Category Archives: West Texas

Childhood passion turns into career for TSTC student

(SWEETWATER, Texas) – From an early age, David Lopez-Cortez showed an interest in cars.

The graduate of ATEMS High School knew by the age of five that he wanted to work on vehicles for a living. Lopez-Cortez said his passion started by playing with Hot Wheels toy cars at his childhood home.

Lopez-Cortez wants to turn that passion into a career by earning an Associate of Applied Science degree in Automotive Technology at Texas State Technical College.

“I have always been interested in cars and how they work,” he said. “I did not think it would end up being a career option, but I am happy I made this choice.”

Lopez-Cortez’ love for cars continues after class when he is working at an oil change service in Abilene.

“I am constantly helping people at work and learning what other people do,” he said. “I also have friends who want me to help them with their cars when I am at home.”

TSTC was a perfect fit for Lopez-Cortez, and enrolling was a decision that he easily made, thanks to his mother.

“My mom went to culinary school at TSTC in Sweetwater and was hired as the head chef at the Hilton in Abilene,” he said. “She later opened her own restaurant and is now at home. She is still the best chef I know.”

Lopez-Cortez said his mother told him that TSTC would be a good place to learn a trade.

“She said the environment is small and simple. Everyone on the campus wants you to succeed,” he said of his mother’s time at TSTC. “That has not changed today.”

The biggest difference between his time at TSTC and his mother’s is the style of learning. Lopez-Cortez completed many class assignments online through remote learning. When he is in the lab, things change.

“This is a totally different learning environment. Each of us in class has our own vehicle project and bay,” he said while standing in his bay, preparing to mount a tire.

Lopez-Cortez also likes the class size and attention that classmates receive from instructor Gerod Strother.

“We are always willing to help each other with projects,” he said. “Gerod makes you feel confident in your decisions, but he is also there when you have a problem. He wants you to succeed.”

Strother said Lopez-Cortez and his classmates have shown a passion to learn.

“Everyone is willing to put in the effort to learn to be the best they can. It is good to see these students training to enter the workforce,” he said.

According to, auto technician/mechanic positions will continue to increase in Texas. The online site forecasts that an additional 6,610 mechanics will be needed by 2028.

Lopez-Cortez plans to use his newfound knowledge in Abilene.

“I want to open and own my own performance car shop,” he said. “I know there are marketing and business plans to get ready, but this is preparing me for a career.”

TSTC is setting him up for success, something that Lopez-Cortez did not realize when he started the program earlier this year.

“TSTC offers you all the tools you need for a career, and they even have the tools in the shop you can use to learn the trade,” he said. “This has been the best experience of my life.”

Registration for the fall semester is underway. Scholarships are available. For more information, visit

TSTC welding competition get high school students fired up

(ABILENE, Texas) – Some enthusiastic high school students in West Texas competed for scholarships during welding competitions at Texas State Technical College campuses in Abilene and Sweetwater in April.

Students used TSTC’s lab equipment to make a piece designed to test their welding skills. All four of TSTC’s West Texas campuses hosted events in April to promote the college’s Welding Technology program and allow students to tour labs and learn about scholarship opportunities.

“Welding is a high-demand skill that takes many hours of practice and attention to detail,” said Chris Johnson, TSTC’s lead recruiter in West Texas. “It is a great day for us to see young men and women who have spent that time and energy in improving this skill.”

For one competitor, it was a chance to see how the lab will work when he returns to Sweetwater this fall. Floydada High School senior Alexyz Alvarado will begin studying for an Associate of Applied Science degree this fall.

“I enjoyed coming here because it gave me some experience,” he said of the Abilene campus.

His father, Erik Alvarado, accompanied him to the Abilene event and was impressed with his son’s ability.

“I knew he was nervous in the beginning, but this will help him when he starts college this fall,” Erik Alvarado said. “He knows what is expected of him after talking to some of the instructors.”

Alexyz Alvarado began welding as a freshman and said the Abilene event was challenging.

“I practice all the time, and I have done some of the same angles we did here,” he said. “I cannot wait to come back and learn more.”

Welding instructor Dillon Burton said the Abilene contest was designed to show more than the students’ technique. It also made competitors think about the measurements and angles needed to make a perfect piece.

“This project was designed for the students to see some progress,” Burton said.

Greg Nicholas, TSTC’s lead welding instructor in Abilene, wanted the event to be a showcase for the lab.

“I wanted to get students in here and see what we have,” he said. “This helped promote our program and got our name out to a lot of different people. No one in our area has shops like we do at TSTC.”

Nicholas also used the daylong contest as a way to talk to advisors and teachers.

“This gave me the chance to build relationships with people in our area. All of our instructors were able to do that this year during the contests,” he said.

More than 70 students competed at the four campus events, with prizes and scholarships awarded at each. High school students that competed this year were from Big Spring, Breckenridge, Canyon, Clyde, Cross Plains, Floydada, Hawley, Liberty Hill, New Castle, Rolling Plains Technical School, Roscoe, Seymour, Stamford and Trent.

Stephen Hope, Breckenridge’s welding instructor, said plans are being made to continue the competition each year.

“This is a great way for us, as instructors, to promote our program and show people our facilities all at the same time,” he said.

The Welding Technology program is eligible for TSTC’s Money-Back Guarantee, which refunds tuition money to a student if he or she does not find a job in their field within six months of graduation. 

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TSTC works to fill paramedic need in Texas

(ABILENE, Texas) – Texas State Technical College is working to fill a need in Texas and the nation.

Ronnie Pitts, the statewide director of TSTC’s Emergency Medical Services program, said the need for paramedics is vital. TSTC will begin the next paramedic courses in Brownwood this fall.

“It has been difficult to fill the need for paramedics in Texas and nationwide,” Pitts said. “We just cannot turn them out fast enough.”

According to, the need for paramedics in Texas is expected to grow 11 percent by 2028.

To become a paramedic, a person must first be a certified emergency medical technician. The EMT certificate is a two-semester program at TSTC. The first semester covers the core EMT courses that allow students to sit for the National Registry certification exam. The second semester has online courses, including medical terminology, anatomy, and physiology.

For those who choose to continue, the four-semester paramedic program begins.

One of the paramedic program highlights is the final semester capstone, in which students are paired with a seasoned paramedic during an internship. When that is complete, students will be eligible to test for the National Registry paramedic certification.

Pitts said average annual salaries for paramedics vary across the state, from $30,660 in the Harlingen region to $31,750 in the Abilene region, according to Austin-Round Rock has the highest average salary at $47,750. The statewide average salary is $35,940.

Many TSTC graduates have praised the program and the quality of its instructors, who have worked in the field.

“You know you are going to pass and make it through,” said John Hendrix, a 2020 graduate of the paramedic program. “The instructors make sure you are prepared to pass the National Registry. That is one of the best things about the program. The instructors want you to succeed.”

TSTC offers the EMS program in Abilene, Brownwood, and Harlingen. Students can use the latest technology during lab sessions and also work online to complete assignments.

“I did not realize we would have so much one-on-one time and be able to work with each other,” said current paramedic student Erik Duenes. “I knew there would be studying, but to come here on Wednesdays and execute what we have learned is the best part of the week.”

Pitts said the program aims to prepare paramedics with skills, and behavior to succeed.

“Our graduates are successful and are helping people on a daily basis,” he said.

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Trevino says TSTC made him confident entering workforce

(ABILENE, Texas) – Brandon Trevino has seen his time at Texas State Technical College pay off at work.

Trevino earned an associate degree in Industrial Systems in 2020 and has been using his knowledge on a daily basis at AbiMar Foods in Abilene.

“When I first walked into the plant, I noticed all of the different machines,” he said. “To me, everything was on a much bigger scale than it was at school. But I knew I would be able to learn how to use it.”

AbiMar Foods, which was founded in Abilene in 1992, started with two ovens. Today it exports products to Mexico, the Caribbean and Central America. 

Trevino said he is proud to be part of a successful company.

“All of my training at TSTC has really paid off. I thought I would be going into the plant scared that I did not know everything,” Trevino said. “I hit the floor running, knowing there would be a learning curve and I would have to catch up. Day by day, I learned more and got comfortable. I have seen my confidence growing.”

He credits his success to his time at TSTC. He also learned that his supervisor had inside knowledge of the programs offered at TSTC.

“My boss graduated from the Waco program years ago. He knew that TSTC trained good employees,” Trevino said.

With the help of instructor Daniel Diaz, Trevino was able to interview for a job before he graduated in December.

“I knew other people were having a hard time, but Daniel was able to help me get my foot in the door,” he said.

Since his time at work, some people have told him to expand his knowledge. For now, Trevino is happy to be working at a job that he trained for.

“I am one of those guys that likes to get all dirty,” he said. “I really like what I do on a daily basis.”

Trevino was not always a person who liked to work on equipment. That changed after he enrolled at TSTC.

“Working in the lab made me learn what was going wrong with a machine. I used to stay away from those situations, but not anymore,” he said.  “I really like trying to figure things out.”

Trevino said TSTC’s instructors were helpful in showing him the proper way that equipment works.

“If we did not understand something, they would always be there to show us. It helps that they worked in the field,” he said. “All of their training and knowledge has been helpful to me in my career.”

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Lance continues to learn after earning associate degree at TSTC

(ABILENE, Texas) – Marcus Lance has done a lot in a short period of time at Texas’ largest limestone quarry.

After earning an associate degree in Industrial Systems at Texas State Technical College in 2020, Lance began working for Champion Stone Co. in Lueders. The maintenance technician has seen his education pay off daily.

“I am the main guy when it comes to all of the electrical boxes at the quarry. I have also installed three or four different plumbing systems while I have been working there,” he said.

Lance has also learned how to use heavy machinery, including a front-end loader.

“I have to do a lot of different things when it comes to work. At school, we learned to operate a forklift, but now I can drive a front-end loader with 20,000 pounds on it,” he said. “I never thought I would be able to say I could operate something that big.”

Having an aptitude for operating mechanical equipment comes naturally to Lance. In his spare time, he makes knives in his backyard shop.

“Do-it-yourself and using equipment is right up my alley,” he said. “I think having more experience will help you in life.”

When Lance started the program, he knew he had some experience, but he was surprised by how much he learned.

“I would apply what I did know when I was in class, but I was surprised that almost daily I would learn something I did not know,” he said.

Lance said being raised by a single mother led him to learn how to fix things around the house and eventually apply that knowledge toward a career.

“It was up to me to help her out. If something were wrong with the car, I would dive right in and try to fix it,” he said. “I wanted to get things done around our house that needed to be done. While I was able to do that, I was learning a new skill.”

Lance said one skill he learned at TSTC was welding.

“I was able to learn enough about welding that I bought my own welder,” he said. “I am the kind of person that likes to read instructions and put that knowledge to work. Once I read about it, I want to use it over and over again to make sure I know I am doing it correctly.”

Lance said the program offers people various options, but he does have advice for anyone considering Industrial Systems.

“It may be overwhelming at times, but remember you do not have to become a master,” he said. “Make sure you are comfortable with what you are doing so you can take the next steps.”

According to, electrical technician jobs are expected to increase 8% by 2028. Instructor Daniel Diaz said people like Lance and other TSTC graduates are able to learn different trades and become highly skilled when they complete the program.

“We offer a lot of different options for our students. They are able to learn different areas of the trade and can find a good job when they graduate,” Diaz said.

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TSTC graduates begin new journey following virtual commencement

(ABILENE, Texas) – Texas State Technical College honored 120 candidates for graduation during a virtual commencement celebration on Thursday, April 22.

The celebration honored graduates from TSTC’s four West Texas campuses in Abilene, Breckenridge, Brownwood and Sweetwater. TSTC Chancellor and CEO Mike Reeser celebrated the graduates’ accomplishments with a video message.

“Throughout your time at TSTC, you strengthened yourself with the skills needed to make your life better and for those that matter most to you,” Reeser said.

Andy Weaver, TSTC’s interim provost in West Texas, said graduates are ready for a new journey.

“We know that a new journey awaits you, and that’s the journey on the road to your career and profession you are seeking,” he said.

Graduates thanked several people with messages posted on social media following the virtual celebration. Many graduates thanked their families and instructors.

“Becoming a registered nurse has been a lifelong dream of mine, and I am so blessed that I am getting to add these letters behind my name,” said Ashley Watson, who received an Aof Applied Science degree in Nursing. “I want to thank everyone for sticking by my side and helping me achieve my dream. I also want to thank the instructors for believing in me and doing their best to teach us during the wild and crazy times we live in.”

Kyla Patterson, who also received an Associate of Applied Science degree in Nursing, thanked the people who helped her reach a lifelong goal.

“A huge thank you to my family, friends, and the TSTC staff for all of the support you provided to achieve my career goals. Here is to the next chapter of adventures to come,” she said.

Joshua Hernandez, who received an Associate of Applied Science degree in Electrical Power and Controls, said he is excited about his next journey.

“I’m very excited to find a job post-graduation and to get to work and start providing for myself and my family through hard work,” he said.

Brazes Bray, who received an Associate of Applied Science degree in Computer Networking and Systems Administration, thanked TSTC instructors.

“Thank you to my professors, Leo Chavez and Adrian Medrano, for giving me the guidance and encouragement to tackle this tough degree. I look forward to pursuing my passions and obtaining industry certifications on my journey ahead,” Bray said.

Yovanna Mounce said she learned the meaning of education while attending TSTC. She earned an Associate of Applied Science degree in Health Information Technology.

“I want to thank God, my family, and the entire TSTC and HIT program staff for motivating me to work hard and put my best potential forward to succeed,” she said. “Thank you for helping me to understand the value and great satisfaction of an education overall.”

Before the virtual celebration, graduates could pick up a graduation swag bag that included a diploma cover, travel mug, and face mask.

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Perry’s decision to attend TSTC based on helping family

(SWEETWATER, Texas) – Growing up on a farm in Jacksboro, Kenneth Perry was constantly repairing equipment.

When it was time to choose a career path, Perry said he had two career options, and both included Texas State Technical College.

“My school counselor told me about TSTC’s programs. It was either going to be diesel or airplanes,” he said. “Anything that had a motor, I liked to work on it.”

His decision, in part, was made on the farm. The family 18-wheeler became his, and he decided to enroll in the Diesel Equipment Technology program. He is currently studying for an associate degree he can use on the farm and later in life.

“I wanted to be able to work on the farm and help my dad,” Perry said. “I also like the small environment we have in Sweetwater.”

While Perry has been used to working on trucks and tractors, he admitted that some areas still give him issues, especially the lab sessions’ transmission portion.

“There are so many moving parts. If you put it together wrong, you will not know it until you are done,” he said. “There is more tedious work when it comes to the transmission, so you have to pay attention.”

Perry said having instructors who have been in the field has helped him improve his skills.

“The instructors want you to figure out what is being done wrong before they come in and help,” he said. “They have set this up so we can learn all of the details.”

Perry does not know what his long-term plans are, but he knows he will put his knowledge to use helping his father on the farm.

“I will go home and drive the diesel and work on things for my dad,” he said. “I know that I will be able to work on our tractors and trucks. I will also be hauling hay and anything else for my father.”

Perry also knows that having a degree will help him when he does begin looking for a career.

“I am going to be prepared for work. Having a degree will be important, and TSTC is known for having graduates hired,” he said.

Instructor Shannon Weir said companies look for students like Perry, who show initiative while in school.

“Companies are always looking for good people to work on their trucks and equipment,” Weir said. “The best thing is many companies trust our graduates.”

With oil prices increasing, Weir said more companies will begin looking for employees. According to, the need for diesel engine specialists in Texas is expected to grow by 14% by 2028. That forecast is higher than the national growth of 3%.

Perry said he is pleased that he decided to make working on heavy equipment a career.

“This decision set me up for a lifetime,” he said. “I am happy to be learning a skill that will help my family.”

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TSTC student adds paramedic to family’s list of first responders

(BROWNWOOD, Texas) – Anthony Monaco has been around first responders his entire life.

When Monaco lived in New York, his father was a volunteer firefighter, and his mother was a nurse. After his father’s job moved the family to Fort Worth, Monaco wanted to continue the family tradition.

After high school, Monaco attended a firefighter academy and was hired by the Stephenville Fire Department. He said the department operates both the fire and emergency medical services operations for the community.

Monaco completed an EMS program at his fellow firefighters’ suggestion and decided to take it one step further. He enrolled in Texas State Technical College’s Emergency Medical Services Paramedic program and now is nearing graduation.

“My entire life has led me to TSTC, and I love it,” he said.

Monaco always enjoyed watching his father rush out to a fire call.

“It was an all-volunteer department, and I knew he was helping people,” he said. “When I was a kid, I would run around the house with his bunker gear on. I knew being a first responder was in my blood.”

Moving from New York to Texas, Monaco said he did not know what to expect. He was surprised at how quickly he was able to adapt to a different environment.

“Texas grabbed me from the start. Everyone has been so friendly,” he said. “I am definitely making this my home.”

That friendliness carried over to TSTC.

“Everyone is so welcoming and wants to take care of us. They want everyone to succeed,” he said.

That includes his instructor, Tim Scalley.

“He works daily to put the things he learns in class into his work,” Scalley said. “It is good for paramedics to learn how to do things in class so they are prepared for the next call they go on during work.”

In working toward becoming a paramedic, Monaco admitted that some of the lab sessions were difficult.

“The trauma scenarios we go through are some of the hardest,” he said. “We have to do a full assessment of the situation of a multivehicle accident and fix each life threat at a time.”

Monaco, who describes himself as a lifelong athlete, likened being in the lab environment to being on a practice field.

“I love sports and always told myself to practice like I would play the game,” he said. “I know the better I practice, the better I will perform in the field. That is how I am pursuing my education.”

Monaco said he noticed his critical thinking skills are heightened when working in the lab.

“I have to keep my mind open, like I would in the field, to assess what I am doing on a patient,” he said. “This is the best way for anyone to learn.”

Monaco said knowing he will join an elite list of people known as paramedics will be rewarding. Texas has more than 20,000 paramedics employed statewide, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. The need for paramedics is expected to increase 11% by 2028 in Texas, according to

“My family is proud I am pursuing a dream, and I am proud to be doing it at TSTC,” he said.

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TSTC students see career opportunities in Industrial Systems program

(ABILENE, Texas) – One of the first things students learn in Texas State Technical College’s Industrial Systems program is that many job opportunities await them after graduation.

That was the reason why Jacob Nelson, Levi Taylor and Dalton Tiner decided to enroll in the program. What they have learned over their first two semesters is that they made a good decision for a career.

“There are so many different areas we can choose from. This truly is a jack-of-all-trades program,” said Nelson, of Abilene, who is pursuing a certificate in the program.

Industrial Systems students learn to install, operate, test and maintain equipment in various facilities. The three students, along with their classmates, are learning industry-standard safety procedures, mechanical and electrical skills, diagnostic techniques, how to read and interpret schematics, and how to work with motors, pumps, chillers, boilers, and programmable logic control systems.

Nelson said his family worked in many of the fields covered in the program. It was a perfect opportunity for him to expand his knowledge.

“I am pretty good at welding and working with my hands. I wanted to broaden my skills in that area,” he said, adding that he plans to study for an associate degree.

Taylor, of Hawley, is also pursuing an associate degree in the program and has been impressed with what he has been able to learn in a short time.

“I have learned there are a lot of opportunities available for people who study in this program,” he said.

According to, electrical technician positions are expected to grow by 8% in Texas over the next decade.

That trend has led to younger people enrolling in the program, something instructor Daniel Diaz likes to see.

“With many of our students starting younger, it gives them more time for growth in the industry,” Diaz said. “All of our students see success in the industry. This program helps get them off on the right foot.”

Nelson said having Diaz as an instructor helps him know that what he is learning will be used in the field.

“All of the experience he has had in the field is helpful,” Nelson said. “We know that when we read something, the instructors will tell us about that and how it applies to what we may see in the field. They have seen it, so they can explain it to us and give us their experience in that situation.”

Taylor said having state-of-the-art equipment to train with was another reason he chose to attend TSTC.

“I am a very hands-on person, and having time in the lab is the best part of the program,” he said.

Tiner’s father studied Industrial Systems at TSTC more than 10 years ago. Having the lab sessions today is something that Tiner, of Brownwood, is proud to talk to his father about.

“He had to do a lot more reading back then. He told me that having the equipment here is going to help me prepare for a career,” said Tiner, who is pursuing a certificate of completion in the program.

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Lifeguard Ambulance Service EMTs travel similar paths to TSTC

(BROWNWOOD, Texas) – Two Lifeguard Ambulance Service emergency medical technicians began their medical careers in similar fashion.

Michelle Bates and Brittney Evans did not immediately begin studying to become EMTs. Now the two first responders are completing their third semester in Texas State Technical College’s Emergency Medical Services Paramedic program.

Bates, of Fort Worth, earned a college scholarship to play soccer and originally wanted to study clinical psychology.

“It was a couple of years, but I decided I wanted to study emergency medical services,” she said. “I first brought it up to my parents, and they were not sure that was something I should do.”

A couple of years later, Bates returned to her parents and was met with a positive response.

“I really got into the work, and it became my passion,” she said. “My parents are now 100 percent supportive of my decision.”

Evans, of Bangs, said she took time after high school to think about her career options. It was not until 2013 that becoming an EMT entered her mind.

“I fell in love with the EMS world,” she said.

Like Bates, Evans said her family has been supportive of her decision to become a paramedic. The mother of one and with one on the way said it has been hard to juggle family, work and school.

“I am ecstatic to get this done. I am so happy I have gotten this far,” she said. “My husband has been there the entire time supporting me.”

Bates had to face adversity during the past few months. She contracted the coronavirus and was quarantined during and after her illness. But she persevered in her studies through the help of TSTC EMS instructor Tim Scalley, who pushed her to get back into the lab sessions.

“He has been amazing and has taught us so much,” she said. “I had to tell myself to not kill myself to get everything done when I got back. I am not suffering now.”

Both Bates and Evans said their co-workers are excited for them to complete the program. They plan to stay with the company, but Evans said that does have one disadvantage.

“It is hard to help someone you know, but it is good that we are helping people,” she said.

Bates said the Paramedic program is challenging, but the rewards pay off.

“You have to know that you are here to learn and things are not going to happen quickly,” she said. “The best advice I can give anyone is to stay calm and take it one day at a time.”

Evans offered similar advice for prospective students.

“You are going to have to hunker down and be serious about the program. There will be a lot of sacrifices,” she said. “I have learned that the more you put into it, the more you get out of what you learn.”

When Bates and Evans complete the program, they will join more than 26,000 EMT-paramedics employed in the state, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services

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