Category Archives: Harlingen

Cookbooks and baking lead Culinary Arts instructor to TSTC

(HARLINGEN, Texas) – A love for baking and creating recipes she learned from cookbooks guided chef Emma Creps to her career as a Culinary Arts instructor at Texas State Technical College. The five years she has spent at TSTC have brought her many unforgettable memories and experiences that she gladly shares with the future culinary artists she is inspired by every day in the classroom.

“My first job was at a bakery in a grocery store,” Creps said. “I remember the first time I was allowed to make the doughnuts and the bread. When I saw the transformation of the dough to a loaf of bread in the oven, I knew right then and there, this is what I wanted to do.”

Her journey to teaching began after she was selected to go to culinary school while enlisted in the Army. At the time, she assumed teaching would only be temporary.

“The more courses I taught, the more I truly started to enjoy training students,” she said. “I love being in the kitchen. No matter how many times I have taught a class that teaches how to julienne an onion, or how to make a stock, I feel excitement for my students because they are learning something new.”

The Culinary Arts program offered at TSTC is one that Creps says prepares students very diligently for their careers.

She credits the instructors in the program for bringing top-notch insight to the classroom.

“Our program has well-trained instructors with a lot of experience,” she said. “Our students get excellent training, whether it is in baking or cooking techniques, food and meat preparation, dining room and customer service, or international and American cuisine.”

One of her TSTC colleagues, chef Ayla Cabarubio, said Creps’ work ethic is something that rubs off on her students.

“Chef Emma leads our team with her relentless work ethic and continuous focus on growing and refining the program,” she said. “In the classroom, she expects students to perform with integrity and professionalism. She not only teaches them the cuisine, or how to cook and bake, she teaches them how to be leaders.”

The lessons that Creps teaches go beyond culinary arts.

“She provides a learning environment where students are challenged to refine not only their culinary skills, but also their professional, interpersonal skills,” Cabarubio said. “In the classroom, she takes on the role of both instructor and mentor to her students. Her leadership helps our team stay on track with our goals, which are providing our students with the best training possible and shaping them to get hired in the industry.”

Becoming a mentor to her students is a responsibility that Creps holds very dear.

“I get a great feeling of accomplishment when I see my students develop their culinary skills and go on to hold jobs in leadership positions,” she said. “As their mentor, it makes me proud that they share with me what they are doing in their careers. They know that the TSTC Culinary Arts program is their support system.”


Building Construction Technology at TSTC offers education for rapidly growing career

(HARLINGEN, Texas) – Whether to be on the forefront of construction projects or supervising during the making of the next great skyscraper, Building Construction Technology at Texas State Technical College prepares students for careers in the constantly evolving field of construction.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs in this field will continue to grow by 11 percent through 2028, much faster than average. TSTC gives students the essential tools they need to head into this occupation with confidence.

“We teach the skills that encompass nearly every aspect of construction included in residential and commercial construction and management,” said lead Building Construction Technology instructor Rick Vargas. “Our curriculum provides a look into the construction industry that will help our students to find a job in a field they love.”

While Building Construction Technology does include construction management, there are also many additional career paths that students will be prepared for.

“After studying at TSTC, a student can become an Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspector, project manager, estimator, and any type of subcontractor,” Vargas said. “Several of our graduates even opened their own construction companies right after graduation and have been very successful.”

TSTC maintains high standards to ensure that students receive the training that will give them an edge in the job market, which is one aspect that makes studying the program at TSTC different than at any other college.

“Our program prides itself on having the best hands-on curriculum in the Rio Grande Valley,” Vargas said. “We have a multitude of projects going up in different classes that students love doing. It is hard work, but it is definitely a payoff to build something from start to finish throughout their time in our program.”

Statewide department chair Tony Chaffin reiterated that at TSTC, hands-on learning for Building Construction Technology is vital.

“While we do teach the textbook knowledge that all such trade programs teach, 80 percent of our technical classes have four hours per week of hands-on labs,” he said. “Students are able to touch and use the tools, materials and methods that we are teaching them about in the classroom or online. Putting on that tool belt is why our students come to TSTC.”

Building Construction Technology is an area that Vargas said is not slowing down anytime soon.

“Civilization will always need construction workers to build new buildings, repair broken or damaged buildings, or rebuild when natural disasters occur,” he said. “Construction is an essential part of human civilization.”

Chaffin added that the expanding Texas population only means a greater outlook for jobs in the industry.

“Construction is vital to our society and economy,” he said. “Texas’ population is exploding as people and companies are flocking to our state. With growth expected to continue, we are very optimistic about the many rewarding career opportunities out there in construction.”

To learn more about TSTC, visit


TSTC alumna becomes instructor to share passion for surgical technology

(HARLINGEN, Texas) – After completing the Surgical Technology program at Texas State Technical College in 2002, Yolanda Ramirez worked as a surgical technologist for seven years. Then, in 2009, she decided to bring her knowledge and refined skills back to TSTC to help educate future generations of surgical technologists.

She discussed her time working in the field, as well as how her experience is now helping students in the classroom.

“I decided to become an instructor because I enjoy teaching,” she said. “I wanted to share my passion for surgical technology with others.”

Ramirez’s skills in the classroom are beneficial for her students, but her work experience is something that allows students to receive genuine insight from someone who has already had a career outside the program.

“I was able to get experience in various specialties,” she said. “I started my career in obstetrics and gynecology, and then transitioned to the main operating room, where I specialized in neuro and cardiothoracic surgery. I believe my operating room experience has helped shape me into a better instructor. I am not only able to teach students about surgical procedures they can find in their books, but I can also share my personal experiences with them.”

Ramirez said that getting to utilize both of her passions, surgical technology and teaching, has made her career that much more meaningful.

“I enjoy being able to get the best of both worlds,” she said. “I still get to go into the operating room and watch my students be part of surgical procedures. Watching my students grow while they are in the program, seeing them learn and absorb all the new skills and techniques, and watching them set up and perform a surgical case with minimal assistance, are all steps I get to see. It is so rewarding to watch them grow throughout the program and become successful surgical technologists in the operating room.”

The joy she receives from her career is evident.

“I love that we are a vital part of the operating room team,” she said. “We are able to provide the knowledge and skills necessary for a successful surgery.”

To learn more about TSTC’s Surgical Technology program, visit

TSTC gifts graduates during Grad Swag Pickup

(HARLINGEN, Texas) – Some enthusiastic Texas State Technical College summer 2020 graduates recently made their way back to campus to celebrate their achievement with a Grad Swag Pickup. They drove up to a designated area to receive a diploma cover, as well as a TSTC-branded face mask and yard sign.

“We are proud of our students and wanted to recognize this accomplishment beyond our virtual graduation,” said Larissa Moreno, a coordinator of new student orientation and activities. “We gifted them with a yard sign that says, ‘I’m a Proud TSTC Grad!’ and a ‘TSTC Strong’ face mask because that is what they are — strong.”

The event exemplified how TSTC cares about its students’ success even after they receive their diplomas or certificates.

“Our students should be proud of their accomplishments,” Moreno said. “For some, graduation was the closing of one chapter and the beginning of a new one. We were there to encourage them and cheer them on.”

Enrollment management senior staff assistant Lisa Garza reiterated that students appreciated the effort from TSTC staff.

“I truly believe our students appreciated that we put the time and effort into making this experience memorable for them,” she said. “I honestly was not sure what the attendance would look like, but I was amazed with the 100-student turnout.”

Moreno said that it was not just students who showed up at the event to celebrate.

“We saw mom, dad, grandma, grandpa and best friends in the cars that came through with their phones ready to capture this moment,” she said. “(Some had) tears in their eyes, excited conversations with our provost about their new jobs, and just genuine appreciation for TSTC.”

Garza echoed the statement.

“It was such a fun and rewarding experience to see graduates come by with their loved ones,” she said. “Families were even recording their graduates receiving their goodies. It was two hours of cheering, laughing, clapping and happy tears.”

To learn more about TSTC, visit


Visual Communication Technology at TSTC invites creativity

(HARLINGEN, Texas) – Texas State Technical College has embraced remote learning, and despite studying off campus, students are still assured the same hands-on guidance that TSTC provides to students studying on campus.

Department chair JJ Vavra discussed the fundamentals of TSTC’s Visual Communication Technology program, its benefits, and what students will learn during their five semesters in the program.

How does Visual Communication Technology differ from Digital Media Design?

Both Digital Media Design and Visual Communication Technology help to train graphic design professionals. Digital Media Design concentrates on multimedia, video and photography in the last three semesters, and Visual Communication Technology concentrates on a very specific realm throughout the entire program: advertising using the print medium.

What can students expect to learn in this program?

The Visual Communication Technology program specializes in training students to become professional graphic designers. Students also learn to work in real-world collaborative groups and scenarios just like working creative professionals.

Will students receive the same support that TSTC is known for?

Of course. TSTC is known for its hands-on learning and mentoring and has adapted to the change in the industry very quickly. Even though our modality is online, our program has created a face-to-face-like environment. Every class has a “live lecture” hour once a week.

What are some characteristics that students should have to succeed in the program?

Creativity, consistency, problem-solving skills, and a desire to constantly learn. Something you may have created last year may not be how you would design it this current year. This process is ever changing, and as long as you are humble enough, you can embrace new ideas from others.

Why do you believe Visual Communication Technology is a great option for students?

The most appealing features of our program are creativity, technology and experience. For those who dream of using their artistic abilities for a living, the program offers many opportunities. Students gain experience from faculty, who are industry experts; with design software as they learn to create logos, layouts and publications for class assignments; as well as with internships. Our online program provides an affordable and accessible path to employment.

To learn more about Visual Communication Technology at TSTC, visit

TSTC Basic Web Design online program invites rapid learning

(HARLINGEN, Texas) – Texas State Technical College recently introduced the Rapid Industry Skills and Employability, or RISE, program that allows students to train for a new job in as little as 7 1/2 weeks. Upon completion, students receive an Occupational Skills Award, which gives them the credentials to head off into their new career.

One of the RISE programs is Basic Web Design. The online program teaches students the basics of interface design and web programming.

Statewide department chair Shannon Ferguson and lead instructor David Trower discussed the benefits and components of the accelerated curriculum.

“Students will learn basic HTML and CSS skills so they can do editing of existing (computer) code and write some new code themselves,” Trower said. “They will also be given an introduction to JavaScript as a client-side language to manipulate HTML and CSS inside the web browser.”

The program also touches on other aspects that average users never know are happening behind the scenes of the web pages they visit.

“Students learn how to create the user interface of websites, using wire frames and mock-ups created in Adobe XD and Adobe Photoshop,” he said. “Finally, they learn the development life cycle of web design, and how to use WordPress to create blog posts, pages, and basic WordPress administration.”

Despite being online, students in this program can expect to receive the hands-on support that TSTC is known for.

“The instructors of the Web Design and Development department are firmly committed to our students in providing them the same support that we provided our students when we were face to face,” Trower said. “We have continued our open-door policy to our students through virtual meetings, video conferences, email, Google Hangouts, and videos. We pride ourselves on being accessible to our students outside of the classroom.”

Ferguson reiterated the importance of communication between student and instructor.

“We constantly encourage our students to stay in regular communication with us,” he said. “We offer our students engagement opportunities by providing weekly question-and-answer forums, live virtual sessions, virtual office hours, and rapid response to students’ questions and inquiries. Beyond that, we monitor student activity and reach out to our students at the earliest signs of struggles.”

He added that the e-learning format offers a new level of convenience for many students.

“An online aspect opens the door to students to take our program where they are,” he said. “They are not limited by geography, time of day, or life circumstances. Our online program gives them the flexibility to work our program into their busy schedules.”

To learn more about the Basic Web Design Occupational Skills Award, visit

Surgical Technology hybrid learning underway at TSTC

Surgical technology is a rapidly growing field that is expected to rise in demand through at least 2029, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This well-paying career entails getting front and center in an operating room to help a surgeon with necessities such as cutting sutures, transporting patients and keeping track of equipment in the operating room.

Program director Anna San Pedro discussed the Surgical Technology program offered at Texas State Technical College, as well as some of the new virtual implementations that have been added to comply with TSTC’s COVID-19 safety regulations.

“We are currently offering all our didactic instruction in an online format utilizing Webex for synchronous instruction,” she said. “The majority of the lab instruction is done face to face in our lab. However, we are experimenting with doing some virtual labs to see how well students can adapt to learning online versus traditional face-to-face skills training.”

The new methods of learning take time to get used to.

“Like anything that is new, it takes time to adjust,” she said. “Nevertheless, I am pleasantly surprised with how well students and faculty are adapting to the change and the use of technology.”

San Pedro noted that the new format has allowed for more flexibility for students who have other responsibilities outside of school.

“By moving to a hybrid format, students have greater flexibility in their schedule,” she said. “This has been helpful especially to students who live in the upper valley, and for students who work or have family commitments.”

Even though students participate in virtual labs remotely, the quality of curriculum is not diminished.

“Our virtual labs introduce various skills through online demonstrations and video resources,” she said. “This is followed with face-to-face labs, where the students demonstrate and practice these skills under strict safety guidelines.”

Taryn Crow, who recently received an Associate of Applied Science degree in Surgical Technology, raved about the support system in the program.

“My instructors were very helpful in every way possible,” she said. “When you know you want to study something specific and are given a whole layout designed to show you exactly what you need to take to get there, it’s life-changing. TSTC has incredible resources to help guide and aid you through your time in college so that you are better prepared to take on the world.”

TSTC’s Surgical Technology program accepts 30 students every year in the fall semester. To learn more, visit

Safety is top priority for TSTC Culinary Arts

Texas State Technical College has implemented a hybrid learning format as part of the many safety regulations being followed during the ongoing pandemic.

However, even with more sessions being taught online, programs like Culinary Arts are still managing to give students the hands-on learning that TSTC has become known for.

“Every week students meet their hands-on training,” said Culinary Arts instructor Ayla Cabarubio. “While completing an on-campus lab, students are provided with their own designated workspace, which allows for social distancing standards to be met.”

Lead Culinary Arts instructor Emma Creps mentioned a positive aspect of the new way of learning.

“The class sizes are smaller in order to maintain social distancing, and the good thing about that is that students get more time from the instructor, whereas before the instructor had to split their time with a larger group.”

Safety has been important at TSTC throughout the coronavirus outbreak, and the safety standards do not stop once students leave the room.

“After labs are completed and the students have exited the building, the lab space is cleaned and sanitized by the instructor,” said Cabarubio. “Maintaining a clean and safe lab environment is our top priority.”

Although Culinary Arts students are required to participate in labs on campus, a large amount of their coursework is done remotely.

“All the coursework for the program is now uploaded to Moodle,” Cabarubio said. “This allows flexibility with the lecture aspect of the course, allowing students to complete those assessments remotely.”

Virtual labs are also being implemented in the program, with the instructor on campus and the students in their own kitchens.

“The instructor conducts the class through Google Meet,” Creps said. “Students are provided the ingredients for their labs. Pickups are done once a week, and ingredients they get are based on the class they are in. Students follow along virtually as the instructor demonstrates how to make a product, such as bread rolls, croissants, filleting a fish, and even the different ways to cook fish.”

Students are adapting well to the new way of learning.

“Students seem to be adjusting to the new learning environment,” Cabarubio said. “After the first week, they got a feel for the course structure, and they began making it part of their routine.”

To learn more about TSTC’s Culinary Arts program, visit


Photo caption: Culinary Arts instructors prepping for their virtual lab. (Photo courtesy of TSTC.)


Faith helped TSTC student persevere

(HARLINGEN, Texas) – Trials and tribulations come in many shapes and sizes. For recent Texas State Technical College graduate Gracie Arias, those trials and tribulations came when she was about to begin her second semester on the path to an Associate of Applied Science degree in Nursing.

That was when her doctor said, “The tumor is malignant.”

Now healthy and with her degree under her belt, Arias is ready to become a positive light for others in a field that helped save her life.

“I initially pursued nursing about 22 years ago,” she said. “At the time, I was married, and I had children. My husband and I also own a gym. So I put a pause on my nursing journey, and I directed my path toward raising my children and continuing with our business.”

Advice from her children, who have all received their college degrees, is what motivated her to reignite the flame for nursing that she had two decades ago.

“My children have already graduated,” she said. “Once they finished, they told me, ‘Mom, now it’s your turn.’”

Despite Arias’ excitement to begin her path to nursing, an extremely unexpected bump in the road tried to stop her.

“It stuns you when the medical personnel tell you that the tumor you have is malignant,” she said. “I asked if the surgery to remove the tumor could possibly wait until I was done with school because I was just going into my second semester of nursing. My doctor explained to me that this type of cancer grows very rapidly, and he wanted to operate immediately.”

Arias was determined to complete her degree and refused to let her diagnosis and treatment impact her time in the Nursing program.

“The surgery was successful,” she said. “I went through six chemotherapy sessions after my surgery. The chemo would knock me down for about two or three days at a time. But come that Monday when it was time for class, I was okay.”

Her resilience is something that her instructors saw for themselves.

“She is just awesome,” said program director Heather Sauceda. “She did not have any excuses for anything and gave it her all. She had a mentality of ‘let me do it’ and ‘I can do it.’ She was such a blessing to have in this program.”

Arias is also thankful for the comfort that her classmates provided, and for the support system she had at TSTC.

“All of our instructors are an amazing team,” she said. “The way that they want you to become the best nurse you can be shows that they genuinely care about their students. Our class was extremely close with one another.”

After graduating with a 4.0 GPA, Arias is ready to step into the health care field to help others in any way that she can.

“I truly believe that God was leading me because of the way everything played out,” she said. “I kept hearing a little voice telling me that everything was going to be okay. I know that I have been placed in this position to help people, and I fully believe that there is nothing we cannot conquer with faith, trust and perseverance.”

To learn more about TSTC’s Nursing program, visit

TSTC Graduate Profile: Miranda Perez

(HARLINGEN, Texas) – Wanting to follow in her mother’s footsteps, Miranda Perez is ready to become a nurse. The compassion and caring that she witnessed her mother give to her patients inspired her to complete her certificate in Vocational Nursing at Texas State Technical College. Later, she hopes to obtain her Associate of Applied Science degree in Nursing.

The Brownsville native knows that TSTC will equip her well for her career.

 Why did you decide to pursue this field?

I decided to pursue vocational nursing because I have always wanted to be able to help people. Growing up and watching my mom spread joy and love to her patients while helping them feel better made me want to be a nurse just like her. I am excited to be able to help patients not only feel healthier, but also happier.

Can you speak about your experience with TSTC?

My experience with TSTC has been amazing! I loved the instructors in my program. They helped us in every way possible and made sure we all knew they were there to help us become safe and knowledgeable nurses. Each morning they would greet us and say, “Good morning, future nurses!” And it never failed to make my day.

How has TSTC helped prepare you for your career?

TSTC, along with our program director, Ms. Sauceda, made it possible for me to prepare for my career by placing our cohort in amazing clinical sites. The hands-on experience allowed us to participate in providing care to patients using the knowledge we had gained throughout the year.

What has been your greatest sense of accomplishment to date?

My biggest accomplishment has been completing my certificate in Vocational Nursing during a pandemic and being able to make my family proud.

What words of advice would you give to others who are about to start their journey at TSTC?

My advice is to pick a program you are going to love. It might be trying and demand a lot of your time and attention, but don’t give up! The instructors will help every way they can by making themselves accessible. TSTC offers so much that helps you throughout your program. It will all be worth it in the end!

To learn more about TSTC, visit