Category Archives: West Texas

TSTC alumnus ‘made to turn wrenches’ at hometown auto dealership

(SWEETWATER, Texas) – Robert Schneider said he was “made to turn wrenches.”

After a career in the military and oil field, Schneider wanted to settle down and looked for a college that offered Automotive Technology. He learned of the Texas State Technical College program and graduated with an Associate of Applied Science degree in 2018.

Today, Schneider is a main line technician at a Lithia Motors dealership in his hometown of San Angelo.

“It is the highest technician level there is,” he said. “TSTC helped out quite a bit in me being able to achieve this.”

Schneider said he liked to “tinker with stuff” from a young age. He would get in trouble after his parents gave him an electronic toy and he took it apart.

As a student at San Angelo’s Central High School, Schneider learned about the automotive class.

“At first, I was a little iffy. After I took the first-year course, I was hooked and took it again the second year,” he said. “I knew then that I was made to turn wrenches.”

In the U.S. Air Force, Schneider said he worked on the electrical systems of weapons. In the oil field, he learned how motors worked. He combined that knowledge once he began taking classes at TSTC.

“I was getting older and wanted to settle down with my family. I started looking at schools and came across TSTC on the internet,” he said. “All of the dots were lined up, and I started school.”

Schneider said TSTC Automotive Technology instructor Mike Myers helped him by bringing shop experience to the classroom and lab.

“He has a lot of experience,” Schneider said. “He has a wealth of knowledge. I can call him and ask him if he has seen something. He would tell me, ‘No, but have you checked into this?’”

Schneider said having that experience in the lab helped him because classroom lessons and books can go only so far.

“I was amazed at some of the material Mike opened me up to,” he said.

Myers said he keeps in touch with all of his students, especially if they encounter something not covered in class.

“I am a phone call or text message away and will help out any way possible,” Myers said.

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TSTC spring graduates honored with virtual celebration

(ABILENE, Texas) – Texas State Technical College honored 138 West Texas spring 2020 graduates with a virtual celebration on June 12.

Rick Denbow, who retired as TSTC’s West Texas provost in May, offered his congratulations to the students.

“We are very proud of you and wish you all the best in your careers. I am proud to call each of you a member of the TSTC family,” he said.

TSTC Associate Provost Raquel Mata said it was not the graduation celebration that either TSTC or the students envisioned. Social distancing and attendance limitations due to the COVID-19 pandemic led to the cancellation of May’s commencement ceremony.

“We predicted a roomful of excited graduates and their families, mixed in with proud TSTC faculty and staff,” Mata said. “But COVID-19 changed all that. The virus has created many unique situations worldwide. It has changed the way we learn, communicate and do business. For you, specifically, the pandemic changed your last semester with us. However, you embraced it and continued on.”

Mata said the need for skilled workers is apparent in Texas.

“We know there is a demand for skilled workers in Texas, now more than ever, and the demand will only continue to grow,” she said.

The celebration included a list of names of candidates for graduation representing the Abilene, Breckenridge, Brownwood and Sweetwater campuses.

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Industrial Systems program offers a diversity of classes for TSTC students

(ABILENE, Texas) – The Industrial Systems program at Texas State Technical College’s Industrial Technology Center in Abilene offers a diverse curriculum for students.

Instructor Daniel Diaz said students learn different aspects of industrial systems, from hydraulics and electronics to welding and small engine repair.

“We have had students get jobs with the wind industry, prisons and hospitals,” Diaz said. “We teach a lot of different facets, and that helps students in the job market. No matter what the market is doing, we will train students with the skills they need to go where they want to.”

During the three-semester program for the Industrial Systems Mechanic certificate, students perform industry-standard safety procedures, learn mechanical and electrical skills, perfect diagnostic techniques, and read and interpret schematics. In addition, students work with motors, pumps, chillers, boilers and programmable logic controllers.

Current students returned to the Abilene facility this month to complete required lab sessions. Diaz said students are practicing social distancing and have adapted to new safety guidelines, including facial coverings.

“This has taught students to adapt to what has been given to them,” Diaz said. “At any job, you are going to have to adapt and change some things on the fly. This is a good way for students to learn that.”

Diaz said the new safety guidelines have helped him as an instructor.

“It is a good teachable moment. We have to show the students how to be able to adapt to something new,” he said.

Diaz said classes include online lectures, but the most important portion of the course takes place in lab sessions.

“All of the skills students learn come in the form of the labs,” he said. “That is where the bulk of the learning is done.”

TSTC also offers Industrial Systems programs at the East Williamson County, Fort Bend County, Marshall, North Texas and Waco campuses.

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TSTC Vocational Nursing student adapts to new learning environment

(BRECKENRIDGE, Texas) – Virdi Crawford admitted she took a “leap of faith” when she began studying Vocational Nursing at Texas State Technical College in late 2019.

What she learned over the past five months is that she was able to adapt to a new learning environment.

“This is an experience that I will never forget,” said Crawford of finishing the spring semester from her home in Abilene. “What this made me realize is how easily I was able to adapt to a stressful situation.”

Crawford said students had to adjust to the new learning environment, but were able to stay connected through online resources.

“It was sad that we could not go to class and talk to each other. Not having the one-on-one with the instructors was also a huge adjustment,” she said. “All of this taught me to roll with the punches.”

The spring semester experience is something Crawford said she will remember after completing the program and getting a job.

“I know there will be days that are work-heavy and I will want to give up,” she said. “But what COVID -19 has taught me to analyze everything and take a deep breath. I will be able to keep going because if we can make it through this, we can make it through work.”

Crawford completed the spring semester from her home while her husband also worked from home. The couple also had to make sure their two children, ages four and seven, were active.

“It was hard to explain to my children that mom and dad needed a little time to get their work done,” she said. “We were able to do it.”

She knew other students were facing the same situation.

“A majority of my classmates are working and have children. They also had to make this adjustment,” she said.

Crawford said the Breckenridge instructors helped with the transition.

“When this first started, we did not know what was going to happen. We did not know if we would have to start the program over,” she said. “The instructors are always there fighting for us and adapted to the new learning environment. It was definitely challenging for them and for us.”

Crawford said working through the spring semester helped her realize she made the right choice to study nursing. She said that other students interested in the field should look at TSTC first.

“TSTC has so many resources available. The doors are always open for the instructors to talk to you,” she said. “Breckenridge may be a small campus, but everyone cares how you are doing.”

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Potts passes love of racing to next generation

(SWEETWATER, Texas) – Billy Potts has a passion for auto racing.

The 1997 Texas State Technical College graduate is passing that passion to the next generation, but not through a lot of horsepower. Potts is president of the Bobcat Solar Racing Team composed of students at Byron Nelson High School in Trophy Club.

Each year, the team builds and then races a solar-powered car from the Texas Motor Speedway to California during the Solar Car Challenge. Potts and the team are disappointed that this year’s event was canceled.

Potts’ involvement with the racing challenge started when his son enrolled at Byron Nelson High School.

“I asked my son (Emery) to get involved. That was going to be the direction of the auto industry,” Potts said. “It was fun.”

The former team leader at that time was phasing out because his son was graduating, Potts said.

“I did not want to see this program fall apart,” he said. “We are still working and building a car, preparing for next year.”

Potts said working on a solar car offers team members something they do not get in the classroom. His son shared his father’s passion for solar racing, while some team members were merely looking for an extracurricular activity.

“Seeing those different kids working together is something special,” he said. “Some of the students come in and don’t know the right end of a screwdriver. By the time we are ready to race, they know what to do, and I just sit back and watch.”

Potts credited his career success to TSTC. He graduated from the Sweetwater campus in 1997 with a double degree in Manufacturing Engineering Technology and Computer-Aided Drafting Design. 

He is currently a certified Bluebeam specialist and building information modeling coordinator for Jacobs, a company that provides professional services including consulting, technical, scientific and project delivery for the government and private sector.

Today, Potts still recommends TSTC for anyone wanting to expand their education. He said his degree led him to good jobs, including working on the Texas Motor Speedway. But over the years, Potts said he wanted to “plant his feet” somewhere.

When a job at Jacobs opened, he did just that and pursued his passion for racing. He also spends time with Emery, who is now in college, when the Bobcat Solar Racing Team gets together.

“Emery, he is my right hand now. He is helping the new team,” he said. “What I learned at TSTC is still paying off for me today. For that, I will always be thankful.”

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TSTC awarded Community Foundation of Abilene grant

(ABILENE, Texas) – For the third time since 2016, Texas State Technical College was awarded a Community Foundation of Abilene grant.

TSTC was awarded $7,500 which will be used for scholarships during the Fall 2020 semester. The college previously received grants in 2016 and 2018.

The scholarships are available for new students attending TSTC in Abilene, said Delton McGuire, TSTC’s West Texas Senior Field Development Officer.

“The TSTC Foundation is very thankful for the generosity of the Community Foundation of Abilene. Their gift will help new students at the school and relieve some of the financial burden,” McGuire said.

Financial aid advisors will award the scholarships in accordance with the policies and practices of TSTC, McGuire said. Full-time students may receive as much as $1,000 in scholarship funds.

“This money will provide opportunities for adults and students to attend school and help our local job market,” said Michelle Parrish, grant director at the Community Foundation of Abilene.

Grant funds to TSTC and other nonprofit groups is only part of the foundation’s mission. Parrish said donations are made throughout the year and used to fund projects.

Since 1985, the Community Foundation of Abilene has awarded more than $100 million in grants.

“We first opened through a gift and have definitely grown since that time,” Parrish said. “We have been able to double our grant donations over the past 10 years thanks to the community’s support.”

For more information on scholarships available at TSTC, visit

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TSTC instructor says welders are always in demand

(BROWNWOOD, Texas) – Welders are always needed, no matter the economic situation.

Texas State Technical College Welding Technology instructor Robert Whitley knows his students will likely find a job soon after completing the program. In West Texas, welders are needed not only in the oil field, but also at other sites, he said.

“Other (businesses) are not hurting as bad as the oil field right now,” Whitley said. “A lot of our guys are noticing that welding is definitely a reliable source of income.”

Whitley said many welders are self-employed, while others like the structure of working for a company. No matter what, he said, welders usually can find work.

“Some of the guys like to venture out to the bigger cities for work. They go out several different directions to find a job,” he said.

With oil prices beginning to rebound, Whitley said he expects to see more students enrolled in the program, which is offered at each of TSTC’s 10 campuses. The college offers an Associate of Applied Science degree in Welding Technology, and certifications in structural welding and structural/pipe welding.

“Hopefully everything in the oil field will be going the right way. When that happens, we will probably pick up another boom (of students),” he said.

Whitley said his main goal is to see students employed.

“I like to see them succeed. The best thing for me is to send kids out and see them be able to provide for their family,” he said.

With social distancing being the new normal in business, Whitley said lab sessions have been set up to state standards. He said that social distancing is nothing new to welders.

“Many of them will not be near anyone when they are working,” he said. 

During lab sessions, Whitley said students have worked within the guidelines.

“It has kept our guys on their toes. It is teaching them to prepare for the unexpected,” he said.

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TSTC alumnus finds job stability in medical records field

(ABILENE, Texas) – Like most people, Sarah Johnson was looking for job stability.

After graduating from Texas State Technical College in November 2019 with an Associate of Applied Science degree in Health Information Technology, she found that stability. Johnson credits TSTC for helping her find a job as a medical coder at Hendrick Health System.

“At one point, it was difficult for me to find work,” she said. “Once I started in the medical field, I loved it and would make it a career.”

After being employed in customer service for 20 years, Johnson worked in the outpatient unit at Brownwood Regional Medical Center. She decided to complete TSTC’s Health Information Technology program to further her career. It was a decision she has not regretted.

Since February, Johnson has worked as a coder at Hendrick Medical Center. Coders are health information professionals who analyze medical records and assign codes using a classification system. 

“If I would have known about the HIT program first, I would have done it,” she said. “I am glad I was able to graduate and get a job I love.”

Johnson said the instructors were instrumental in helping her during school and finding a job.

“I was overwhelmed with work and school. My instructors were always supportive,” she said. “They would always tell me and other students, ‘You can do this.’ They really took an interest in how we were doing and wanted us to succeed.”

Sarah Brooks, TSTC’s Health Information Technology program chair, said Johnson “defined what makes a student successful in the online learning environment.”

“She was self-motivated and self-disciplined,” Brooks said. “Sarah was open-minded in sharing her work, life and educational experiences with others through the learning process.”

Johnson, who codes emergency room records at Hendrick, said no two days are the same and credits TSTC’s instructors for preparing her for the daily challenge.

“I see a variety of charts,” she said. “My main focus is to make sure the information is coded correctly.”

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Eight area TSTC students place at virtual SkillsUSA contest

(ABILENE, Texas) – Eight students from Texas State Technical College representing its West Texas campuses won medals at the 2020 SkillsUSA virtual conference meet.

The students earned five gold medals, one silver medal and four bronze medals. 

William Hancock earned gold medals in two events, Information Technology Services and Telecommunications Cabling. Victoria Jones earned a silver medal in Medical Math and a bronze in Medical Terminology.

Also earning gold medals were Rachel Bradshaw in First Aid/CPR, April Clark in Nurse Assisting, and Jerrod Doss in Internetworking. Bronze medals were awarded to Ashley Turnbow in Medical Math, Kerrie Helmuth in Nurse Assisting and Kaitlyn Mitchell in Job Interview.

Marchelle Taylor, TSTC’s West Texas SkillsUSA coordinator, said the students faced more of a challenge this year because of campuses being closed and the district conference being held virtually.

“It took flexibility on their part and extra work to prepare for the entire contest,” she said. “I am glad to have students at TSTC that worked together to continue to excel and participate in this excellent program.”

Bradshaw said competing online was “nerve-wracking.”

“I was more comfortable being able to do the written test from my home,” she said. “I hope the next time I compete it will be in person so we can show the judges what we know. It is always better to show your skills.”

Bradshaw, who is studying Nursing at the Breckenridge campus, said the competition will help her when she completes college.

“SkillsUSA will help you become a better employee and adult in general,” she said. “It has helped me to study more for my classes.”

Turnbow said knowing the contest would be online was not thrilling, but when it started, she changed her mind.

“It was both shocking and exciting,” she said of placing third. “Once I started taking the online test, it was an easy process.”

Turnbow, a Nursing student, said she plans to recommend that other students compete in SkillsUSA next year.

“This is a good program that will help you in your career. It is really good for resume building,” she said.

Helmuth was encouraged to participate by classmates and did not regret her decision. Even the online experience was beneficial.

“Once you completed the orientation, it was simple. I would do this again, but in person, preferably,” she said.

Helmuth, who is also a Nursing student, said competing taught her something she will carry over to her everyday life.

“I learned that no matter what the scenario is, I need to take the time to slow down and not hurry, no matter if it is at school, work or life,” she said.

SkillsUSA is a professional organization teaching technical, academic and employability skills that help high school and college students pursue successful careers. Members build these skills through student-led team meetings, contests, leadership conferences and other activities.

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Texas State Technical College student Ashley Turnbow won a bronze medal in Medical Math during the 2020 SkillsUSA virtual conference meet.

Texas State Technical College student Kerrie Helmuth won a bronze medal in Nurse Assisting during the 2020 SkillsUSA virtual conference meet.

Texas State Technical College student Rachel Bradshaw won a gold medal in First Aid/CPR during the 2020 SkillsUSA virtual conference meet.

TSTC alumnus returns to hometown hospital

(SWEETWATER, Texas) – Seeing childhood friends will be a normal occurrence for Roby’s Kaycie Hills.

Hills, who graduated this spring from Texas State Technical College with an Associate of Applied Science degree in Nursing, was recently hired at Fisher County Hospital. Hills is also following in the footsteps of her mother, who has worked at the hospital for 26 years.

“I enjoy working in my hometown. I see a lot of people from my childhood, and they tell me how proud they are of me. That makes me feel good,” she said.

Hills said she wanted to be a nurse like her mother and worked to reach that goal.

“I was working three jobs and realized that I wanted a career,” she said. “I wanted to provide for my son.”

Hills admitted that she struggled in some of her classes at TSTC, but she feels a sense of accomplishment about finishing her degree requirements.

“It feels really good to be graduating,” she said. “The instructors really came through for me and helped me.”

It was not only with classwork that Hills said instructors helped her.

“They would always call and ask how we were doing and if I needed anything,” she said. “That is what I appreciated the most. They really care about their students. They are a huge part of my life now.”

Completing the registered nursing courses taught Hills lessons she will use daily.

“The program really dove deep into the entire disease process,” she said. “It helped me learn what the patient needs, and I can better care for my patients with that knowledge.”

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