Author Archives: Ben Barkley

TSTC Nursing instructor wants graduates to be equipped, passionate

(SWEETWATER, Texas) – Texas State Technical College Nursing instructor Lisa Van Cleave has one goal for graduates of the program in Sweetwater.

“We want to turn out safe RNs who are highly equipped and passionate,” she said.

TSTC offers an Associate of Applied Science degree in Nursing at its Sweetwater and Harlingen campuses, and Van Cleave said 34 students are enrolled at the Sweetwater campus this summer. She expects to have 35 enrolled this fall.

“Our program in Sweetwater is different because the students are coming in as LVNs,” Van Cleave said.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Van Cleave said she hopes more licensed vocational nurses consider becoming registered nurses.

“Once you become an RN, that opens the gate wider for you professionally,” she said.

Van Cleave and her fellow instructors are committed to student success.

“We highly emphasize passing the National Council Licensure Examination. We want to prepare our students to pass the exam the first time they take it,” she said.

According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, Texas had 251,253 registered nurses as of September 2019, the latest statistical information available. Texas leads the nation in the number of registered nurses, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to more interest in nursing, which has always been a profession that changes with the times.

“Everything seems to be changing on a daily basis during this pandemic,” Van Cleave said. “It has helped us in the fact that we are able to get a better look at our curriculum.”

TSTC also offers a certificate in Vocational Nursing at the Breckenridge, Harlingen and Sweetwater campuses. 

For more information on the Nursing program, visit

TSTC Automotive Technology instructor brings military experience to program

(SWEETWATER, Texas) – Gerod Strother has worked on all types of vehicles.

Strother, a 21-year veteran of the U.S. military, brings that experience to Texas State Technical College as an Automotive Technology instructor. After retiring from the military, he began working at the Sweetwater campus in January.

His experience in the military included service with the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Army.

“I experienced the highest of highs and the lowest of lows in the military,” Strother said.

He said the moment he remembers the most was during Operation Enduring Freedom, America’s response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

“I was part of the first military action in Afghanistan. I loaded the bombs on the first aircraft that were going to bomb Afghanistan,” Strother said. “For a guy from small-town Andrews, Texas, I knew then I was, for the first time in my life, part of the big time.”

Strother’s first job in the Air Force was as an aircraft electrician on B-1 bombers. He also performed vehicle maintenance at several bases and served as an Air Force recruiter in Abilene.

He said one of the more unique jobs was working on a Tunner 60K Cargo Aircraft Loader, which is used to load pallets on large aircraft.

“It is the size of two or three cars,” he said. “It took a special school to learn how to operate it.”

After his time in the Air Force, Strother switched his focus and attended officer candidate school at Fort Benning, Georgia. His Army career led him to several locations, including Fort Bliss, Texas; Fort Lewis, Washington; and Fort Polk, Louisiana.

While in the Army, Strother was deployed to Afghanistan for a second time but returned home for additional officer training. While in the military, he worked on earning a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree “without having to pay any money.”

“(During) my time in the military, I met some really good people,” Strother said.

His service has already helped him in his short career as an educator.

“I knew that I would have to deal with different types of people. I did that for 21 years,” Strother said. “I also learned from different people that there is more than one management style to use.”

For more information on Texas State Technical College, go to

TSTC Career Services helps students find employment

(WACO, Texas) – Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit in the spring, employees have been furloughed or laid off, leading Texas to its highest unemployment rate in years.

When government officials began reopening the state in May, employers started to hire people, including graduates of Texas State Technical College.

Kacey Darnell, TSTC’s executive director of Career Services, said employers continue to contact her office for prospective employees.

“When this first started, we did see a decline in job postings,” she said. “But the number of postings has climbed considerably since May. A lot of companies have reached out to us looking for people.”

Darnell said certain areas have not stopped looking for employees.

“During this pandemic there have always been huge needs in industrial maintenance, diesel maintenance and electrical power,” she said.

According to the Texas Workforce Commission, construction jobs increased 1.8 percent in May compared to April. Manufacturing jobs statewide increased 0.6 percent over the same time period.

May’s statewide unemployment rate of 13 percent was the first time since March that it recorded a decrease, the commission reported. Texas remains below the national rate, which was 13.3 percent in May.

Darnell said Career Services is still working with companies on employer spotlights and interviews. But one thing has changed.

“There seems to be more interaction since everything is now virtual,” she said.

A recent employer spotlight was held virtually and could be accessed by students at each TSTC campus.

“It was more convenient for the employer. They could have one event and hear from 10 campuses at one time,” Darnell said.

With companies looking to hire, Darnell said students should be prepared, especially since most interviews will be conducted remotely.

“A lot of the interviews will be done over the phone. This is a good time for students to work on their interview skills,” she said.

Darnell said TSTC students can reach out to a Career Services representative for help.

“There are still plenty of job opportunities out there,” she said.

For more information on Texas State Technical College, go to

TSTC graduate completes EMS program in hometown

(BROWNWOOD, Texas) – Texas State Technical College graduate John Hendrix was happy to see the Emergency Medical Services program come to Brownwood.

In 2016, Hendrix had the chance to build on his advanced certification when the EMS program began at the Brownwood campus.

“The closest place a paramedic program was available was more than one hour away. I had a family and work to think about,” he said. “I always told myself that if the program was offered locally, I would take it. I was happy when TSTC began offering it in Brownwood.”

Hendrix graduated this spring with an Associate of Applied Science paramedic degree. 

He is no stranger to first responders and the medical field. His father recently retired after 37 years with the Arlington Fire Department, and his mother is a nurse at Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth.

“When I was a senior in high school, I started taking EMS basic courses at night. It was something I really liked,” he said. “After high school, I went to the fire academy and really liked that. I thought I could make this a career.”

He started his firefighting career at the Lake Worth Fire Department while in college. In 2012, he and his wife moved to Brownwood, where he began working for the Brownwood Fire Department. He is also a member of the Early Fire Department.

Hendrix said his department supervisors gave him time off for classes. It also helped that some of the instructors worked at the Brownwood Fire Department.

“They were always good about giving me the time to complete my coursework,” he said.

Hendrix said the EMS program takes a commitment from the students, but rewards are seen at the end.

“You know you are going to pass and make it through,” he said. “The instructors make sure you are prepared to pass the National Register. That is one of the best things about the program. The instructors want you to succeed.”

For more information on Texas State Technical College, go to

TSTC Wind Energy Technology student wanted more than desk job

(SWEETWATER, Texas) – Rebecca Fortuna was looking to do something more with her life.

After starting a career in health information, in 2016, Fortuna found out she wanted more than an office job.

“I am the type of woman who wants to do something different. I like to use my hands,” she said. “I didn’t mind the desk job. I just wanted more in my life. All of my brothers work in the wind industry, and I wanted to know what I had to do to get in the field.”

Fortuna started Texas State Technical College’s Wind Energy Technology program in the spring and is working toward an Associate of Applied Science degree.

She knew that working in the wind industry would have its demands, especially since it is a male-dominated profession. But that has not stopped her.

“I am not afraid of a challenge. The wind industry is all around us, and it is growing so fast,” she said. “I wanted to be involved in that and wanted to be able to see different things.”

Being a self-described busybody, Fortuna said the wind industry will provide her with different challenges.

“It is not a boring field because everything is changing daily,” she said. “This program teaches you so many different concepts. I like to get my hands dirty.”

Fortuna said her first semester was enlightening, and she quickly learned that she chose the right career path. Being a female did not deter her, and many of her friends in the field cannot wait for her to graduate.

“They have talked to me about coming to work with them. I know that I will have a lot of options available,” she said.

Fortuna hopes she can influence other females to enroll in the program.

“A lot of the girls that I work with at my current job are intimidated because it is male-dominated,” she said. “I tell them it is not what they would expect. It is a great program for women.”

Fortuna said instructor Billie Jones has been instrumental in helping her learn more about the industry.

“Billie has been great. She will get in there and help you with anything,” Fortuna said. “I have told girls that they need to talk to her if they are interested in the program.”

Fortuna said her male classmates are willing to help her and others.

“They are open to help, no questions asked. There are no limitations among us,” she said. 

TSTC offers Wind Energy Technology at the Harlingen and Sweetwater campuses.

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TSTC student challenges the traditional notion of welding

(ABILENE, Texas) – Andrea Green admitted she wanted to do something different in her life.

Researching college opportunities, Green, a native of Abilene, learned about Texas State Technical College’s Welding Technology program. Without any welding experience, Green enrolled in the program and is working toward an Associate of Applied Science degree.

“I wanted to do something different and something big,” she said. “I am good at hands-on work and have watched welders do what they do. I said to myself, ‘I can do this.’”

Green knew the welding field was dominated by men, but that did not deter her.

“I knew welding was mainly a field for men, but I have done things a lot of women normally do not do,” she said. “So I went for it, and I have enjoyed it.”

Green is entering her second semester in the program and has a goal in sight.

“Looking at the big picture, it would be cool to tell people I help build skyscrapers or build space rockets,” she said.

She admitted some of her classmates were impressed that she was working on the process of gas tungsten arc welding.

“After a few weeks of work, I liked what I was doing and the way it looks,” she said.

Green said her classmates were “shocked” but welcoming when they saw her the first time.

“Throughout the semester they saw my progress, and we learned to help each other,” she said.

The instructors are also key to helping Green and other students.

“Everyone has a different technique. It is good to see techniques from more than your point of view,” she said. “The instructors show us something, and I tell myself that I can try that. I try it, and it gives me the outcome I like.”

She also said instructors are approachable when it comes to helping students.

“You do not have to be intimidated to ask for help. The instructors are always willing to help,” she said.

Green said she hopes more women will look at a career in welding. She has seen a trend in which women are working in male-dominated fields and hopes welding is added to the list.

“Slowly but surely, women are working their way into male-dominated fields,” she said. “Just because men dominate a field doesn’t mean you can’t do it. You just have to try.”

For more information on Texas State Technical College, go to

TSTC alumnus designs equipment for West Texas oil field companies

(ABILENE, Texas) – Sheryl Givens turned a lifelong passion into a career.

Since graduating from Texas State Technical College with an Associate of Applied Science degree in Architectural Design and Engineering Graphics Technology in 2018, Givens has worked as a designer for SCS Technologies in Big Spring.

“I have always been interested in construction,” Given said. “Growing up, I liked drawing things on a day-by-day basis.”

At SCS Technologies, Givens designs equipment for West Texas oil field companies. The company specializes in programmable logic controller-based systems, control panel fabrication, and custody transfer liquid measurements.

Givens said being part of the TSTC program prepared her for this career.

“Throughout the years, I have admired all the strong work ethic and personal integrity of the field,” she said. “I appreciated all the help from TSTC, which led me to become a motivated and driven professional with a high level of leadership and initiative, as well as excellent analytical, organizational, and problem-solving skills.”

She said TSTC instructors prepared her for a career as a designer.

“They helped me find challenging career opportunities where knowledge, skills, and experience can be effectively utilized with organizations offering opportunities for professional growth and advancement,” Givens said.

The drafting and design program is available at the Abilene, Brownwood, Harlingen, Marshall, North Texas, Sweetwater, and Waco campuses.

For more information on Texas State Technical College, go to

TSTC Business Management Technology instructor brings experience into the classroom

(BROWNWOOD, Texas) – You might say that Texas State Technical College Business Management Technology instructor Duston Brooks brings some practical experience of a bovine nature into the classroom.

Prior to becoming an instructor at TSTC, Brooks worked on the financial side of his family’s dairy farm. He now brings that knowledge to his students as they work toward an Associate of Applied Science degree or certificate in Business Management Technology.

“I learned the financial side of things and how to use the software,” said Brooks, who has taught at TSTC since 2000.

When Brooks first started teaching, TSTC offered a degree in Computer Information Technology. It is now the five-semester Business Management Technology degree program.

Students learn three areas of business management. Brooks said the first part of the program focuses on accounting, followed by management and then software.

“Anybody who works at a computer desk at any business will benefit from this program,” he said.

Students learn a variety of skills, including word processing, presentation graphics, accounting, and business ethics, principles of accounting and management, small business operations, and payroll accounting.

“You will benefit from a well-rounded education,” Brooks said, adding that some graduates continue their education by earning a bachelor’s degree in business administration.

In addition to on-campus classes, TSTC’s Business Management Technology program is available online, which helps some students, Brooks said.

“We know that people are working and have kids. This gives them the feasibility to complete the program online and at their own pace,” he said.

Brooks said one student completed the course while being employed as a full-time truck driver.

“He could not attend a class on campus, so he took his laptop with him,” he said. “Whenever he had time off the road, he would work on his online classes.”

During his tenure at TSTC, Brooks has seen students of all ages complete the program.

“We have had students just out of high school to adults in their 50s and 60s. Some people want to come back and relearn skills or even learn brand-new skills in order to update their resume,” he said.

Completing the program, according to Brooks, allows graduates to interview for office management positions. He said through hard work, some graduates have worked their way up to higher positions.

Brooks has also had students who wanted to start their own business.

“There are people from our program working in small towns and bigger cities,” he said. “Students who want to move up from a physically challenging job can take our program to get them in a better office or management position.”

Business Management Technology is available at the Abilene, Breckenridge, Brownwood, Harlingen, and Marshall campuses.

For more information on Texas State Technical College, go to

TSTC instructor says Chemical Dependency Counseling offers students more than a degree

(ABILENE, Texas) – Graduates of Texas State Technical College’s Chemical Dependency Counseling program learn more about themselves, according to Patty Bundick, the program’s department chair.

Bundick said the need for licensed counselors is always high and students range in age from high school graduates to older students.

“Some of our students are hungry to know more about themselves,” Bundick said. “The one thing I always think about, even if the student does not go to work in the field, is that the program has made a difference in their life.”

Bundick’s philosophy is only natural.

“I am a counselor at heart. I see students come in and know that what I teach them will help not only them, but it will help someone else,” she said.

The five-semester Associate of Applied Science degree program covers several topics, including working with families and family intervention.

“You will learn all aspects of treatment,” Bundick said.

Students also discuss current issues during class. Bundick said topics have ranged from Child Protective Services to HIV and other diseases.

The program also allows Bundick to teach students how the body processes a drug and the behaviors it might cause.

Today, she said more high school graduates are showing an interest in the program.

She said some students recovered from their addiction and want to help others do the same.

Graduates have found employment at different facilities in West Texas, including the Abilene Regional Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse, Homeward Bound, Serenity House, the Taylor County Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and the Texas Juvenile Justice Department.

Bundick said she hopes the program continues to grow when it is available online only starting in the fall of 2021. TSTC offers the program in Abilene, Breckenridge and Brownwood. 

For more information on Texas State Technical College, go to

TSTC graduate has lifelong interest in computers

(ABILENE, Texas) – Harold Mason Jr. has always been interested in computers.

That interest led him to Texas State Technical College, where he received an Associate of Applied Science degree in Computer Networking and Systems Administration this spring.

“I have been into computers since I was 11 years old. That was the time when you Googled things a lot,” said Mason, a native of Abilene.

His father gave him his first computer, and Mason said it needed a CD-ROM.

“I saved my allowance, went to the store, and went home and installed it myself. I was able to do it all on my own, and I fell in love with computers,” he said. “Ever since then, I knew I was going to be able to do things with computers.”

After graduating from Abilene’s Cooper High School in 2001, Mason had planned to attend TSTC to focus on computers.

“I had a lot of issues and ended up not going. But I always told myself I would go back,” he said.

He enrolled several years later, and he said the curriculum was challenging.

“You had to know the basics of computers. I knew a lot about computers, and the instructors were always willing to help,” Mason said.

The help was appreciated, he said.

“They changed me as a person. I feel that now I can help people grow,” he said.

Mason said he worked hard at TSTC and graduated in the top 10 percent of his class and became a member of Phi Theta Kappa, the largest honor society in American higher education.

“I would recommend people look at TSTC. It offers so much,” Mason said. “The instructors will work with you.”

Mason said instructor involvement was one of the reasons he appreciates TSTC.

“You can talk to the instructors at any time. They are going to make time for you,” he said. “If you have any issues, they will gladly work with you.”

Mason said he is looking for a job, knowing his degree will be the first step in the door.

“I have a lot of calls out there and have been weighing my options. I know I will find my career in computers,” he said.

For more information on Texas State Technical College, go to