TSTC Building Construction Technology adapts to teaching during pandemic

(WACO, Texas) – Wearing a mask and hard hat, Chelsea Wallace hoisted a long piece of wood on her shoulder to carry so her classmates could start a project framing a floor in a Building Construction Technology class at Texas State Technical College.

She is grateful to be making good use of her hands during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s hard, and it’s challenging,” said Wallace, of Euless. “Everyone is hands-on with building construction.”

Since spring 2020, TSTC’s programs have been taught either exclusively online or in a hybrid format that combines online lectures with on-campus labs. Building Construction Technology is using virtual lectures and labs in two-hour blocks to give students the knowledge they need — safely.

TSTC students, faculty and staff continue to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines in wearing masks, not gathering in groups, and sanitizing hands and work areas. All of this is being done to fight the spread of COVID-19.

“Nobody would deny we have a challenge,” said Tony Chaffin, statewide lead instructor in TSTC’s Building Construction Technology program.

Program staff sanitize tools, work tables and classrooms up to nine times a day. The program recently bought three fogging guns to spray disinfectant mist, making it easier to clean tools.

In late December and early January, program staff created wooden training stations divided by plexiglass. Students use them in classes early on in the Building Construction Technology program, enabling them to work on projects with more personal space.

The number of students in classes has been reduced to create more working space for projects. In labs, students work in small groups. They work together for less than 15 minutes, wash their hands, then start again. 

Chaffin said students continue to be required to wear safety glasses, work boots, heavy pants or jeans, and masks.

“It’s getting them used to what will be required on a job site,” he said.

Wallace has a degree in hospitality management and was laid off in 2020. Building construction comes naturally to her. Her father owns a residential construction company in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and her mother is in interior design. She also has a brother and a friend from high school who have graduated from TSTC’s Building Construction Technology program.

Wallace’s goal is to take over her father’s business someday.

“It’s a total 360, but it is for the better,” she said.

Corey Hartis, of Montgomery, feels good about his job prospects during the pandemic. He is scheduled to graduate this semester and is looking for internship and job opportunities in the Houston area.

“I think the construction market has not been affected that much,” Hartis said. “I found a lot of good entry-level jobs I am definitely going to apply to.”

Hartis was exposed to construction by watching his father do projects and also building deer stands in the family’s backyard. After graduating from Montgomery High School, Hartis attended a four-year university to study agribusiness but left because he felt it was not the right fit for him.

“I like how TSTC’s program is set up from start to finish, from swinging a hammer and reading blueprints to framing walls and the management classes,” Hartis said.

K. Paul Holt, president and chief executive officer of the Associated General Contractors of America’s Central Texas Chapter in Waco, said during times when the nation’s economy takes a downturn, workers typically take advantage to go back to college and learn new work skills.

“We have an entire generation of older workers that are retiring, while at the same time we need even more employees than if they were all staying,” Holt said. “Trades workers of all sorts, such as electricians, HVAC, plumbers, are in short supply. We need to feed these pipelines with younger people who can learn their chosen craft and make very good livings.”

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