Category Archives: Sweetwater

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.”

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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 Wind Energy Technology student looking for adventure

(SWEETWATER, Texas) – Grant Cusenbary likes to explore nature and go on adventures.

Cusenbary’s sense of adventure led him to Texas State Technical College’s Wind Energy Technology program. Nearing the completion of his second semester in pursuing an associate degree, he is ready to explore more of the program.

“I am naturally curious. I like to ask a lot of questions, and with our small classes, we get the answers from our instructors,” he said. “It is one thing to know what you have to know, but it is another thing to understand why something does what it is supposed to do.”

Cusenbary’s curiosity came at an early age.

“Working on a farm, I did not know how some of the things worked on our tractors. But I wanted to learn more,” he said.

The same curiosity led Cusenbary to TSTC. He knew people in his hometown of Graham who had wind turbines on their property. He asked the farmers different questions and soon realized he could have a career in wind energy.

“I asked a lot of questions and did a lot of research. TSTC is known for its wind program, and I knew it would be the best place to receive an education,” he said.

Instructor Billie Jones said Cusenbary is very attentive, a positive trait for future wind turbine technicians.

“He does ask a lot of questions, and that is something I like in students,” she said. “He has worked hard in all of his classes.”

With the questions, Cusenbary notices a trend in class.

“It opens a lot of opportunities for us to have in-depth conversations with our instructors,” he said. “I enjoy having the smaller classes because we can have great discussions with the best instructors.”

Cusenbary said he chose TSTC for another reason.

“Almost all of the graduates are guaranteed to be working when they finish. That means the program has a great reputation, and I wanted to be part of that tradition,” he said.

Jobs in the wind energy sector are some of the fastest-growing in Texas. According to, the need for wind service turbine technicians in Texas will increase 83 percent over the next decade. That trend is higher than the national forecast of 61 percent by 2029.

Even with his second semester coming to an end, Cusenbary is ready for what comes next.

“I know what I am learning now will prepare me for the day when things become more hands-on. I can then apply all of the knowledge I have gained into doing it with my hands,” he said.

Like most students in the program, Cusenbary said it will be gratifying when he makes his first turbine climb.

“I used to work on a ropes course, so I am used to climbing high and having to wear safety equipment,” he said. “But to be able to do it with my classmates and make the climb in the turbine, that is one adventure I cannot wait to have.”

Cusenbary said his adventures will continue after he completes the program, and he is looking forward to traveling while working in his chosen career.

“Wind energy is going to offer me an adventure of a lifetime. I am looking forward to seeing the country and taking hikes and seeing the views from the top of the turbine,” he said. “I cannot believe I will be able to explore our country while making money. TSTC is offering me a great opportunity.”

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TSTC Wind Energy Technology student accepts a job midair

(SWEETWATER, Texas) – It started like any other Wednesday for Rebecca Fortuna.

The Texas State Technical College Wind Energy Technology student was at the top of a wind turbine when her cellphone rang. On the other end of the call was a FieldCore representative, who offered Fortuna a job as an electrical wind technician.

“The call was one for the books,” said Fortuna, who is a candidate for graduation next month. “I was 300 feet in the air and accepted a job.”

It was her second call from FieldCore, which offers field services to maintain and upgrade power generation equipment.

“I had my first interview a week ago, and within a week, I was offered a job,” she said. “I owe this wonderful opportunity to all of my instructors.”

Fortuna’s family is excited about the opportunity.

“My husband was ecstatic, and my daughter was in disbelief,” she said. “She could not believe it happened so fast.”

Getting away from a desk job was one of Fortuna’s goals all along. After starting a career in health information, in 2016, she knew she needed a change.

“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 into the field.”

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.”

Fortuna, who is studying for an associate degree, was drawn to FieldCore because it gives her the chance to travel. She will begin training with the company in late April or early May.

Being a self-described busybody, Fortuna said the wind industry would 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 hopes she can influence other women 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 TSTC 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.”

Jones said Fortuna worked hard to achieve her goal.

“She is a great student. She is one of the hardest workers in class, and I know she will be successful,” Jones said.

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TSTC helps fill need for chemical dependency counselors

(ABILENE, Texas) – The need for substance abuse, behavioral disorder and mental health counselors is expected to grow over the next decade.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 26 percent increase in the number of counselors needed in Texas by 2028, and Texas State Technical College is helping to train counselors to fill that need through its online Chemical Dependency Counseling program.

Many of the students in the program learn more about themselves, according to Chemical Dependency Counseling instructor Patty Bundick.

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

Making a difference in someone’s life is what inspires Leigh Anne Folger, a counselor at Addiction Behavioral Services.

“I can’t take credit for their success or get down if they fail,” said the 2017 TSTC graduate. “All I do is provide them with the information that can help them. I hold up the road map to a successful life. They have to want to drive the car.”

Abilene’s Ashli Arispe shares that same philosophy.

“I think everyone deserves a second chance,” she said. “My nature has always been to help people. I volunteered in high school and have always liked helping others.”

Arispe, a 2020 TSTC graduate, works for ABODE Treatment in Abilene. She said the facility’s acronym, short for Adult Basic Opportunity Development and Environment, depicts how the treatment center works to help people.

“I want to help more people, and help them plant their seeds and watch them sprout,” she said.

The five-semester Associate of Applied Science degree program at TSTC covers several topics, including working with families and family intervention. Students will discuss current issues ranging from child protective services to HIV and other diseases.

Joseph Ott, a 2015 graduate of the program, said he always enjoyed helping people and that was the main reason he chose the field.

“I knew that being 22 years sober that I would try to help people. It is not about the money for me,” he said.

The median annual salary for a counselor, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, was $46,240 in 2019.

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

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TSTC Business Management Technology prepares students for a range of career options

(ABILENE, Texas) – Texas State Technical College’s online Business Management Technology program prepares students for a wide range of career options.

Graduates of the program have worked in different areas of business, from accounting to business management. Earning an associate degree or certificate has opened doors for many of the program’s graduates.

Ron Howard is now working for the Taylor County Veterans’ Service Office after earning an associate degree in 2019.

“Everything I learned in the program is helping me tremendously in my job. It has helped me with all of the computer skills and with Word documents,” he said. “My job all day is working on a computer.”

Howard said he could not have succeeded without the help of the TSTC instructors.

“The one-on-one time they give you is great. They do not tell you, ‘Here is the work, go do it’; they make sure you understand what to do,” he said. “The instructors will set you up to succeed.”

Howard would visit his former instructors before the coronavirus pandemic and now communicates with them via email.

“I hope we can get together again. They helped me so much,” the U.S. Marine Corps veteran said.

Instructor Duston Brooks said many students, including Howard, take the learning further by earning a bachelor’s degree.

With TSTC offering a certification and degree program online, Brooks said the cost is minimal.

“Students will need a laptop and good internet access, of course,” he said. 

Brooks said students would learn the skills needed for a business to succeed. These include a clear understanding of accounting and principles; efficient management processes; practical verbal, electronic, and visual communication skills, work; how to work with supervisors, customers, employees, and stakeholders; and knowledge of computer software, including word processing spreadsheets, and presentation software.

Small-business owners have taken the course to improve the company’s management end, Brooks said. He also has had students who worked in physical labor positions but took the course to work in an office.

Howard said the program offers people career choices.

“I think people should embrace what they learn in the program. They will succeed,” he said. “TSTC’s Business Management Technology program is the best out there.”

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TSTC Wind Energy Technology instructor wants students to climb high

(SWEETWATER, Texas) – Billie Jones takes pride in watching her students succeed, both in college and in the workforce.

The Texas State Technical College Wind Energy Technology instructor and statewide division chair works daily to make sure that students will be ready to work on day one.

“I want our students to have the best education and college experience they can. I want them to go to work and excel at what they do,” she said.

Jones, who has taught at TSTC since 2017, does not ask her students to do anything that she would not do herself.

“I love climbing the turbines with them, and I still do the workouts with our students,” she said. “I like to give the students a hard time when I beat them up the tower. I always look back at them and tell them they need to keep up.”

Jones’ teaching style is something that she learned from her father while growing up on a ranch.

“My dad always told me to prove to the boys how to do things right,” she said. “That is what I am showing our students.”

Student Rebecca Fortuna knows that having Jones as an instructor is helping her plan a career.

“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.”

When Jones gets the chance, she enjoys talking to prospective students and their parents.

“I love doing the recruiting events and talking to students when they come on campus,” she said.

She also enjoys hearing from WInd Energy Technology program alumni who have been working in the field.

“I love it when our former students come back and talk to the class,” Jones said. “They can give them more of a perspective of what to expect in the field. Many of our former students tell the classes to work toward an associate degree because they know that is where the money is going to be.”

Jones and her fellow instructors work together to promote and improve the program.

“We want to give our students more of an advantage in the workforce. We want them to be the best for their company,” she said.

Jones hopes to continue improving the program in order to accomplish the ultimate goal.

“I want to make our wind program the best in the country and the world,” she said.

During the month of March, TSTC wants to honor women in history and right on our campuses who work to make strides in STEM fields every day. For more information, visit

Female TSTC Automotive Technology students building confidence

(SWEETWATER, Texas) – Working on a car most of the week is building confidence in two women at Texas State Technical College.

Kelsey Rice, of Abilene, and Nianica Dorado, of Wichita Falls, had different reasons for studying Automotive Technology, but they have similar goals.

“I wanted to learn for myself all of the ins and outs of a car,” Rice said. “I did not want to take my car somewhere and they told me one thing was wrong and I knew it was something else.”

Dorado began the program after being injured in an automobile accident in 2019.

“It took six months to fix my car. I decided then I wanted to learn more about what to do if something happened,” she said.

Both students plan to complete their certification and enroll in TSTC’s Diesel Equipment Technology program.

Rice said working with her classmates has helped her build confidence in herself.

“It is a good feeling, knowing you have done something right,” she said.

Dorado and Rice both like the hands-on approach that TSTC provides.

“I love the hands-on work we do. It offers a person great experience in the shop,” Dorado said.

They agreed that working in a male-dominated field is not a concern for them, but they acknowledged that there can be some disadvantages. Rice said loosening or tightening bolts has been challenging for her, but she is working to correct it.

“I have been working out a lot to increase my strength,” she said. “Some of the guys like to jump in on my work, but I tell them I have it, and they step back.”

Dorado said she has to overcome her height limitations when vehicles are on the rack.

“I know I am short, but I work hard to make sure I get the work done correctly,” she said.

Both students said they have one advantage over the men in the program.

“Sometimes the guys ask us for some help in those tiny spaces. It pays to have tiny hands in that situation,” Rice said.

The two students hope to continue working together.

“When I see Kelsey walking into the shop, it brightens up my day,” Dorado said. “We are showing people this is not just a man’s job.”

During the month of March, TSTC wants to honor women in history and right on our campuses who work to make strides in STEM fields every day. For more information, visit

Vess likes pace of TSTC’s Diesel Equipment Technology program

(SWEETWATER, Texas) – Working on vehicles is not new to Snyder’s Kaden Vess.

Vess wanted to expand his knowledge by enrolling in Texas State Technical College’s Diesel Equipment Technology program. Now nearing the end of his first semester studying for a certificate, Vess has not been disappointed.

“I have learned a lot really quick,” Vess said. “Some of the work is hard at first. But I know once I study what to do, it will be easier for me to complete.”

Instructor Keith Aguirri said Vess is showing promise in his first semester.

“He has come a long way in a few weeks. He is showing a good work ethic,” he said.

One aspect of lab sessions that Vess appreciates is how instructors treat it like a job setting.

“They like to throw a curveball at you. I know if I am not right, I will be thinking about it to make sure it is done correctly,” he said.

Vess’ interest in engines comes naturally. His father was a mechanic, and his stepfather ran derby cars.

“I have worked on vehicles with my family for a long time,” he said. “I took a mechanics class in high school and decided I wanted to learn more options and make it a career.”

He chose the diesel profession because of its flexibility.

“Anywhere you go, there is going to be a diesel,” he said.

Vess was drawn to the TSTC program because of its recognition.

“I knew TSTC had a good diesel program, and I read several good reviews,” he said. “The reviews showed me that it would set me up for a good-paying job. TSTC’s program has good name representation in our area.”

Vess said there is an added bonus that he did not know about before enrolling in the program.

“TSTC is going to help prepare me for my job with interview skills and resume writing,” he said.

When he is not in class or studying, Vess likes to show his father the different things he has learned during his first semester.

“I talk to my dad every day. My dad likes to learn things from me now, and that is great,” he said. 

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TSTC Welding Technology student eyes oil fields

(SWEETWATER, Texas) – James Martin, of Mason, has always liked to work with his hands.

After four years of welding classes in high school, Martin is furthering his education in Texas State Technical College’s Welding Technology program. He is planning to obtain a certificate of completion in order to work in the West Texas oil fields.

“I have always liked the feeling of working with my hands,” he said. “I like to do that more than sitting at a desk.”

Martin said studying welding at TSTC is easier than his high school welding classes were.

“It is easier because of the amount of time you can spend on a project. We also get more one-on-one time with our instructors,” he said. “It is easier to learn when you can talk to the instructors about what you are doing right and wrong.”

Instructor Taylor Elston said Martin is a hardworking student.

“He completes most of his projects first and takes a lot of pride in his work,” he said. “He will probably be one of the first students to complete all of his projects this semester and will do them well.”

The reason that Martin chose to attend TSTC was simple.

“I knew how TSTC was known to produce good welders. I wanted to learn to be the best I can,” he said.

One portion of the program that Martin enjoys the most is working in the lab, but he also said it is the most difficult.

“We have to get used to the moment that we are doing our profession all day. That is the way our labs are set up,” he said.

He also likes working with his classmates.

“We are very comfortable in class. We are respectful of each other’s work and want to make sure we succeed,” he said. “While it is like a work environment, it is easygoing for all of us.”

Martin also appreciates TSTC’s pledge to help graduates with job searches.

“That is a very good thing, and I am looking forward to working with the staff in helping me find my career,” he said.

Martin said he plans to buy his own welding equipment, knowing that TSTC will prepare him for work. He tells his friends about his experience anytime he can.

“I let people know what a great opportunity they can have by studying at TSTC,” he said.

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