Author Archives: Daniel Perry

TSTC Aims to Guide Johnson County Graduates Into Technical Careers

(RED OAK, Texas) – Some Johnson County college students are looking to Texas State Technical College to shape their futures. During the fall semester, more than 60 county residents are attending TSTC’s campuses in North Texas, Marshall, Sweetwater and Waco.

“The hiring potential in the Dallas-Fort Worth, Ellis County and Johnson County areas is increasing as the economy opens back up,” said Lyle Guinn, an instructor in TSTC’s Precision Machining Technology program at the North Texas campus. “The older generation is retiring, and companies are looking for competent, qualified people to fill the void left by those retirements.”

TSTC is viewed as an asset for Cleburne’s economic development. 

“It certainly helps as a recruiting tool when we recruit a new manufacturing or industrial business in Cleburne that is looking for a highly skilled workforce,” said Grady Easdon, the city of Cleburne’s economic development manager. “It is an outstanding recruiting tool for us.”

Triangle Pump Components Inc. in Cleburne gets less than three-quarters of its business from petroleum-based customers. The majority of the company’s employees are machinists, said Sam Kelton, Triangle’s vice president and general manager.

“Machinists with the skill set and experience we look for were more difficult to find before the pandemic,” Kelton said. “Since the pandemic started, many DFW-area companies that employ machinists have experienced layoffs.”

Kelton said machinists need good computer programming, mathematics and spatial reasoning skills.

“The job is both challenging and interesting,” he said. “Machinists are usually very intelligent and creative thinkers. Machining work will hold one’s interest and be motivating at the same time, while being hands-on at the same time.”

Kelton said he is confident the demand for future machinists will grow in the future but more people need to pursue the industry.

“Our business is structured to withstand the volatile swings in the oil industry,” he said. “The pandemic added an additional challenge we have not seen before. Businesses must be more creative and adaptable now than anytime I have seen in over 40 years of management.”

Sachem Inc., which is headquartered in Austin and has a facility in Cleburne, is a private chemical science company specializing in high-performance and high-purity products and services for the agrochemical, biotechnology, oil field and pharmaceutical industries.

Katie Cash, the company’s senior human resources manager in Austin, said the company frequently hires chemical operators on a temp-to-hire basis.

“We are a 24-hour, seven-days-a-week facility, and the production department where this role is works on a rotating swing shift, which is a mix of days and nights,” Cash said. “It can be a challenge to find individuals who can work this type of schedule. Some love it because it affords a string of days off on a regular basis. The operator, who technically starts as a packager, is involved in filling totes of product, monitoring tanks and processes, and preparing the product for shipping.”

Cash said the company also occasionally has maintenance and shipping jobs to fill.

“We tend to hire applicants who have some work experience in manufacturing environments. Some have forklift experience but are willing to train if not, and all have energy, drive and motivation and are reliable to come to work on time,” she said.

For Cleburne to have the workers for the future, students need to be inspired now.

Eighth grade students in the Cleburne Independent School District take a college and career readiness course in which they build a personal graduation plan for high school.

“The sooner we can get laser-focused toward a pathway, it shows graduation rates are higher and dropout rates are lower,” said Mark McClure, the Cleburne school district’s career and technical education director. 

Cleburne’s high school students in the health science pathway have the opportunity to earn pharmacy technician or registered dental assistant certifications, while students in the diesel technician program do internships at local businesses before they graduate.

“What we are doing is forecasting future jobs,” McClure said. “They say about 75 percent of the jobs today’s third graders will have haven’t even been invented yet.”

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TSTC Alum’s Dream Lives on at TSTC

(MARSHALL, Texas) – Texas State Technical College now has a tangible reminder of an alumnus, thanks to a generous gift.

 Rick Berry had a heart as big as the outdoors, where he loved to hunt and fish.

 The resident of Carthage, Texas, grew up traveling throughout Greece and the Middle East with his father, who was in the oil industry, and graduated from the American School in Aberdeen, Scotland.

 Eventually Berry found his way to TSTC’s Marshall campus, where in 2009 he earned associate degrees in Computer Aided Drafting and Computer Aided Manufacturing.

 Later he dreamed of opening his own firearms manufacturing facility. Among his purchases for the nascent business was a Gunsmithing Gearhead Lathe made by Grizzly Industrial Inc.

 But soon his dream began to fade.

 “Before he was able to start his business, he started getting sick,” said his wife, Sarah.

 Berry died in 2018 at just 51 years of age.

 Sarah Berry began looking for a new home for the lathe, which was valued at nearly $6,000 and still in its original carton.

 “After he passed away and we had to move, I had no place to put it,” she said.

 Her thoughts turned to TSTC. She worked with Blake Cox, The TSTC Foundation’s field development officer for East Texas, to donate the lathe to the college.

 “It is a huge help to the program in what we are doing and trying to be as safe as we can,” Cox said. “It is an extra piece of equipment that will serve a great purpose. We want to let (the Berry family) know we are very grateful for this.”

 Danny Nixon, an instructor in TSTC’s Precision Machining Technology program, taught Berry and admired his intellect.

 “He was a big guy, and he was a teddy bear when it came to getting to know him,” Nixon said. “He had a generous heart.”

 The program’s faculty will use the lathe in manual machining classes, Nixon said. He added that the lathe means more students can take classes.

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TSTC Welding Students Create Sign for Former High School Teacher

(WACO, Texas) – Daniel Gormley and Travis Kight have known each other since they were in middle school in Boerne. Now they are in their fourth semester as Texas State Technical College students studying Welding Technology.

The students are completing a special project that is sure to make Dorman Vick, their former welding instructor at Samuel V. Champion  High School in Boerne, happy.

“He (Vick) texted me and asked for the (TSTC Welding Technology) instructor’s phone number,” Gormley said. “He wanted a sign to hang in the shop.”

Vick, who came from the welding industry to pursue teaching, said several of his students in the last 16 years have studied at TSTC’s Waco campus. He said he is impressed with TSTC’s advanced pipe welding class and the instructors.

“I rank you all (TSTC) the best after-high school welding program in the state,” Vick said. “I rank you all high in the nation.”

Gormley and Kight designed, produced, polished and painted a special rectangle-shaped sign bearing the TSTC logo and an image of a welder. The students created the sign as a project in the Welding Automation class taught by Richard Vargas. The students used Lincoln Electric’s Torchmate software to create the design.

“The students are excited to learn on the computer numerical controlled plasma table,” said Vargas, a TSTC Welding Technology instructor. “They like to get really creative on their projects.”

The students said they have enjoyed expanding their knowledge beyond the metal inert gas welding and shielded metal arc welding they learned in high school. The students said they have learned about tungsten inert gas welding and robotics at TSTC.

Gormley said TSTC’s Waco campus was the only college he visited before enrolling, but Kight initially planned to pursue firefighting.

“I came to look at TSTC with Daniel,” Kight said. “I did welding in high school, and I grew to really like it.”

After graduating in December, the students said they are interested in pursuing pipeline work.

“Find out what you are good at,” Gormley said. “Don’t get stuck with something you will hate.”

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TSTC Ready to Meet Aviation Job Needs in Williamson County

(HUTTO, Texas) – The Texas aviation and aerospace industry is responsible for creating more than 778,000 jobs and a payroll of more than $30 billion, according to the Texas Department of Transportation’s 2018 Texas Aviation Economic Impact Study. 

“Aviation is a huge, growing field,” said Michael Smith, senior field development officer for The TSTC Foundation at Texas State Technical College’s Williamson County campus. “Aviation is a prime opportunity because you have an aging workforce.”

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has projected a need for more than 23,000 avionics technicians and more than 143,000 aviation mechanics and service technicians by 2029.

“We have two generations of workers that never went into those fields,” Smith said.

Williamson County residents interested in aerospace and aviation careers can learn needed skills in the Industrial Systems, Precision Machining Technology and Welding Technology programs at TSTC’s campus in Hutto. 

Robert Capps, TSTC’s statewide lead for the Aviation Maintenance department, said the COVID-19 pandemic has not decreased students’ desire to study in TSTC’s Aircraft Airframe Technology and Aircraft Powerplant Technology programs in Abilene, Harlingen and Waco. 

“We pull in quite a few students from the Williamson County area,” Capps said. “There is certainly plenty of interest.”

Capps said due to the popularity of TSTC’s aviation maintenance programs, spring student intakes are being considered for the first time at the Abilene and Harlingen campuses. Spring intakes will continue at the Waco campus.

Capps said he advises students visiting the aviation maintenance programs to be willing to move where their first job is.

“Unlike automotive, where you have mom-and-pop shops spring up all over the place, there are very few mom-and-pop shops popping up for aviation maintenance,” he said. “Most of the work is done in hubs.”

The Georgetown Municipal Airport can be considered Williamson County’s aviation hub, as more than 20 aviation-related businesses are clustered there. The airport has two runways, the longest being 5,004 feet in length. The airport’s economic impact is more than 500 jobs with a payroll that exceeds $14 million, according to TxDOT’s 2018 aviation impact study. 

Joseph Carney, the airport’s manager, said encouraging students to pursue aerospace and aviation careers should start in high school. He cited the Georgetown Independent School District’s Tango Flight program as a way to give students hands-on experience by building small airplanes to sell.

“This exposes the students to colleges with aviation programs,” Carney said. “They are not going into college completely blind.” 

One of Cedar Park’s largest employers, Firefly Aerospace, has more than 150 employees, according to the Cedar Park Economic Development Corp. The company specializes in designing, manufacturing and operating reliable launch vehicles. It has hired TSTC alumni for jobs in machining, manufacturing, engineering and technology integration.

Ben White, president and chief executive officer of the Cedar Park EDC, said Firefly Aerospace’s presence in the city and county signals a change in the economy.

“I think it has demonstrated Cedar Park can be home to high-tech and forward-thinking companies,” he said. “It is a startup company working with NASA to deliver payloads to the moon. There are many cities and companies in Texas that are working on that. That kind of demonstrates the progression of the workforce in Williamson County. It is becoming more of a high-tech workforce.”

There have been 31 openings for avionics technicians advertised through Workforce Solutions Rural Capital Area in the last 12 months. Several of the openings have been at Firefly Aerospace.

White predicts Cedar Park will be the next employment hub for the Austin area.

“You will see a lot of technical jobs, high-tech jobs, Firefly-like corporations, but you will also see regional headquarters and office support for corporations coming here,” he said.

TSTC also offers Aircraft Pilot Training Technology and Avionics Technology in Waco.

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TSTC Receives Greater Texas Foundation Grant

(WACO, Texas) – The Greater Texas Foundation has awarded a $715,742 grant to help develop Texas State Technical College’s performance-based education initiative. The grant was awarded through The TSTC Foundation. 

Performance-based education allows students to have flexibility with their schedules as they master set competencies in their programs. Faculty members guide the students as they take courses. 

“Performance-based education pathways allow students to build on their existing knowledge and complete credentials without putting the rest of their lives on hold,” said Sue McMillin, president and chief executive officer of the Greater Texas Foundation. “We are proud to support TSTC in developing these pathways to extend postsecondary opportunities to more Texas students.”

The money will be used to hire three instructional designers to reshape nine of TSTC’s programs in the next three years. Performance-based education is scheduled to debut in fall 2021 in the Computer Networking and Systems Administration, Cybersecurity, and Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning Technology programs.

“It is great for the institution,” said Kyle Smith, TSTC’s deputy chief academic officer. “I would say with this particular grant, it is going to be transformative for our students. If you look at the key drivers of the grant, it is all very student-centered. It increases the accessibility to college, the ability to accelerate, with programs being available from morning to evening.”

Instructional designers deconstruct curricula down to knowledge, skills and abilities that provide the foundation for competencies and master assessments, said Gena Jean, TSTC’s performance-based education program manager. Instructional designers will work with faculty to develop engaging curricula.

Performance-based education could allow some TSTC students to graduate early after showing they have mastered competencies to their instructors. Students will still have semesters, but the number of classes will vary.

“The whole intent of the vision is to put more Texans in great-paying jobs by allowing them (the students) more accessibility and flexibility in scheduling and the ability to accelerate through the courses they will be in,” said Lance Eastman, TSTC’s senior vice president of student learning and interim provost of the West Texas campuses.

The Greater Texas Foundation supports initiatives that increase rates of postsecondary enrollment and completion for all Texas students, with a particular focus on students who may encounter barriers to postsecondary success, according to the organization’s website. 

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TSTC Alumnus Provides Environmental Safety Needs

(WACO, Texas) – Chadwick Cole of Lorena took his mother’s advice to heart when he was a teenager growing up in Bryan.

“My mother told me to never stop learning,” he said.

After graduating from high school, Cole pursued psychology at a two-year college but did not find the classes enjoyable. He needed a change, and found it at Texas State Technical College’s Waco campus. He graduated in 2001 with an Associate of Applied Science degree in Environmental Health and Safety.

“I’m proud to say I graduated from TSTC,” he said. “I felt like I got my money’s worth.”

Cole said TSTC gave him the confidence he needed to enter the workforce. 

“Chad was success-oriented from day one, and we all knew he was destined for greatness,” said Martin Knudsen, an instructor in TSTC’s Occupational Safety Compliance Technology program.

Cole went to work as a project manager at ESESIS Environmental Partners less than a week after graduating from TSTC. The company was founded in 1988 in Waco by Charles Thorn, who decided in 2010 to sell the company to his employees. Cole and two co-workers bought the company and several years later relocated it to Elm Mott.

Cole does not sit in an office all day. He travels throughout Texas doing Phase 1 environmental site assessments, along with asbestos, lead and mold inspections, on commercial buildings and homes. The company recently added COVID-19 surface testing because of demand.

“I own the company because I know to be a success, it is in my hands,” Cole said. “I know I will not be laid off. I want to be in control of my destiny.”

Cole said there is a need for people to work in lead inspecting, as well as asbestos and mold consulting. He said the jobs are great ways to work with regulations and use problem-solving skills.

“If you want to help people with environmental challenges and issues, this is the career to go into,” he said.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Texas had more than 3,000 environmental science and protection technicians earning an annual mean wage of $48,400 in 2019. 

Jobs for these technicians are projected to rise to more than 37,000 through 2029 in the United States, according to the federal agency.

“In today’s industrial world, there is and always will be a need for individuals that possess the knowledge and skills we offer in the environmental program,” said Lester Bowers, TSTC’s statewide chair of the Environmental Technology department. “The skills and education our students receive here offer them numerous opportunities in industry such as program management, consulting, training and regulatory positions.”

Cole graduated in 1996 from Bryan High School.

“We heard about TSTC, and my grandmother and mother brought us (he and his fraternal twin brother, Christopher) to campus, and we toured several programs,” Cole said.

Cole said the Safety Training Presentation Techniques class is one he will always remember. The morning of his presentation to the class, Cole hurt his hand as he was going down icy steps at his on-campus apartment. 

“That class set me up for success because I wasn’t used to talking to a lot of people (at one time),” Cole said.

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TSTC Alumna Leads Effort to Improve Axtell

(WACO, Texas) – Amanda Ruble has quickly put her fundraising and marketing skills to good use for the betterment of Axtell, an unincorporated area of McLennan County.

“It does not have a big-city feel,” she said. “We have a good school district out here.”

Ruble, who grew up in Gatesville, is a 2017 graduate of Texas State Technical College. She took online classes to earn an Associate of Applied Science degree in Business Management Technology.

“I am extremely proud of the young woman Amanda has grown into,” said her mother Sherri Ruble, an instructor in TSTC’s Computer Networking and Systems Administration program in Waco. “She has always been goal-oriented. I know that once she sets her mind to do something, she will.”

Amanda Ruble was a marketing director when she was laid off in March. She now has businesses at her home selling candles and shirts.

The idea for Axtell’s farmers market came from an item on an Axtell-focused Facebook page. People thought it would be a great idea for those who grew vegetables to gather and sell them.

Amanda Ruble thought about the idea and decided to take the lead for residents. She started a Facebook page for the Axtell Farmers Market and Trade Days and asked Leroy-Axtell Fire and Rescue’s fire chief to allow the market to set up on land next door to their building.

Amanda Ruble learned the 20-member volunteer force needed a new Jaws of Life to enable them to answer emergency calls. She decided all proceeds from the farmers market would go toward this purchase.

“We have two deadly intersections out here, and people wreck all the time,” she said.

The first farmers’ market in July yielded more than $600 in donations. Eventually the younger Ruble was able to raise $15,000 with farmers markets held twice a month starting in August.

In late September, she had a meeting via video conferencing with representatives of Daniel Stark Injury Lawyers in Waco to discuss the Jaws of Life project. Ruble said she was surprised when the law firm offered to contribute $15,000 to enable the volunteer fire department to make the purchase.

Billy Brown, the Leroy-Axtell Fire and Rescue’s assistant fire chief, said the effort brought residents together. He said the volunteers found out through a group text about all of the Jaws of Life funding being raised.

“It’s great to know there are still kind-hearted people out there,” Brown said.

Ruble’s next goal is to raise money for a park for residents. The park is planned for the land the farmers market takes place on.

“We need something here,” she said.

The Axtell Farmers Market and Trade Days are held from 9 a.m. to noon on the first and third Saturdays of each month next to the Leroy-Axtell Fire and Rescue’s building. The last event of the year will be held Dec. 19. The event will restart in the spring. The market adheres to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and McLennan County health and safety guidelines for COVID-19.

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TSTC’s Workforce Training Department Provides Customized Training to Waco Company

(WACO, Texas) – Texas State Technical College’s Workforce Training department is providing a 10-month customized industrial maintenance academy for Mars Wrigley employees in Waco.

“The training program is a prime example of the mission of TSTC to prepare students for great-paying jobs in Texas,” said Adam Barber, interim director of TSTC’s Workforce Training department.

The training began in July and involves alternating weeks at TSTC and working with experienced maintenance technicians at the company. Employees are industrial maintenance apprentices while they are in the program; once they successfully finish, they will be promoted to industrial maintenance technicians.

“It was very beneficial to have a technical college right down the road so we could do something like this,” said Jeremiah Courtright, Mars Wrigley’s reliability engineer.

Courtright said the accelerated teaching factors into the company’s employment goals. The company decided to look inward to train and promote certain employees who are chosen for their work ethic, technical ability and understanding of processes.

“It has become increasingly hard to recruit skilled industrial maintenance technicians,” Courtright said. “This is not just at Mars or in Waco, but it is a nationwide industry problem.”

The company, which has roughly 600-employees in Waco, needs maintenance technicians on-site seven days a week.

The company’s employees are at TSTC from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. from Monday to Friday, with most classes taking place at the Ideas Center.

Devin Gifford of Waco was a process technician for the plant’s product distribution side before being selected for the academy. He said  he has enjoyed learning about electrical theory.

“It (the academy) definitely gives you the ability to test yourself at how much you have retained,” Gifford said.

Rayce Luke of Hewitt was an operator working on the Starburst candy production line before being selected for the program. She said because of the training, she is gaining a better understanding of how equipment works. On a recent class day at TSTC, Luke learned how to connect circuits and measure voltage.

“At first, I felt like an underdog,” she said of when she started the academy. “I came in here all new. I feel I have caught on pretty well.”

The academy had its first cohort in 2019, with the second group scheduled to finish next spring. Some of the topics that the employees are learning include motor controls and pneumatics.

“The Mars Wrigley apprenticeship academy is a model that has proven to be successful and has really provided industry a blueprint for training the next generation of technicians,” said Barber. ‘With the ability to tailor the training content for specific needs, there is a great opportunity for companies to follow in Mars’ footsteps and recognize the importance of providing the skills training necessary for their future workforce.”

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Sulphur Springs Student Perseveres in Studies at TSTC

(MARSHALL, Texas) – Kyle Hudgins of Sulphur Springs is motivated by waking up every day to do something new.

“I get ready to add to the knowledge I have already gained and get a better understanding of the work we do and how each component functions,” he said.

Hudgins is pursuing an Associate of Applied Science degree in Industrial Systems –  Electrical Specialization at Texas State Technical College’s Marshall campus. Some of the topics he is learning about include basic electrical theory, hydraulics, industrial maintenance and pumps.

“This program is full of hands-on labs and instructors that genuinely want to see you excel,” he said. “If you don’t understand something, they are there to make sure you fully grasp the concept to the full extent.”

Hudgins likes the program because it enables workers to be a jack-of-all trades in the workplace.

“It has endless limits; it is just up to you to fulfill them,” he said.

Edward Chaney, lead instructor in TSTC’s Industrial Systems program in Marshall, admired Hudgins’ resilience last spring when the campus shifted to a hybrid instructional format due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“He never griped or complained but instead used the opportunity to rise above,” Chaney said. “He was part of a group of a few students who joined together to meet and go over the online material before presenting their questions to me through Google Hangouts. He took everything in stride and adapted to the new delivery system. His adaptability is a testament to what a true technician needs to be.”

Hudgins is a graduate of Sulphur Springs High School. Before he came to TSTC, he was studying business accounting at another college and working as a bank teller.

“I quickly realized that sitting in an office all day wasn’t my cup of tea,” Hudgins said. “My neighbor had recently graduated from the Industrial Systems program at TSTC when I ran into him. He gave me a rundown of the classes he had taken and how much he liked it. The diversity of jobs you can get with this degree was exactly what I was looking for.”

After his scheduled graduation in December, Hudgins wants to work in the Sulphur Springs area. But, he said he is keeping his job prospects open.

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TSTC Computer Programming Technology Program Trains Students for East Texas Jobs

(MARSHALL, Texas) – Graduates of Texas State Technical College’s Computer Programming Technology program can be confident about the job market for years to come.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has projected there will be more than 741,000 jobs for computer user support specialists and more than 1.7 million jobs for software developers by 2029.

“Computers have become a very big part of everyone’s life, especially since COVID-19 forced so many to work from home,” said Phyllis Hollingshead, an instructor in TSTC’s Computer Programming Technology program. “Computers are only capable of doing what they do because programmers have programmed them to do so.”

Students are placed in internships during their last semester in the program. Hollingshead said many of the internships convert to full-time jobs.

“We teach what is relevant to the market today,” she said. “We use the latest software for our courses.”

Ashton Armstrong of Waskom graduated from the program last summer with an Associate of Applied Science degree in Computer Programming Technology and Microsoft Office certifications. He did an internship at iClassPro in Longview before being hired as a customer support representative. He said the job involves a lot of problem-solving and communicating solutions to customers throughout the world.

“Most of what I do is take calls, emails and chats from my company’s customers looking for any kind of assistance they need with the software we have,” Armstrong said. “I do a lot of testing on our software and different things our customers report to our support team in general.”

Another company that employs TSTC graduates is SEVEN Networks in Marshall. The company develops innovative software solutions that deliver device-centric mobile traffic management and analytics for wireless carriers.

“The graduates that we have hired from TSTC have exceeded our expectations and are just as knowledgeable and prepared as other programmers from four-year universities,” said Keyvan Shahrdar, SEVEN Networks’ director of product management and director of operations. “Computer programming is a growing field, and the starting salaries are well over $50,000. Computer programming is a good career field to get into.”

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