Author Archives: Amanda Sotelo Sotelo

Student Success Profile – Clarissa Marquez

(HARLINGEN) – Clarissa MarquezMcAllen native Clarissa Marquez is a Dental Hygiene Student at Texas State Technical College. The 31-year-old expects to graduate with an associate degree in Spring 2020. She currently boasts a 3.7 grade-point average.

When the single mom is not studying, she serves as the historian for the Student Chapter of the American Dental Hygiene Association at TSTC and assists with organizing fundraisers to raise money for dental hygiene board exams.

What are your plans after graduation?

After I graduate my family and I will probably move to North Texas and explore my career options there. I know there are a lot opportunities in the area in my field.

What’s your dream job?

My dream job is to be an on-call dental hygienist for a zoo and clean the teeth of exotic animals such as primates.

What has been your greatest accomplishment while at TSTC?

My greatest accomplishment has been being accepted in the Dental Hygiene program. I didn’t get in on my first try, it took two applications and a whole year of waiting. It’s a competitive program, but I never gave up.

What greatest lesson have you learned about yourself or life?

The greatest lesson I have learned is that every decision I have made and later regretted, has brought me to where I am today. They say everything happens for a reason, and I truly believe that. What was meant to happen has led me to a great life with amazing family and soon-to-be career as a dental hygienist.

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

The people who have influenced my success the most are my classmates. They have become my support system and second family; 30 brains are better than one after all.

What is your advice for future TSTC students?

My advice for future TSTC students is to be confident, create goals and be with the people who bring the best out in you.


World of nursing welcomes TSTC graduates

(HARLINGEN) – After four semesters of blood, sweat, tears and sacrifice, Texas State Technical College Vocational Nursing students celebrated the completion of their program with a pinning ceremony held Saturday, Dec. 8.

All thirteen nursing students earned certificates in Vocational Nursing during TSTC’s commencement ceremony at the Harlingen Municipal Auditorium on Dec. 14.

The pinning ceremony was described by TSTC Vocational Nursing program director Heather Sauceda as the rite of passage into the nursing profession.

TSTC Vocational Nursing Pinning Ceremony

“I am so proud of each and every one of my students,” Sauceda said tearfully. “They have worked so hard and put in countless hours to achieve everything they have. And they deserve to be celebrated.”

The pinning ceremony stems from a tradition that dates back to the 19th century, when Florence Nightingale, a trailblazing figure in the nursing profession and the founder of modern-day nursing, trained nurses to care for wounded soldiers.

The Dec. 8 ceremony included a capping ceremony, presentation of pins, candle-lighting ceremony that signified the light of knowledge, reciting of the Nightingale Pledge, and blessing of hands and benediction led by Pastor Danny Anderson of the Bridge-Rio Hondo Baptist Church.

“These graduates are confident, passionate, and I know they will be the best nurses they can be,” said Sauceda. “Today marks the beginning for them.”

TSTC Vocational Nursing Pinning CeremonyThe program’s valedictorian, Ivette Cruz, and salutatorian, Julie Villarreal, were also honored at the ceremony for their academic achievements.

“I never imagined I would be valedictorian,” said Cruz. “In fact, in the beginning I felt like quitting. I didn’t start strong and failed some exams, but here we are.  I’ve come a long way, and I have my entire family to thank for this.”

“This is God’s purpose for us, and today we’re fulfilling his purpose,” said Villarreal through tears of joy. “But our success doesn’t only belong to us, it also belongs to everyone who has supported us and guided us along the way.”

Villarreal also left her fellow graduates with some words of wisdom: “Never doubt your ability to make a difference in someone’s life.”

The ceremony also included addresses from TSTC Provost Cledia Hernandez, Associate Provost Jean Lashbrook, and guest speaker and Director of Nursing Operations at South Texas Rehabilitation Hospital Gabriela Garza.

“You are now part of someone’s life journey and walking alongside people during their greatest time of need,” said Garza. “The key to being a great nurse is knowing yourself. So, always remember the hard work it has taken to get to where you are, and hold it close to your heart and always remember why nursing chose you.”

The nursing graduates join an alumni network of more than 100,000 TSTC graduates.

The Vocational Nursing pinning ceremony is held twice a year during the Summer and Fall semesters.

For more information on Vocational Nursing at TSTC or to apply, visit

Student Success Profile – Jovany Hensley

Jovany Hensley(HARLINGEN) – Jovany Hensley graduated Friday night with a certificate in Computer Maintenance Technology from Texas State Technical College. The 20-year-old said computers and technology in general have intrigued him since high school, which shows in his 3.4 grade-point average.

When the La Feria native was not busy studying or completing projects, he served as historian for the Computer Maintenance Technology Club, where he would also participate in community service events and repair computers for TSTC faculty, staff and students for free.

What are your plans after graduation?

After I graduate I plan on enlisting in the U.S. Air Force and using my computer maintenance skills to be a technician for the military. I also hope to continue my education to pursue a bachelor’s degree in computer science.

What’s your dream job?

My dream job is to someday work for a large company like Microsoft or Dell, or even a network provider like AT&T.

What has been your greatest accomplishment while at TSTC?

My greatest accomplishment has been maintaining my grades and being able to put my training and knowledge to use on fixing computers not only in labs, but also to help out our TSTC family.

What greatest lesson have you learned about yourself or life?

The greatest lesson I have learned about myself is that I would rather work in teams than alone. I’m a team player and really extroverted, so it’s hard for me to work alone. I think this stems from playing sports when I was younger.

Who at TSTC has had a great influence on your success?

My computer maintenance instructor, Elizabeth Martinez, has had a huge influence on my success. She pushed me to be active on campus and always inspired me to keep going when times get tough. In fact, TSTC in general has made a difference in my life and has influenced me to explore and be successful in different areas of my field and leadership.

What is your advice for future TSTC students?

Advice for future TSTC students is to keep trying even when you fail; don’t make excuses. Learn to adapt to your situations and overcome challenges. Don’t give up.


TSTC Board of Regent honors grads recognized with ceremony

(HARLINGEN) – In a momentous occasion, Texas State Technical College honored its four Board of Regent honors graduates with a ceremony and dinner to recognize them for their academic achievement.

This is the first time TSTC hosts a recognition event for these graduates who have earned and maintained a perfect 4.0 grade-point average throughout their college careers. Ceremonies are being held statewide.

“These students have worked so hard, sacrificed so much and have dedicated themselves to reach this type of achievement,” said TSTC Provost Cledia Hernandez. “Ceremonies like this are important. Student success is our mission and this allows us to honor their success.”

Daniel Alvarez, Certificate in Precision Machining Technology; Alberto Gonzalez, Certificate in Industrial System Technology; Hector Lima, Certificate in Building Construction Technology; and Jackie Vasquez, Associate of Science in Biology were all recognized as Fall 2018 Board of Regent honorees.TSTC Board of Regent Grads

Gonzalez, 46, said he never imagined this kind of achievement, especially returning from a long hiatus.

“I’ve been out of school for a while, but with the changes and advancements in technology I felt like it was time to come back,” he said. “And I’m so glad I’ve been able to share this moment with my family.”

TSTC Regent and Pharr City Manager Alex Meade, along with TSTC administration and faculty joined the students and their families for the celebration.

Regent Meade addressed the graduates and extended a congratulations to their families as well.

“This is as much your accomplishment as it is theirs. There’s a lot of sacrifice that happens when your family member is in school,” Meade told the families. “This is something we, as a Rio Grande Valley, need to recognize and be proud of. You (graduates) are the ones changing the Valley for the better.”

Meade, whose career focuses on economic development, said TSTC plays a huge role in the area because of the technical training it provides.

“TSTC is tasked in preparing highly trained and skilled graduates for the workforce,” he said. “And you all are a testament to that. You have all exceeded every expectation and we are so proud of you.”

Meade concluded the ceremony by presenting the Board of Regent gold medallion to each student to wear during their commencement ceremony and keep as a memento of their hard work.

“This is really exciting for me and my family,” said Vasquez, 22. “I’ve aimed for this since day one, and I think it’s great that TSTC has taken the time to honor us in this way. I appreciate being able to share this with the ones I love and have stood by me through my journey.”

Hernandez said these ceremonies will become a tradition for the college statewide.

“It’s important that we go above and beyond for our students,” said Hernandez. “We applaud their success; they deserve this.”

On Friday night during TSTC’s commencement ceremonies these student joined an alumni network 100,000 strong.

For more information on TSTC and the programs offered, visit

TSTC takes graduate’s future to new heights

(HARLINGEN) – Unsure about his future, Nicholas Trevino left the Rio Grande Valley to work in the oil fields. Although the pay was good, he knew that his future in a fluctuating industry was not secure, so he decided to enroll at Texas State Technical College in 2016.

Fast forward to December 2018: The 23-year-old graduated with honors last night with his second associate degree and a 4.0 GPA in Aircraft Powerplant Technology during TSTC’s commencement ceremonies at the Harlingen Municipal Auditorium. He joined more than 100 graduates who also earned certificates or associate degrees.

“I never thought college was for me, and TSTC changed that,” said Trevino. “Thankfully, everything has come together like it has, and I’m excited to begin a new chapter in my life with a new career.”

The Kingsville native, who earned his first associate degree from TSTC in the summer of 2018 in Aircraft Airframe Technology, said it was his uncle Raul Garcia, also a TSTC alumnus, who inspired him to attend TSTC and pursue a career in aircraft maintenance.

“Through the years I have seen his success and how TSTC shaped his career and life,” said Trevino. “And I’ve always been amazed by it. So when he suggested I move back home and attend TSTC, I didn’t hesitate.”Nick Trevino

In fact, Trevino not only followed in his uncle’s footsteps by attending the same college, but he also pursued the same major.

Garcia currently works in Kingsville at L3 Technologies, an aerospace and defense company, overseeing a team of mechanics.

“I hope to work with my uncle someday and to join the L3 family,” said Trevino. “I have set goals for myself, and this is one of them.”

Trevino already has his Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) license and an FAA aircraft airframe license. Upon passing his certification exam, Trevino will also have an FAA aircraft powerplant license.

He said he hopes also to learn to fly and become a pilot, get certified in aircraft inspection authorization and later become an FAA instructor.

“It feels great knowing that the experience and training I received at TSTC and the certifications I worked hard to receive have given me confidence to enter the workforce,” said Trevino. “I’m in this for the long haul and ready to continue to learn and grow.”

When he was a student, Trevino had the chance to work hands-on with a Piper Aztec airplane, some aircraft engines and a helicopter.

Trevino said working in TSTC’s Talent Management and Career Services office as a work-study program student also gave him experience and the opportunity to develop soft skills in communication, leadership, teamwork and adaptability.

“From my instructors and supervisors to my peers, I have built lifelong relationships and friendships,” said Trevino. “Everyone has been a blessing in my life, and for that I am grateful because never in a million years did I think I would be given any of the opportunities TSTC has given to me.”

Aircraft Airframe Technology and Aircraft Powerplant Technology are also offered at TSTC’s Abilene and Waco campuses.

For more information, visit


TSTC Vocational Nursing graduate looks forward to healthy future

(HARLINGEN) – For Sandy Leal, curveballs in life have become obstacles to overcome, not insurmountable roadblocks. She has not let anything stop her from fulfilling her dream of becoming a nurse.

The year has not been easy, but tonight Leal will join more than 100 graduates at Texas State Technical College’s Fall 2018 commencement ceremonies at the Harlingen Municipal Auditorium and earn a certificate in Vocational Nursing.

“I honestly still can’t believe that I’m here at this point in life,” said the 49-year-old. “I’m so happy and excited. After everything that has happened, I’m finally here.”

The Brownsville native enrolled at TSTC in 2016 to begin her prerequisites for the Vocational Nursing program. But immediately after enrolling, Leal was rushed to the hospital for an emergency hernia repair.

In the process, the single mother also learned she had a tumor on her right kidney.

“I never had symptoms or felt sick. It was a huge surprise for me. Scary, really,” she said.

Fortunately, the tumor was benign. After surgery and some time off from school, she made a full recovery.

“After I healed, it was time to hit the books hard,” she said. “I didn’t want to waste any more time. I needed to become a nurse for me and for my daughter.”

While in school as a full-time student completing her prerequisites, she also worked full time as a medication aide at Retama Manor Nursing Center in Harlingen.Sandy Leal

That all changed, however, when she was accepted into the Vocational Nursing program.

“I never thought I would get in,” she said. “So I never thought about what I would do if I did.”

The woman who moved from Matamoros, Mexico to the U.S. at 15 years old with her family said she often used her language barrier, age and financial situation as an excuse.

“When I found out I was accepted, I was surprised, excited, happy and nervous,” she said. “I never thought in a million years that this girl from Mexico could accomplish this dream. How was I going to support myself and daughter while in school?”

Leal also knew she would have to quit her job to make it through the rigorous program, and she leaned on student loans to survive.

Her now 16-year-old daughter and Leal spent a lot of time at the Brownsville Public Library because Leal didn’t have a laptop to do homework at home.

“School was a huge sacrifice, not only for me, but for my daughter as well,” she said. “Even though I knew it would all be worth it in the end, there were still times that I cried myself to sleep, felt like a failure and felt like quitting.”

A couple of semesters into the program, Leal’s mother had a heart attack and passed away. Leal described her as her best friend, support system and backbone of the family.

“Although my instructors were very understanding and empathetic, I had no time to grieve her,” Leal said. “I was smiling on the outside, but crying on the inside. I literally buried her and had to be at a mandatory community service project the next day.”

Leal said studying in class about what killed her mother was also very difficult.

“I had to pick myself up and keep going. But the beautiful thing is that I know she’s with me,” she said with a smile.

And she knows she will be with her Friday night at commencement.

“This was her dream to watch me graduate,” she said. “I dedicate this moment and night to her.”

Leal will begin working in the coming days at Retama Manor Nursing Center as a graduate nurse and transition into a vocational nursing position upon passing her National Council Licensure Examination.

“This program and its faculty made me a stronger person,” Leal said. “I want to thank them for that, thank my family for their support and especially my daughter for her understanding and always standing by my side.”

TSTC Vocational Nursing program director Heather Sauceda said she is proud of everything Leal has overcome and of her achievements.

“She has a passion for nursing. She has a heart for the profession,” said Sauceda. “This is what has gotten her through, and I know she will be a great asset to the profession, will be a great patient advocate and will bring smiles to those she cares for.”

Leal hopes to work for the next year, save money and be able to do special things for her daughter before returning to TSTC to earn her associate degree as a registered nurse.

TSTC’s commencement ceremonies will be held tonight at the Harlingen Municipal Auditorium at 4 and 7 p.m.

For more information on Vocational Nursing or Registered Nursing at TSTC, visit

TSTC Welding grad has a bright future in the industry

(FORT BEND) – Cheyenne Kuta was only 16-years-old when she purchased her first $5,600 welding machine, she knew at the time that this would be a great investment toward her future.

Fast forward to December 2018, she is now a graduate from Welding Technology at Texas State Technical College in Fort Bend County.

“I’m so excited to finally be celebrating this milestone,” said Kuta. “I’m excited to begin working and looking forward to a successful career in welding.”

The Plantersville native walked across the stage Monday night at the Stafford Centre in Stafford, Texas as an honors graduate with a grade-point average of 3.75 and received two certificates and an associate degree from TSTC.

She joined close to 60 other graduates from TSTC in Fort Bend County who also earned certificates and associate degrees.

“We are so proud of our daughter,” said Kuta’s mother Sandra Kuta. “She has achieved so much at the young age of 19. She’s goal-oriented, driven and determined. All of this has carried her to the top.”Cheyenne Kuta TSTC Welding Grad

Kuta was exposed to the field of welding at an early age by her grandfather and uncle. She eventually began her own welding journey in high school.

She quickly rose to the top, beating a lot of the boys in her class and earning two “Top 10 Awards” in the high school’s welding department.

“I really got into welding. I loved it and I was good at it,” said Kuta. “I had a lot of support and a great mentor.”

That mentor was Don Tullos, president of Texas Boiler Makers in Kuta’s hometown. Kuta said he took her under his wing and always encouraged her to continue in the field no matter what the men said.

“There came a point where I was going to Don’s shop every day to practice my welding,” said Kuta. “Then one day he told me, ‘You’re really great at this. You could make this a career.’ And it all changed for me.”

Tullos was also the person who introduced Kuta to TSTC. She toured both the Waco and Fort Bend County campuses, and although further from home, TSTC in Fort Bend County was the perfect fit for her.

“It was a new campus with new labs and equipment. I couldn’t wait to start,” she said. “There were also still smaller class sizes so that meant more one-on-one time with instructors.”

It was August 2017, when Kuta enrolled at TSTC, set up a trailer at a local RV park, where she stayed during the week; and sped up her program completion by testing out of Welding Technology introduction courses because of the welding experience she brought from high school.

Kuta was even inducted into the Phi Theta Kappa International Honor Society.

“TSTC was a really great experience for me. It was a great place to kick-off my welding career,” she said. “And I was fortunate enough to have instructors who believed me, supported me and pushed me to be the best welder I could be.”

TSTC Welding Instructor David Torres called Kuta a great welding student who is goal driven.

“Cheyenne is very dedicated and you can see that dedication in her welding abilities,” said Torres. She’s always lending a helping hand and coming in early and staying late to build her skills. She will go far in this industry; I know she’ll make it because she has all of the skills. Her future is bright.”

Kuta also said the best thing, for her, about graduating from TSTC, is that she is leaving debt free because of a collection of scholarships she received in high school, financial aid and non-traditional students scholarships from TSTC and other welding industry organizations.

Her advice for other students, “Always put yourself out there. Apply for scholarships, you just never know. This is a possibility for everyone,” she said.

She also wants other girls and women to know that there is no need to feel intimidated about entering into a male-dominated career.

“Don’t be scared. If you have a passion for something and you want to do it, do it,” Kuta said.

“We can do the job just as good, if not better, than the men. Let’s show them what we got.”

So what’s in Kuta’s future?

She has already begun the job application process. She has interviewed with several oil field companies such as National Oilwell, Conroe and Baker Hughes.

“The oilfield is where the jobs are at and I can’t wait to get started,” she said.

Kuta also hopes to become a Certified Welding Inspector and a Certified Welding Instructor in the coming years.

For more information on Welding Technology, visit

TSTC hosts an out-of-this-world experience for the community

(HARLINGEN) – Katlyn Nuncio mixed baking soda, salt and water to watch her rocket launch during “Journey to Mars,” a first-of-its-kind event hosted by the Texas State Technical College Challenger Learning Center.

“It was so cool watching how the mixture reacted and how high my rocket went,” said the 9-year-old fourth grader from Ed Downs Elementary School in San Benito. “The event was great. I love science and I hope to become an engineer when I grow up.”

The half-day event, which was free and open to the public, was attended by more than 200 people.

TSTC Journey to Mars

It was organized in partnership with NASA to celebrate the center’s 5th and NASA’s 6th anniversaries.

“We’re are so excited with the response we received from the school districts and community,” said Yvette Mendoza, TSTC College Readiness coordinator. “The number of families who attended this event surpassed all of our expectations. This event was a definite success.”

The event included hands-on activities for all ages from space crafting and gravity affects to Mars rover building and Mars habitat creating.

Every booth was divided into phases, and resembled a space mission set up. Planetarium shows were also available throughout the morning.

For 11-year-old Aiden Barrera from San Benito, “Journey to Mars” was a great way to celebrate his birthday.

“I’m into science and engineering, but my favorite subject is math so this event was so much fun for me,” said Barrera. “It was a great way to spend my birthday weekend.”

The fifth grader said he had the most fun creating a home for a Mars extraterrestrial creature using paper plates, paper cups, paint and glue.

TSTC Journey to Mars“This was truly a team effort. We really wanted this event to introduce children of all ages, from toddler to high school, to the science, technology, engineering and mathematic (STEM) fields,” said Mendoza. “It’s important to plant the seed at a young age, especially because STEM is a huge priority for our school districts and our state.”

“Journey to Mars” was a result of a signed NASA Cooperative Agreement that was introduced to the TSTC Challenger Learning Center by the National Challenger Center.

Through this agreement, TSTC’s center will receive upgraded hardware and software to add new missions to its lineup.

“Our goal with this is to be able to offer new, educational and exciting opportunities for the students who visit us,” said Mendoza. “All that matters is that they are learning while having fun.”

Under this cooperative, Mendoza said the TSTC Challenger Learning Center introduced its new mission “Expedition to Mars” this year and will introduce “Lunar Quest” in 2019 and “Operation Comet in 2020.”

Mendoza also said the community can expect to see more free, community events that provide educational opportunities in the near future.

For more information on TSTC’s Challenger Learning Center or to book a mission, call 956-364-4517.

TSTC online classes help local man pursue a career change

(HARLINGEN) – At a crossroads in his life, Robert Ahrens decided to enroll at Texas State Technical College, opting for an online program so he could continue supporting his family.

“With a family it’s not all about me,” said the 37-year-old. “I still need to make a decent paycheck, so online classes have been the most convenient for me.”

The La Feria native is enrolled in Business Management Technology, one of four programs with degrees that are offered entirely online.

The other TSTC programs with online degree tracks are Digital Media Design, Architectural Design & Engineering Graphics and Health Information Technology. These are among the many other hybrid programs available, which offer lectures and labs both on campus and online.

“With these programs there really is no excuse for not going to school anymore,” said Ahrens. “What matters is the discipline and hard work you’re willing to put in. It’s so flexible anyone can do it.”Robert Ahrens TSTC online student

A retired police officer of nearly a decade, and now a full-time truck driver with Spirit Truck Lines in Pharr, Ahrens said he has exceeded his own expectations.

Ahrens, who expects to earn his associate degree in Summer 2020, boasts a 3.9 grade-point average, is on the dean’s list and was inducted into Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society in 2016 for his high marks.

“I’m not going to lie, it’s been a challenge,” said Ahrens. “I’m traveling out in the middle of nowhere and finding internet isn’t always easy, but I manage. It’s possible.”

Ahrens is also a recipient of the Lozano Long Promise Opportunity Scholarship, Shell National Merit Scholarship and Texas Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (T-STEM) grant.

“Just because I’m in school doesn’t mean the bills stop and I found myself in a bind,” he said. “But TSTC has helped me fund my education. It has been a tremendous help and motivation to keep going.”

The full-time worker and full-time student said he’s only home 34 hours a week, the rest of his time is spent transporting goods across the country, finding hotspots or truck stops with internet. He also said even his laptop has seen better days, but he’s not letting anything stop him.

“All the technology of today makes it easy to navigate TSTC’s online programs, communicating with instructors and keeping in contact with my family,” he said. “I know someday all this  sacrifice will be worth it.”

TSTC Campus Lead for Business Management Technology Edna Claus said Ahrens has done exceptionally well despite the fact he is on the road most of the time and cannot depend on constant or reliable access to his courses.

“Robert has done well. His persistence is one that can be modeled by all of our students,” she said.

Ahrens is registered and ready to begin his Spring 2019 semester.

“TSTC has made me a well-rounded student and I know whether I stay at Spirit or end up somewhere else I will find success,” he said.

For more information about online programs at TSTC, visit


Student Success Profile – Jennifer Atkinson

(HARLINGEN) – Jennifer Atkinson is an Agricultural Technology major at Texas State Technical College and boasts a perfect 4.0 grade-point average.Jennifer Atkinson

The Rio Hondo native expects to earn her associate degree in Spring 2019, and when the 23-year-old is not in the classroom or out in the field she is busying doing community service with the TSTC Agriculture Club.

What are your plans after you graduate?

After I graduate I plan on transferring to Texas A&M Kingsville to pursue a bachelor’s degree in Agricultural Science with a teaching certificate.

What’s your dream job?

My dream job is to have a successful career in agriculture with U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

What has been your greatest accomplishment while at TSTC?

My greatest accomplishment so far has been making it on the Chancellor’s List and maintaining my honor roll worthy grades. I never used to be an “A” student so this has helped motivate to continue and appreciate school even more.

What greatest lesson have you learned about yourself or life?

The greatest lesson I have learned in life is that everything happens for a reason and in God’s perfect timing.

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

All of my instructors and my classmates have had a great influence on my success. First, my instructors have been a blessing. They genuinely care about us, are easy to talk to and take every step necessary to ensure we succeed. Last but not least, my classmates. They have become lifelong friends and an extension of my family.

What is your advice for future TSTC students?

My advice for future TSTC students is to work hard because nothing in life is handed to us on a silver platter.