce. Jobs in nursing, physical therapy, equipment service and maintenance, and computer numerically controlled (CNC) machining were some of the hardest to fill, according to a March 2016 economic development strategic plan created for the Development Corporation of Abilene.

Some of the general industries targeted for recruitment by the DCOA include advanced manufacturing, healthcare and food processing, according to the strategic plan.

“I think as we get that building built, it is going to help the economic development folks in Abilene recruit industry,” Denbow said.

The Abilene Industrial Foundation is currently marketing a 35-acre, shovel-ready plot on Maple Street less than five minutes from the airport and TSTC’s Industrial Technology Center. And, the foundation is developing the 21-acre Access Business Park at the intersection of Farm Road 18 and Texas Highway 36 near the airport.

Justin Jaworski, executive director of the Abilene Industrial Foundation, said TSTC is a fundamental piece of the city’s economic development plan.

“The eventuality will be that TSTC provides a reliable and dynamic pipeline for a trained workforce that will be able to — on-demand — meet whatever needs are requested in Abilene,” he said.

The campus is being included in the airport’s revised master plan, which looks ahead up to 20 years.

“We are envisioning commercial development on that side of the airport,” said Don Green, director of transportation services for the city of Abilene. “We were already working toward that before the TSTC project came about a little over a year and a half ago. This project fits in with it. We hope the campus will act as a bit of a catalyst for increasing activity over there and will help us in developing and marketing that area.”

Imperial Construction Inc. of Weatherford is using local subcontractors where possible to construct the building, which has a structural steel frame, heavy-gauge framing, and metal siding and sheathing. The construction and design costs total $12 million, with an additional $3.4 million in equipment and furniture. The building was designed by Parkhill, Smith & Cooper, which has offices in Abilene and throughout Texas.

Future campus building construction will be subject to review by the Federal Aviation Administration to ensure that height does not interfere with protected airspace, said Green.

For more information on Texas State Technical College, go to

TSTC West Texas Campuses Seeking Welding Instructors

(ABILENE) – Texas State Technical College is looking for motivational people who can put a spark in the lives of Welding Technology students.

TSTC’s campuses in Abilene, Breckenridge and Brownwood are seeking three qualified welding instructors with a combination of professional and teaching experience.

“We are always looking for awesome people to join our TSTC team,” said Rhiannon Hastings, lead statewide recruiter in TSTC Human Resources. “We truly value hands-on experience in industry to provide the best learning experiences possible for our students at TSTC.”

Starting this fall, TSTC in Abilene will offer the Associate of Applied Science degree in Welding Technology and two certificates.

TSTC in Breckenridge offers a three-semester certificate in structural welding and accepts up to 20 students each semester.

“If you like small-town living, a great place to raise a family and a place where everybody knows everybody, it can work for you,” said Debbie Karl, executive director of the Breckenridge campus.

TSTC in Brownwood can accommodate 28 structural welding certificate students.

“We need someone with experience,” said Raquel Mata, executive director of the Brownwood campus. “We would like to have someone well known to the businesses and can meet and greet and have moments with them to get to know them. We want someone to be a good fit for our students and be a good leader.”

Applicants need to have current American Welding Society certifications and  experience in shielded metal arc, flux-cored arc, gas metal arc and gas tungsten arc welding processes, along with fabrication, layout and pipe welding. Applicants having an associate degree in welding are preferred.

TSTC is a state institution offering Health Select of Texas administered by Blue Cross Blue Shield, paid vacation days, sick leave and state holidays, dental insurance, vision insurance, life insurance, flexible spending accounts and retirement. The technical college also offers employee development and employee appreciation events as part of its overarching goal to make TSTC a great place to work.

For more information on employment at Texas State Technical College, go to

TSTC Students in Abilene to Receive Scholarships in New Programs

(ABILENE) – Students enrolling in three new technical programs this fall at Texas State Technical College in Abilene will receive a financial boost.

TSTC will give $1,000 scholarships to the first 20 students joining the Welding program and the first 40 students in both the Electrical Power and Controls and Industrial Maintenance programs.

“There are high-demand jobs in and around the area,” said Kimberly Porter, vice president of student recruitment at TSTC in Abilene. “For anyone in West Texas, they don’t have to go to the Metroplex for these industries.”

The technical programs will be taught in the Industrial Technology Center nearing completion on Loop 322 next to Abilene Regional Airport.

“I just think it is exciting because it is making a bigger footprint in Abilene,” Porter said. “The community is super-excited to have us here. It is a way for the students to stay closer to home and contribute to their local economy.”

Students must be enrolled by July 20 to get on the scholarship list. Once fully enrolled, a TSTC admissions or recruiting staff member will contact students letting them know about the money they will receive, Porter said. Students who receive the scholarship do not need to be Pell Grant eligible. The money can only be used only for the fall 2018 semester.

Rick Denbow, provost of TSTC in West Texas, said the scholarships are aimed at breaking down enrollment barriers.

“There is no question that the scholarship money will help the students,” he said. “We have three new programs that we have not offered before in Abilene. This reiterates the college’s commitment to helping the new campus start off real strong.”

For more information on Texas State Technical College, go to


TSTC Holds Spring 2018 Commencement in Abilene

(ABILENE) – More than 80 graduates received certificates and associate degrees at Texas State Technical College’s Spring 2018 Commencement held Friday, April 27, at the Abilene Convention Center.

Rick Denbow, provost of TSTC in Abilene, Breckenridge, Brownwood and Sweetwater, began the ceremony with a tribute to TSTC President Emeritus Homer K. Taylor of Sweetwater, who died earlier in the day at age 83.

“He would be extremely happy for you to celebrate the success of the students,” Denbow told the audience.

Texas Rep. Stan Lambert, R-Abilene, was the keynote speaker. He told those gathered about his first job as a 9-year-old washing windshields at his father’s full-service filling station. He said it was a great experience in public relations.

“You can’t replace kindness in the world,” Lambert said.

Lambert said for graduates to be successful, they need to do four things: have something to do, someone to love, something to believe in and something to hope for.

“What do you hope is the next chapter in life?” Lambert asked the graduates.

Lambert advised graduates to be honest, read the Bible, do the right things in life, have a good attitude and not to hold grudges.

“It’s important at this time to have a positive attitude,” he said.

Lambert said he admired how West Texas residents came together for the TSTC in Sweetwater students affected by the Bluebonnet Inn dormitory fire earlier this year.

Several of Friday’s graduates already have jobs.

Johnathan McCarthy, 28, of Abilene graduated with an Associate of Applied Science degree in Wind Energy Technology. He is already working as a wind technician at Invenergy LLC in Nolan.

“I got out of the Marine Corps and needed an exciting job that is stable,” McCarthy said. “Wind Energy Technology was new and different, but I knew I could do it.”

Some graduates are job searching.

Cameron Hartgraves, 26, of Abilene was a Phi Theta Kappa graduate who earned an Associate of Applied Science degree in Computer Networking and Systems Administration. He wants to stay in the area for employment.

But, this was not Hartgraves’ first college graduation. He already has a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Hardin-Simmons University.

“I more or less figured out that I could fix computers better than people,” he said.

Earlier in the day, the ADN Pinning Ceremony for TSTC in Sweetwater nursing graduates took place at an Abilene church.

For more information, log on to


New Industrial Maintenance Program at TSTC to Fill a Need for West Texas

(ABILENE) – Some of the most sizzling careers right now in West Texas are in the industrial maintenance field, and Texas State Technical College is poised to fill the need.

TSTC in Abilene will offer the new Associate of Applied Science degree in Industrial Maintenance – Mechanical Specialization at the Industrial Technology Center opening this fall on Loop 322 next to Abilene Regional Airport. Students will learn about electrical theory, industrial maintenance, blueprint reading, hydraulics, pneumatics and other topics in the heavily hands-on program.

Shea Hopkins, director of talent management at the Abilene Industrial Foundation, recently took a tour of the ITC.

“It was looking good,” she said. “I think it’s exciting to have something like this in Abilene, and I think the students will be excited about it.”

Hopkins said one of the first questions prospective companies ask is if skilled labor can be found to fill available positions.

“What I like about industrial maintenance is it is the most comprehensive,” Hopkins said. “It gives the students a little bit of everything. It is not as specific as some of the other degrees. It makes for well-rounded employees, and the companies can use them for a lot of different jobs so they can use those skills.”

Graduates can use the associate degree to become millwrights, industrial motor control technicians, and electrical and electronics installers and repairers.

Electro-mechanical technicians and industrial maintenance mechanics are considered in-demand occupations in the region, according to Workforce Solutions of West Central Texas.

Steve Collins, business and resource consultant at Workforce Solutions, said there are more than 800 job openings now in the wind farm, oil and gas and manufacturing sectors in Callahan, Jones and Taylor counties for installation, repair and maintenance. The number can shift almost daily as hiring is done and jobs are open.

Collins said TSTC’s Industrial Maintenance program will be helpful to fill employment needs.

“The more education you can get, the better qualified you are,” he said.

Joe Tiner, chief engineer at Texas Healthcare Linen in Abilene, said he needs maintenance technicians who can read blueprints and troubleshoot electrical problems quickly and know how to fix machinery. He said it was great that students will get to study Industrial Maintenance in Abilene.

“Those are the guys that TSTC will produce and give them a baseline of what they need to do once they are in the field,” he said. “That is how I learned.”

The high-tech laundry company works with hospitals in Abilene and throughout West Texas to clean their 14 million pounds of laundry per year.

“We work long shifts, five days a week, and are at only about 50 percent of our capacity,” Tiner said. “We have been growing.”

The new Industrial Maintenance program has also piqued the interest of area companies.

Acme Brick, based in Fort Worth, has a production plant in Lubbock and retail brick, tile and stone stores in Abilene, Amarillo, Lubbock, Midland and San Angelo.

“That would be a nice place to look,” Yulonda Charles, Acme Brick’s human resources manager, said about TSTC in Abilene. “I do partner with TSTC on most of their campuses. We are looking for trainees coming out of TSTC, but they need to be open to moving where we have a plant.”

West Texas Industrial Engines Inc. in San Angelo specializes in engine overhauls, field services, machine shop services and other work for the oil and gas field.

“The problem with filling jobs is San Angelo’s unemployment rate is less than 3 percent, so our opportunities to fill positions in the industrial field are very limited,” said C. Alan McClain, the company’s president and chief executive officer and a TSTC in Sweetwater alumnus.

He said it was exciting that TSTC in Abilene was expanding its technical offerings with the Industrial Maintenance program.

“I think it will be outstanding,” McClain said. “Anything we can do to help get people in the skilled trades and get them an education and place them in skilled trade jobs would be great.”

The Industrial Maintenance program will be offered in Abilene pending approval from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

For more information on Texas State Technical College, go to