TSTC Graduate Overcomes Obstacles to Earn Two Associate Degrees

(WACO, Texas) – Aram Hernandez got his first experience in environmental work as a member of a horizontal drilling crew installing environmental remediation wells throughout the country.

“There is a safety guy on every job site,” he said. “I never really knew what OSHA (the Occupational Safety and Health Administration) was and the environmental regulations we had to go by.”

Fast forward to this month, when Hernandez received an Associate of Applied Science degree in Environmental Technology – Compliance and an Associate of Applied Science degree in Occupational Safety Compliance Technology from Texas State Technical College’s Waco campus. 

He did this while grappling with personal challenges, working a part-time job, and learning how to be a student again since graduating from Midway High School a decade ago. 

“Y’all (TSTC) gave me a chance for a second life,” Hernandez said. “I will be forever thankful for that.”

Hernandez said he is appreciative of Verna LaStrapes, who retired earlier this year from TSTC’s Enrollment Services department, for helping him to get enrolled and settled in classes.

“This college showed me so much kindness and made me believe they wanted to help me,” he said. “I’m really happy I finally got to experience some good people.”

Hernandez said his mentor is Lester Bowers, TSTC’s statewide chair of the Environmental Health and Safety department, who kept him motivated to graduate. Bowers encouraged Hernandez to attend free counseling on campus, and went with him to visit a licensed counselor and therapist for his first session.

“Aram is a focused, dedicated young man who never gives up,” Bowers said. “I truly believe he will succeed in his life’s quest, and many could learn from him on how to work hard. I have had many conversations with Aram during his time here, and there was one quote I told him that he has told me that he will carry with him throughout life. That quote is, ‘Progress, not perfection.’”

Hernandez attended classes and studied as he continued to handle Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, with which he was diagnosed in elementary school. He said staff at TSTC did not make him feel inferior because of it. 

“I told myself I would sign up for the accommodations and only use them if I really needed them,” Hernandez said. “I was determined to help myself first and develop new ways to overcome my ADHD.”

Hernandez said tossing a stress ball back and forth often relaxed his mind in classes and studying. He developed a color-coded system for vocabulary words and matching games to retain facts.

“I wanted to make the ADHD a strength and not a weakness,” he said.

Hernandez began his job search in November. He writes down short-term goals and how to accomplish them in notebooks, something he started doing early on at TSTC.

“It is going to be a little harder for me to keep going with my dream, but I am not discouraged about it,” he said. “Then you have a pandemic on top of it. As long as I apply to two or three jobs a week, there is not a reason I cannot find a job here.”

Through all of this, Hernandez, who grew up in Waco, received support from his father, Adam Hernandez, and his cousin, Esteban Hernandez, who graduated in 2018 from TSTC’s Waco campus with an Associate of Applied Science degree in Avionics Technology.

“It’s very good to see him graduate,” Esteban Hernandez said. “My whole family is proud. Grandpa and Grandma are extremely proud. We have seen him go through a lot these last couple of years. To finally graduate and have something he can have forever and something that can better his life, that is what he needed. That made us feel great.”

For more information on Texas State Technical College, go to tstc.edu.