Author Archives: Ben Barkley

Tour leads Trujillo to TSTC’s Diesel Equipment Technology program

(SWEETWATER, Texas) – Juan Trujillo thought about becoming a doctor. But after touring Texas State Technical College’s Sweetwater campus, he changed his mind.

Trujillo said the Diesel Equipment Technology program caught his attention.

After deciding not to focus on medicine as a career, he turned to his first love: vehicles. He will graduate in the fall with an Associate of Applied Science degree, but he has future plans in mind.

“I want to go back to college and get my business degree. I want to open my own business,” he said. “I know I will have a job. How do they get the windmills out here? Diesel. How does Walmart get things to the stores? Diesel. Diesel moves the world.”

Trujillo, a graduate of Grape Creek High School in San Angelo, said he was impressed with the automotive industry because his father drives trucks across the country.

“I have always loved vehicles. I love to work on my own vehicles,” he said of his 2000 Chevrolet Corvette and 2020 Yamaha YZF-R3 motorcycle.

His passion for vehicles also grew by watching a certain movie franchise.

“I grew up watching the ‘Fast & Furious’ movies and have loved cars. I wanted to start working on them,” he said. “My dad would always let me help him work on the trucks. He would let me change things or tighten stuff. I learned to enjoy it.”

The one difference Trujillo sees during his lab sessions and working on his Corvette is easy to describe.

“These trucks are a lot different from gas engines. Plus, the equipment is heavier,” he said.

Trujillo said the best part of the TSTC program is working in the labs.

“We can read in the textbook all day, but getting in there and working on the trucks is the best thing. I like to put the things I learned from the books to use,” he said. “The labs are like having a job. The instructors are always there, willing to help you.”

Registration for the fall semester is underway. For more information, go to tstc.edu.

TSTC Workforce Training helps businesses during pandemic

(ABILENE, Texas) – During a pandemic, the workforce still needs training.

Texas State Technical College workforce trainer Terry Steelman has not seen a decline in requests for training over the past few months. Some area companies have been able to use federal funds to provide employee training through TSTC, he said.

“A lot of the essential businesses have needed some training. We are teaching the companies the current industry standards,” Steelman said. “Businesses have received funding and contacted us for the training.”

Steelman and other workforce trainers help clients with specialized programs using the latest technology and production systems available. Training focuses on improving employee skills, knowledge and abilities, he said.

An Abilene plastics company that supplies containers for the food industry, which has been deemed an essential business in Texas, has taken advantage of federal funds and TSTC’s workforce training program.

“This company makes containers for salads and other food items for local restaurants. This has been a big area because these containers are easily replaceable,” Steelman said. “The restaurant/hospitality industry is transitioning to this type of service since COVID-19. They want to make sure everything is safe.”

TSTC has provided other training opportunities for companies in West Texas, including Buzzi Unicem in Nolan County. Steelman said the concrete company is looking to develop an apprenticeship program at its Maryneal plant.

The college will help provide industry-standard training for employees. One of the benefits is that employees will learn the skills by doing the skills, Steelman said.

Another area Steelman said TSTC is helping businesses is a fast-track program. He said wind energy companies want to hire employees quickly, and TSTC provides an eight-week program to help fill the workforce.

“Employees will be able to walk away with a certificate and get to work. That will give the employee a jump-start if they want to come back to earn a degree,” Steelman said. “A lot of companies cannot wait 18 months to hire someone. They need people now.”

The fast-track program allows a student to earn certification as an electrical technician in eight to 10 weeks. Steelman said that certification may lead to a higher salary.

For more on TSTC’s Workforce Training, visit https://www.tstc.edu/workforce/training.

TSTC recruiters remain busy during summer

(ABILENE, Texas) – Texas State Technical College recruiters have been busy working the phones and online resources this summer.

With the different TSTC campuses closed for student tours, the college’s recruiters in West Texas have been getting creative in informing prospective students of the programs available.

“It has presented us with some new challenges,” said Chris Johnson, lead recruiter, in discussing how the team is working to recruit students. “We have spent some time figuring things out.”

One of the most-asked questions from prospective students is the security of a job, especially with the economy in recession.

“People want to know if they get a job, would they be laid off six months later,” Johnson said. “We have great programs available, and they are considered to be recession-proof. People are still going to need to have their cars worked on during this time. Companies are still going to need workers.”

With campus tours currently not possible, recruiters have spent their time working on virtual visits. Johnson said many school counselors are interested in the online visits.

Johnson said the virtual visits allow instructors to showcase the equipment available on campus. But they do have one downside.

“One thing we pride ourselves on is showing the equipment during a tour. We are still able to show off the equipment, but it is virtual,” he said. “I do miss seeing the reaction in person of students watching how it is used.”

With fall semester classes scheduled to begin Aug. 31, Johnson said recruiters will continue to work with local high schools to provide information.

“We want to be available to the students. We want them to be excited about what they can see, even though they cannot get out and see it in person,” he said.

Registration for the fall semester is underway. For more information, go to tstc.edu.

Students do not need experience to begin TSTC aviation maintenance programs, instructor says

(ABILENE, Texas) – Students do not need to have any mechanical experience to start Texas State Technical College’s Aircraft Airframe Technology or Aircraft Powerplant Technology programs.

“We tell people that you do not have to have a mechanical background to be successful,” instructor Josh Parker said. “All of our students start out in the same place and work to get to the same point.”

That point, according to Parker, is to be successful in the workforce. But he also has one additional goal for students.

“We are going to get them to the point that they have the knowledge to pass the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) exam,” he said.

Parker said a majority of graduates find entry-level positions with competitive pay.

“For the past six years, we have been able to put our graduates in the workforce,” he added.

In Abilene, some TSTC graduates have been hired by Eagle Aviation Services, which is on the grounds of the Abilene Regional Airport. Having the company nearby helps, Parker said.

“We do not have a lot of options in West Texas. Having Eagle Aviation right here helps us, especially since they are a maintenance-based company,” he said.

Students in the Aircraft Powerplant Technology program will learn to inspect, maintain and overhaul engine systems. Most of the learning, according to Parker, is hands-on.

“Students learn more when they get in there and do the work,” he said.

The aviation programs are also available at the Harlingen and Waco campuses. They offer both Associate of Applied Science degrees and certificates of completion.

Registration for the fall semester is underway. For more information, go to tstc.edu.

TSTC Welding Technology student finds career path by chance

(SWEETWATER, Texas) – A chance conversation while helping his father at a construction site led Anthony Gutierrez on a career path.

Gutierrez asked a welder about his profession and immediately wanted to learn more. He knew Texas State Technical College had a Welding Technology program close to his hometown of Colorado City and began taking classes.

Next month, Gutierrez will graduate with a certificate in welding.

“I saw this guy welding, and it looked like a lot of fun,” Gutierrez said. “I knew TSTC offered the program and that would be a good place for me to start.”

When he is not on campus for lab sessions, Gutierrez said he still helps his father on construction sites.

“You get good experience in the lab, but nothing beats doing it on the site,” he said. “I have helped my dad with some fence posts the past few weeks, and that has been fun.”

He said the instructors are also good resources for the students.

“They really go in-depth during the labs and show you how to do things,” Gutierrez said. “They show us all types of tips and tricks.”

Being raised in West Texas, Gutierrez said he hopes he can work on oil rigs or pipelines close to home.

“I grew up around that, and hopefully it will be a good starting point for me,” he said.

He is also letting his friends and family know that TSTC offers a quality education.

“My brother just graduated (from high school), and he really did not know what he was going to do. I told him to give TSTC a look,” Gutierrez said. “It is a great school, and everyone wants to make sure you do your best.”

Registration for the fall semester is underway. For more information, go to tstc.edu.

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 https://tstc.edu/programs/nursing.

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.edu.

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.edu.

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.edu.

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.

For more information, go to tstc.edu.