Category Archives: Sweetwater

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.”

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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 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.

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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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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 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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TSTC Automotive Technology instructors bring experience to the program

(SWEETWATER, Texas) – Students in the Automotive Technology program on the Texas State Technical College campus in Sweetwater listen when their instructors talk.

Mike Myers and Gerod Strother use their different backgrounds to teach the students what to expect on the job. Myers worked in the automotive industry for more than three decades, while Strother once served in the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Army.

“Mike knows what (auto) dealerships are looking for,” Strother said. “All of the students listen to him.”

Myers said knowing what is expected of a mechanic helps the students while they work toward a certificate or Associate of Applied Science degree.

“When I get onto a student about something they did, it is because I know that it could be a fireable offense,” he said.

Strother said Myers is quick to return to the student.

“After a couple of minutes, Mike will go back to that student, put his arm around him and explain what they did wrong,” he said.

Safety is the first lesson students learn in the program. Strother said students must pass the safety course before they are allowed into the lab.

Once students are in the lab, that is where the majority of their time is spent. Myers said students spend two hours in the classroom, but “we then go in the lab and perform what we learned in the classroom.”

Strother’s military career and the lessons he learned while serving the United States play a role in safety.

“I want to focus on people and make sure they are paying attention. It is always about safety for me,” he said.

Both instructors said one of the more difficult lessons is when students have to work on the vehicle’s electrical system.

“Over my 31 years, I went from basic electronics in a car to technology today, with which you can land on the moon. Some vehicles have more technology in them than the capsule that landed on the moon,” Myers said. “We go over all of it and make sure the students know what to do.”

Myers said graduates typically begin working at a dealership’s oil change station. Six to nine months later, students will go through an apprenticeship with a master technician. The final stop is the main goal, according to Myers.

“After working as an apprentice, most of our guys get their own bay at the dealership,” he said. “That is their goal. That is where the big money is for them.”

Myers said he receives phone calls and text messages from former students telling him about their journey. He also gets a call or two a month from some of them needing help.

“It amazes me that students still call or text me about something they are working on. I listen to them, and we discuss what they have and have not done,” Myers said. “Then it clicks, and they know what to do. That is what I appreciate.”

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TSTC Diesel Equipment Technology instructors preparing for enrollment surge

(SWEETWATER, Texas) – When oil prices decline, eventually they will increase. The biggest question is when.

When oil production increases, the demand for diesel specialists also increases. Texas State Technical College’s Sweetwater campus offers an Associate of Applied Science degree in heavy truck specialization and two certificates in heavy truck specialization.

“We are looking for a really good enrollment this fall, especially with the economy the way it is,” said instructor Shannon Weir. “The oil field is going to bounce back eventually, and companies will need people to work on the trucks and equipment.”

Some graduates of the Diesel Equipment Technology program are employed by established companies like Caterpillar, Peterbilt and Freightliner.

“Our students will be able to get work when they graduate,” he said.

Weir said most graduates have jobs prior to the end of their final semester. That is one of the selling points for the program, he said.

“Most of our graduates from Sweetwater get jobs in the oil field,” Weir said. “People trust our graduates.”

Students spend a majority of the time in the lab. Earlier this month, students returned to the Sweetwater campus to finish spring semester lab sessions.

“It is good to get back to work. This is a very hands-on class,” said second-year student Jacob Rambo of Wichita Falls.

With registration for the fall semester underway, Weir said instructors are preparing for changes.

“When the students returned this month, we did not have any issues. Everyone is following the rules,” he said, adding that those rules include wearing a face covering at all times. “We are going to make sure to practice all of the safety guidelines in place. Safety is our top priority.”

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TSTC students practice social distancing during lab sessions

(SWEETWATER, Texas) – A limited number of Texas State Technical College students returned to campus Monday, May 4.

Students allowed back on campus are studying in programs that require them to complete hands-on lab work in order to finalize their semester. While on campus, students and instructors practiced social distancing guidelines and wore face coverings at all times.

Students were glad to be back on campus and have social interaction with classmates.

“I am excited to be back,” said Diesel Equipment Technology student Jacob Rambo, of Wichita Falls. “While we were away, I did a skills test and had to align my own vehicle.”

Devyn Johnson from Lubbock, who is also a Diesel Equipment Technology student, said he spent time at work and with his family while away from campus.

“It feels good to be back. I missed the bonding with my friends and the coming together we had before getting started with class,” he said. “I have learned a lot from these guys.”

The return to on-campus instruction is specifically authorized by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, which has identified career and technical education as one area of education that may continue under the Texas governor’s Executive Order No. GA-16.

“CTE programs that require hands-on instruction that cannot be delivered online can continue to be delivered, but in strict accordance with CDC guidelines,” the executive order states.

“It is good to be back in the groove,” said Diesel Equipment Technology student David Wilson, of Brownwood..

Welding students in Sweetwater were also excited to be back on campus. Brian Naza, of Colorado City, admitted he did not do any welding at home.

“It is important that I improve my cutting and torch skills,” he said about what his focus would be on during the on-campus lab sessions.

Welding student Hector Mendez, of Senora, said returning to campus was a fresh start.

“I am looking forward to finishing what I started. I want to make good grades and put my skills to use,” he said.

Mendez said that before starting the lab session, his classmates talked about what they did during the past five weeks.

“We were really glad to see each other, but more importantly we want to finish and graduate,” he said.

For more information about how TSTC has prepared to return students to campus, visit

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