Category Archives: Brownwood

TSTC alumna works to lead people down right road

(BROWNWOOD, Texas) – Leigh Anne Folger is using her life experience as a road map to help others.

Folger, a 2017 graduate of Texas State Technical College’s Chemical Dependency Counseling program, is a counselor at Addiction Behavioral Services. Prior to joining the staff, she worked as a counselor at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s Thomas R. Havins Unit in Brownwood.

“I know I am not responsible for my clients’ decisions. I can’t take credit for their success or get down if they fail,” she said. “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.”

Folger said she got her life on track after being released from prison. She knew a career in the medical field would not be possible, but another option was available.

“I made a lot of bad decisions in my life, and they finally caught up to me,” she said. “I knew that I would never have a career in the field I once dreamed of, which was the medical field. So I thought, ‘Why don’t I become a counselor?’ I knew I could help people by using my life experiences.”

Folger reconnected with a friend and classmate at Addiction Behavioral Services, Laura Weaver. Folger credits Weaver for steering her to TSTC’s counseling program.

“I had these unrealistic fears of failing. I was kind of hesitant to enroll,” she said. “Laura said she would meet me at the school.”

Once Folger walked onto the Brownwood campus, she felt at ease.

“Everyone had a smile on their face. No one was bothered by all of the questions I had,” she said. “Everyone at TSTC made me excited about going back to school.”

After graduation, Folger began working for the Havins Unit. It served as a reminder for her to move forward.

“I love what I do. Working at the unit felt like a reminder that I did not want to go back,” she said.

She also knew which inmates needed the most help.

“About 60 percent of the guys had already made up their mind that they did not want to return to prison,” Folger said. “It was those individuals on the fence that I targeted. I wanted to persuade them that the grass was greener on the outside.”

When the chance came to work for Addiction Behavioral Services, she did not hesitate.

“Looking back, I enjoyed my time at the unit. I just wanted to make a change,” Folger said. “Being able to work with Laura was also amazing. Everything has come full circle for me.”

Folger continues to praise TSTC and the staff for helping her find her way.

“Had it not been for TSTC, there is no telling where I would be right now,” she said. “TSTC was amazing. (Instructor) Elizabeth Jones is amazing. She has more insight than anyone in this field. I even recommend TSTC to people looking to restart their life. It worked for me.”

For more information about TSTC, visit tstc.edu.

Mother takes EMS classes at TSTC to help son

(BROWNWOOD, Texas) – Brittany Hanley did not have to look far for motivation when she enrolled in Texas State Technical College’s Emergency Medical Services program.

“My youngest son was diagnosed with a heart condition,” she said. “I did not want to be one of those parents that would freak out. I wanted to be the one that would be able to react.”

That is why she decided to enroll at TSTC.

“I know that in a matter of seconds something could go wrong with my son,” Hanley said. “I knew I wanted to be able to help him.”

Hanley, a lifelong resident of Brownwood, said she had previously wanted to pursue a career as an emergency medical technician.

“I just never got started on it,” she said.

After meeting her husband and moving back to Brownwood, Hanley began exploring the program again.

“We started a family, and I was more focused on them,” she said. “But having to travel to Cook Children’s Hospital every six months opened my eyes. I wanted to be able to help my son and family.”

Hanley wanted to know more about her son’s heart condition and was always attentive when doctors spoke to her. She is taking that information and using it in classes this fall.

She is also relying on her classmates to help her when she may be having a bad day.

“The group I am in has a variety of ages and backgrounds. We are building relationships together, and that is something I like,” she said. “We are there to help each other out.”

Hanley said students talk about what they learn during lab sessions to make sure they succeed.

“We are texting each other and asking what to do during a certain part of the class,” she said. “I am having to stay up late to get my studying done. I know it will pay off.”

According to Hanley, students have one goal when they eventually find employment.

“We want to be able to get together and say cheers to saving that one life,” she said. “This program will allow us to do that.”

For more information about TSTC, visit tstc.edu.

Ott credits TSTC staff for pushing him to finish college

(BROWNWOOD, Texas) – Five years after he graduated from Texas State Technical College, Joseph Ott still thanks the Brownwood campus staff.

“Everybody at the Brownwood campus was on my side,” said the 2015 graduate of the Chemical Dependency Counseling program. “The passion that was there from my instructor Elizabeth Jones, Raquel Mata (associate provost) and Brian Kight (former associate vice president of enrollment) kept me going.”

Ott, who is now a counselor at Corpus Christi’s South Texas Substance Abuse Recovery Services (STSARS), did not consider college or a career in counseling others. An injury on a construction site in Brownwood and being sober for several years led him to TSTC.

“I kind of stumbled on the school and program,” Ott said. “Without my injury, I would not have gone to college.”

Ott was in Brownwood at the time of his injury and knew the counseling program would be a good fit for him.

“I have always enjoyed helping people,” he said. “I knew that being 22 years sober meant that I needed to try and help people.”

While he did have ups and downs at TSTC, Ott said Mata always helped him with writing assignments and Jones offered support when he was down.

“Raquel would always stay after hours to help me with an essay. She looked over it and told me that I was learning to get it right,” he said. “She stayed way beyond her work hours to help. Mrs. Jones could have gone home, but she stayed to make sure the work was done correctly.”

Mata, who was an instructor when Ott was a student, saw his battle to finish school.

“Even though there were times when he said he wanted to quit, I don’t think he meant it. He was just frustrated, but he kept coming back,” she said. “I know my fellow employees, like Brian Kight, Tammy Vassar and Elizabeth Jones, challenged him to continue.”

After he graduated, Ott began a counseling career. Even that took a nudge — from his brother Bruce.

“He asked me after I graduated why I did not send resumes out,” Ott said. “I had a fear of not being hired. My brother told me after about three months that it was not time to waste my education. I sent out my resumes and was hired.”

Ott left his first counseling job and returned to construction. However, he still wanted to help people and was hired by STSARS, where he has been employed for the last three years.

He said one thing he likes to talk to his clients about is being grateful. While many wonder what he is talking about at first, they understand by the end of the session.

“I ask my clients to be grateful. I ask them if they have children. I ask them if they have a house or apartment. I ask them if they have food in the cabinet or refrigerator,” he said. “Each time they say yes, I tell them that is something for them to be grateful about.”

Ott said his goal for the sessions is to be uplifting. He wants his clients to see a path forward.

“I can’t take credit for their recovery. I have to guide them and let them know I am proud of them,” he said. 

Mata remains proud of Ott’s journey and has a reminder on her office wall.

“I consider Joseph a true success story. He graduated during our 50th year, when students were given stoles and encouraged to keep or give them to someone who helped them on their journey,” she said. “He showed up to campus one day and said he wished he could cut this into pieces and give us each a section. It still hangs on my wall today and reminds me of what hard work and determination can accomplish.”

For more information about TSTC, visit tstc.edu.

TSTC student juggles school, job and family

(BROWNWOOD, Texas) – “Chaotic” is the best way Mandy Barker can describe her life right now.

Not only is Barker, who lives in Dublin, a student in Texas State Technical College’s Welding Technology program, but she also is the general manager of a fast-food chain in Stephenville and a mother of two children.

“You can say life is very chaotic. Some days it is hard, but I am getting through it all,” she said.

One of the reasons she gets through a day of school, work and family is the support system at home.

“My boyfriend really motivates me. He keeps me going,” Barker said. “I know that the best result for me will be the end result in getting a welding job.”

Barker said she hopes to work on the Texas oil pipelines, a field in which her boyfriend is currently employed. She said knowing a job could be on the horizon after she receives her certificate also is a motivation.

“My boyfriend helps me all the time. He has told me several times that I do not need to quit,” Barker said.

Barker did have one worry before starting the program. She was hoping to see at least one other female in the welding lab.

“It was a huge relief walking into the lab the first time and I saw three other females in the class,” she said. “I called my boyfriend and told him. He was excited for me, knowing that was one of my fears.”

Her boyfriend also offered Barker some advice prior to the first day.

“He told me to just go and show everyone that you can do a man’s job,” Barker said.

While in the lab, she said all of the students help each other.

“It is a very good environment to learn in. TSTC teaches us great skills,” Barker said. “I love this program. It is helping me toward a career.”

She learned of TSTC’s welding program while living in Brownwood. Once she decided to go to school, TSTC was her top choice.

“I knew I could get on track here with my schedule,” she said. “Everyone is willing to work with you to make you successful.”

For more information about TSTC, visit tstc.edu.

TSTC student finds dream job before completing program

(BROWNWOOD, Texas) – Will Hancock has landed his dream job.

The Texas State Technical College Computer Networking and Systems Administration student will begin working for Bangs ISD as an information technology specialist while completing his graduation requirements. He credits TSTC with helping him find the career opportunity in the field he fell in love with as a child.

“When I was around five or six, my grandmother bought me one of the old Macintosh computers with the floppy discs,” said the 34-year-old Hancock. “I played games on that a lot. I got another computer when I was 10 or 11 and took it apart and put it back together just to see how it works.”

After high school, Hancock did not look to further his education immediately but went to work for an internet company.

“I fell back in love with technology when I got that job,” he said.

It wasn’t until he was sitting with his daughter and former wife that he realized he wanted to go to college.

“I wanted my daughter to have everything, and I knew school would be the only way to do that,” he said.

While working for a broadband wireless internet company, he decided that TSTC would provide him with the skills needed to make his dream become a career.

“I am now living my dream. This is all I wanted to do since I was 19 years old,” Hancock said of working on computers. “At that time, I did not think school would be important. I thought maybe I will go back at some point.”

Today, Hancock praises TSTC and how instructors welcome students of all ages to the program. He passes that message to people he meets in Brownwood and Bangs.

“I have told a bunch of people about TSTC. They ask me if they should go back to school, and I tell them to do it,” he said. “It does not matter what age you are. TSTC has so many programs and can teach you a trade that you want to work in. The learning process is great, and everyone is willing to help.”

Hancock said Bangs ISD officials hired him because of his computer knowledge, but he admitted some of the district’s computers are older models.

“They have the old touch screens around the schools,” he said. “They told me that I should know how they work. I do, but it has been a while since I have seen them. It is going to be nice to work on things I love.” 

For more information about TSTC, visit tstc.edu.

TSTC student follows family tradition of entering medical field

(BROWNWOOD, Texas) – Seth Johnston is following other members of his family’s career path into the medical field.

The 18-year-old is a first-year student in Texas State Technical College’s Emergency Medical Services program. Johnston plans to join his mother, who is a registered nurse, father, a computerized tomography technician, and brother, an X-ray technician, in the field of medicine.

“I decided to follow in their footsteps,” he said. “They were really excited for me when I told them I was going to go to school.”

He chose the EMS route after a family member was injured.

“I decided on EMS because my cousin was in a car accident after football practice and they transported him to the hospital,” Johnston said. “I really caught on to what they were doing to help him and decided I wanted to do the same for others.”

He plans to further his education at TSTC by completing the paramedic program after the emergency medical technician certification.

Johnston admitted he did not know what to expect when beginning classes this fall.

“I was in awe when I saw the ambulance simulator,” he said. “I am ready to train in the simulator.”

Johnston said he is looking forward to the portion of the program where he will ride with paramedics in the field.

“I know there will be some anxiety and scary parts to see,” he said. “But it will be interesting to see how things are done in the field.”

Johnston said the hands-on approach is the best way he can take in information.

“I like to see something get done, and then I can get with it,” he said.

Being the youngest member of the class does not stop him from doing his best.

“It is a great environment to work in. My classmates pick me up when they see I am having a bad day,” Johnston said. “I feel included in everything we do. When someone else is down, I am right there to pick them up. Everyone in our class is a team.”

Johnston also said the instructors play an important role in the learning environment.

“They push all of us to do our best. They are always by your side, making sure you know what to do,” he said. 

For more information about TSTC, visit tstc.edu.

TSTC student not letting setback stand in his way

(BROWNWOOD, Texas) – Like many people, Wesley Kite did not let a work layoff stand in his way.

Kite enrolled in Texas State Technical College’s Welding Technology program this fall to increase his “workmanship.” The Brownwood native has stayed in touch with his former employer, saying his prospects of being rehired after completing the program are “looking good.”

“I was originally a machinist, but with COVID, I was laid off,” he said. “I always wanted to do some welding. I am working toward improving my workmanship for possible jobs.”

He has continued to talk to his former employer, specifically to tell them he is in school broadening his resume.

“They like that I am in school right now,” he said, adding he was let go because production slowed at his former company.

Kite said he enrolled in TSTC 10 years ago, studying Mechatronics Technology. Even though he did not finish the program, he knew the college had a respected welding program that provided hands-on learning.

“The hands-on approach is great. I learn better by doing things,” he said of the three days students are able to spend socially distanced in the lab.

He credits new instructor Daniel Aguirre with helping him and other students learn proper welding techniques.

“He will sit right there and tell you how you are doing things wrong,” Kite said. “He is good about letting you know how to do things.”

Kite said he is working on obtaining a certificate in the program, but is leaving his options open.

“I may look to come back and finish the associate program,” he said. “I know TSTC offers a good education, and it is here in my hometown.”

With experience in machinery, Kite said welding could become a new career opportunity.

“This is something I like to do. I can see myself doing this for a long time,” he said.

He recommends that people look at the different programs offered by TSTC.

“This is a really good college and offers a lot of options for people,” he said. “I like it so much I keep coming back.”

For more information about TSTC, visit tstc.edu.

Medical student increases knowledge in TSTC’s EMS program

(BROWNWOOD, Texas) – Before she begins medical school, Mackenzie Brigman decided to spend part of her gap year attending Texas State Technical College.

Brigman, originally from Jacksonville, Florida, said she wanted to gain paramedic experience and enrolled in the Emergency Medical Services program.

“I have always had an interest in the medical field,” she said. “I wanted to spend part of my gap year between college and medical school getting additional experience.”

Brigman learned about the program through her family in West Texas. She said walking into the TSTC lab was “kind of a shell shock.”

“I was excited with what I saw and that everything is hands-on,” she said. “We did not have an ambulance simulator at my college, and I can’t wait to start training on it.”

Brigman said TSTC offers a “great learning environment” for students.

“This is going to help expand my passion for the field I am planning on entering,” she said. “I think coming here will give me a leg up during my first year of medical school.”

Brigman said her passion for the medical field came early in life. After facing medical complications as an infant, she wanted to learn more about it.

In middle school, her interest grew even more when she was able to tour hospitals and other medical facilities.

“It really piqued my interest then. I knew that I wanted to be an OB-GYN,” she said.

Brigman said taking courses this fall will help her “medical confidence.” She added that she has her instructors to thank for building that confidence.

“(Richard) Sharp has really taken us under his wing,” she said. “He invests a lot into making sure we are able to learn. (Timothy) Scalley is also very knowledgeable, and he is a flight paramedic. That adds to his knowledge.”

TSTC is currently accepting applications for the next group of emergency medical technicians and paramedic students, with classes scheduled to begin in the spring. The program is offered both online and with in-person lab sessions. Sharp said students will have opportunities for live discussions and lectures online each week.

Sharp said students interested in the program may contact him at 325-203-2458 to learn about the enrollment process.

For more information, visit https://www.tstc.edu/programs/EmergencyMedicalServices.

TSTC honors longtime employees with drive-thru celebration

(ABILENE, Texas) – Texas State Technical College honored 30 employees with service award drive-thru celebrations this month.

With COVID-19 restrictions limiting large gatherings, the celebrations were planned to honor employees with five to 35 years of experience. Celebrations were held at the Abilene, Sweetwater and Breckenridge campuses.

Lance Eastman, interim provost for the West Texas campuses, said the employees honored are appreciated by everyone at TSTC.

“Every position is important and about serving our students and industry,” he said. “These individuals have made sure that our buildings are clean and safe, food is provided, that equipment is in place and that instruction is relevant.”

Eastman was proud to be part of a creative way to honor employees.

“With the health restrictions, which we take seriously, we had to be creative of how we could distribute our service awards,” he said. “We are grateful for these individuals that have dedicated year after year of service.”

Each employee received a plaque, a yard sign noting their years of service, and a gift.

Sweetwater’s Maria Aguirre, the senior executive director of Communication and Creative Services, was honored for 35 years with the college. Joni Coons, the intramural programs coordinator in Sweetwater, was honored for 30 years of employment. Abilene’s Holle England, a learning and development trainer, received a plaque honoring her 35 years with TSTC.

Abilene employees honored for five years of service were Greg Nicholas, welding instructor; Amanda Suiters, library coordinator; Rikki Spivey, enrollment coach; Matt Briggs, Emergency Medical Services instructor; Susan Leda Cowart, English instructor; Randa R. Weeks, Health Information Technology instructor; Magaly Valdez, Drafting and Design instructor; and Miranda Thomas, technical physics instructor.

Mary Wilhite, a student services specialist, was honored for 10 years at the Abilene campus. Also honored in Abilene were Michael Soto, a Business Management Technology instructor, and Susan Hash, a testing administrator, both for 15 years with TSTC, as well as Pam Marler, a contract administration coordinator, and Julia Humphrey, career services director, for 20 years.

Sweetwater five-year employees honored were Frank Molini and Taylor Elston, welding instructors; Carla Becker, travel and expense specialist; Beth Hall, developmental math instructor; Brock Carter, chief of police; and Ray Carnathan, police officer.

Gloria Santiago, food service operator, and Jeff Olney, Electromechanical Technology instructor, received 10-year awards for their employment in Sweetwater. Fifteen-year awards were presented to Sweetwater’s Gail Lawrence, TSTC’s executive vice chancellor and chief of staff to the chancellor; Mark Hampton, resource development specialist; and Sandra Ortega, enrollment coach.

Brownwood’s Becky Jones, a licensed drug counseling instructor, received a 10-year plaque. Breckenridge’s Debra Bufkin, a developmental math instructor, and Vernon Akins, a building maintenance supervisor, received five-year awards.

For more information about TSTC, visit tstc.edu.

Couple strengthens bond in TSTC’s Welding Technology program

(BROWNWOOD, Texas) – Taylor and Jason Bigbie are spending a lot of time together.

The Bigbies are enrolled in Texas State Technical College’s Welding Technology program in Brownwood. For Jason Bigbie, he wants to use his education to open a business, while Taylor Bigbie wants to help him when she is not working as a paramedic.

“I wanted to do this as a hobby to help him,” said Taylor Bigbie, who graduated from TSTC’s emergency medical technician and paramedic programs in 2017 and 2019, respectively, and is pursuing a certificate in welding. “I wanted to be able to help him on my days off.”

Justin Bigbie, who is pursuing an associate degree, hopes to start a business that constructs metal buildings in the Brownwood area.

“My wife inspired me to take advantage of my military benefits and go to school,” the U.S. Army veteran said. “I would be able to learn something that I can do to provide for my family.”

He said his wife is taking the same courses that he is so that she can help him when he is on a job.

“I know that I can trust her if I can’t find someone to help me on the job,” he said. “I know that it is going to be a hobby for her.”

The couple said there will not be a competition during class. They will help each other when they are in need of it.

Neither of them had any previous experience with welding. But completing assignments is teaching them the proper way to work.

Over the next few weeks, Justin Bigbie will be helping a friend construct a metal building at the couple’s church. He said that will be a good way to put what he learns to use.

Taylor Bigbie said the hands-on approach at TSTC is the best way for her to learn the trade.

“It is teaching me what I am doing right and what I am doing wrong,” she said.

She added that the welding program is “much easier” for her than completing the paramedic program.

“That was really intense because not only did we have the class and lab work, we had clinicals to complete,” she said of the paramedic program.

While taking classes and working has taken its toll on the Bigbie family, neither said they regret the decision to take the course together.

“I think more spouses should do things like this together,” Taylor Bigbie said. “It does put some strain on us, but knowing we are doing it together makes us feel good.”

Justin Bigbie said his wife’s involvement in his future business will provide security for the family.

“I know she is giving back to our community as a paramedic. Now she wants to give back to our family by helping and supporting me,” he said.

For more information about TSTC, visit tstc.edu.