(WACO, Texas) – Shawn Avelar, of West, and John Sprague, of Clifton, have in common the year 2008 at Texas State Technical College’s Waco campus. That was the year Avelar began teaching at the campus and the year Sprague graduated.
Avelar did not get an opportunity to teach Sprague in what is now the Occupational Safety Compliance Technology program. But as members of TSTC’s Occupational Safety Compliance Technology Advisory Committee, the two are advocates for the importance of workplace safety and want to motivate others to pursue the field.
“Shawn Avelar has a God-given ability to lead by example,” said Martin Knudsen, TSTC’s statewide chair of the Occupational Safety Compliance Technology department. “He has risen to the top of the safety industry through hard work and determination, and he has never once complained about how difficult climbing the corporate ladder has been.”
“John Sprague has held top management positions from day one after the training he received from the Occupational Safety Compliance Technology program,” Knudsen said. “He is never shy about his opinions on how to improve the program, which is always well received.”
Avelar taught for three years at TSTC and is now a corporate safety manager for the Washington-based NAES Corp. Avelar works remotely from his home in West and oversees 17 plants throughout Texas and other parts of the nation.
Avelar oversees the safety officers at the plants he works with and ensures that they perform required checks and balances. He also helps carry out the company’s safety programs and works with policy and procedural changes.
“We follow legislation for changes,” he said. “My job is a lot of preparing and writing reports.”
Avelar said the safety field is not going away, which means that there will be good job opportunities in the future, especially for women and minorities. He is supportive of internships that enable students to experience and understand what the safety field entails.
“We have an aging profession,” he said. “We need good, strong-minded safety professionals to push this profession further and to really grow it.”
Avelar grew up in El Paso. When he was considering where he wanted to go to college and was visiting a local community college, he saw a TSTC flyer. At the time, he thought about studying drafting and design. He and his father were scheduled to go to Killeen but also planned a visit to Waco to visit TSTC.
Avelar went on to earn a certificate in what is now TSTC’s Architectural Design and Engineering Graphics Technology program and an associate degree in what is now TSTC’s Occupational Safety Compliance Technology program.
“I can definitely say I would not be where I am today if it was not for TSTC,” he said.
Sprague is a safety supervisor at Alvin-based Mesa Line Services. He lives in Clifton and travels for work. The company specializes in distribution and transmission services and other facets of the power line industry.
“I enjoy this industry,” he said. “It is a very difficult industry to work in. You have the weather and other conditions. It takes a special breed to get into this industry.”
Sprague is a certified crane inspector and an OSHA-authorized outreach trainer. He is also a certified utility safety professional, which required him to take a difficult exam.
“That was the hardest test I have taken in my entire life,” Sprague said. “I passed it the first time. I can tell you the only reason I passed was because Martin Knudsen was so adamant about us knowing the (OSHA’s General Industry) 1910 regulations that he buried our noses in it. I am so thankful for that.”
Sprague said the keys to being successful in the safety industry are credibility, maturity and respect. He said there is not room for complacency in the field.
“If you want to make money doing safety, you are going to have to get a job that travels,” Sprague said. “If you are going to get a plant job, you are going to get stuck at $50,000-$60,000 a year. Ever since I got my degree, I have made more than $100,000 a year.”
Sprague spent seven years in the U.S. Marine Corps. Before enrolling at TSTC, he was a trucking foreman for a Waco company.
“I saw the need for people to do things safety-oriented, and when the company got bought out, I didn’t have any kind of degree,” Sprague said. “The Veterans Administration paid for school.”
Sprague has an associate degree in what is now TSTC’s Occupational Safety Compliance Technology.
“The beauty of TSTC is they are a technical college and they make you bury yourself in the things you need to know,” he said. “I am a strong advocate for TSTC.”
TSTC’s Environmental Technology – Compliance program and Occupational Safety Compliance Technology program will merge this fall. The programs’ two associate degrees will be combined to create the new Associate of Applied Science degree in Occupational Safety and Environmental Compliance Technology.
Registration continues for the summer and fall semesters at Texas State Technical College. For more information, go to tstc.edu.