Lifeguard Ambulance Service EMTs travel similar paths to TSTC

(BROWNWOOD, Texas) – Two Lifeguard Ambulance Service emergency medical technicians began their medical careers in similar fashion.

Michelle Bates and Brittney Evans did not immediately begin studying to become EMTs. Now the two first responders are completing their third semester in Texas State Technical College’s Emergency Medical Services Paramedic program.

Bates, of Fort Worth, earned a college scholarship to play soccer and originally wanted to study clinical psychology.

“It was a couple of years, but I decided I wanted to study emergency medical services,” she said. “I first brought it up to my parents, and they were not sure that was something I should do.”

A couple of years later, Bates returned to her parents and was met with a positive response.

“I really got into the work, and it became my passion,” she said. “My parents are now 100 percent supportive of my decision.”

Evans, of Bangs, said she took time after high school to think about her career options. It was not until 2013 that becoming an EMT entered her mind.

“I fell in love with the EMS world,” she said.

Like Bates, Evans said her family has been supportive of her decision to become a paramedic. The mother of one and with one on the way said it has been hard to juggle family, work and school.

“I am ecstatic to get this done. I am so happy I have gotten this far,” she said. “My husband has been there the entire time supporting me.”

Bates had to face adversity during the past few months. She contracted the coronavirus and was quarantined during and after her illness. But she persevered in her studies through the help of TSTC EMS instructor Tim Scalley, who pushed her to get back into the lab sessions.

“He has been amazing and has taught us so much,” she said. “I had to tell myself to not kill myself to get everything done when I got back. I am not suffering now.”

Both Bates and Evans said their co-workers are excited for them to complete the program. They plan to stay with the company, but Evans said that does have one disadvantage.

“It is hard to help someone you know, but it is good that we are helping people,” she said.

Bates said the Paramedic program is challenging, but the rewards pay off.

“You have to know that you are here to learn and things are not going to happen quickly,” she said. “The best advice I can give anyone is to stay calm and take it one day at a time.”

Evans offered similar advice for prospective students.

“You are going to have to hunker down and be serious about the program. There will be a lot of sacrifices,” she said. “I have learned that the more you put into it, the more you get out of what you learn.”

When Bates and Evans complete the program, they will join more than 26,000 EMT-paramedics employed in the state, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services

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TSTC Wind Energy Technology student looking for adventure

(SWEETWATER, Texas) – Grant Cusenbary likes to explore nature and go on adventures.

Cusenbary’s sense of adventure led him to Texas State Technical College’s Wind Energy Technology program. Nearing the completion of his second semester in pursuing an associate degree, he is ready to explore more of the program.

“I am naturally curious. I like to ask a lot of questions, and with our small classes, we get the answers from our instructors,” he said. “It is one thing to know what you have to know, but it is another thing to understand why something does what it is supposed to do.”

Cusenbary’s curiosity came at an early age.

“Working on a farm, I did not know how some of the things worked on our tractors. But I wanted to learn more,” he said.

The same curiosity led Cusenbary to TSTC. He knew people in his hometown of Graham who had wind turbines on their property. He asked the farmers different questions and soon realized he could have a career in wind energy.

“I asked a lot of questions and did a lot of research. TSTC is known for its wind program, and I knew it would be the best place to receive an education,” he said.

Instructor Billie Jones said Cusenbary is very attentive, a positive trait for future wind turbine technicians.

“He does ask a lot of questions, and that is something I like in students,” she said. “He has worked hard in all of his classes.”

With the questions, Cusenbary notices a trend in class.

“It opens a lot of opportunities for us to have in-depth conversations with our instructors,” he said. “I enjoy having the smaller classes because we can have great discussions with the best instructors.”

Cusenbary said he chose TSTC for another reason.

“Almost all of the graduates are guaranteed to be working when they finish. That means the program has a great reputation, and I wanted to be part of that tradition,” he said.

Jobs in the wind energy sector are some of the fastest-growing in Texas. According to, the need for wind service turbine technicians in Texas will increase 83 percent over the next decade. That trend is higher than the national forecast of 61 percent by 2029.

Even with his second semester coming to an end, Cusenbary is ready for what comes next.

“I know what I am learning now will prepare me for the day when things become more hands-on. I can then apply all of the knowledge I have gained into doing it with my hands,” he said.

Like most students in the program, Cusenbary said it will be gratifying when he makes his first turbine climb.

“I used to work on a ropes course, so I am used to climbing high and having to wear safety equipment,” he said. “But to be able to do it with my classmates and make the climb in the turbine, that is one adventure I cannot wait to have.”

Cusenbary said his adventures will continue after he completes the program, and he is looking forward to traveling while working in his chosen career.

“Wind energy is going to offer me an adventure of a lifetime. I am looking forward to seeing the country and taking hikes and seeing the views from the top of the turbine,” he said. “I cannot believe I will be able to explore our country while making money. TSTC is offering me a great opportunity.”

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Moeller sees link between TSTC, student success

(BRECKENRIDGE, Texas) – When Monty Moeller learned that Texas State Technical College was hosting a high school welding event, he knew his students would be in attendance.

Moeller, the Rolling Plains Technical School coordinator and welding instructor, wanted his students to see TSTC’s facilities. Two of his students finished in the top three at the recent Breckenridge welding competition.

“Prior to the pandemic, I would always take our students on tours to see the programs offered in Abilene, Breckenridge, and Sweetwater,” Moeller said. “We are within 90 miles of each of those campuses.”

He has seen many success stories at TSTC, from his students to his own family.

“My son graduated from TSTC’s Wind Energy Technology program in Sweetwater,” Moeller said. “My son-in-law was in the same class as my son, and they did not even know what the future would bring them. They both have great jobs, thanks to TSTC.”

One student who Moeller is particularly proud of took the welding skills he learned at TSTC into a military career.

“He earned his degree and is using the things he learned at TSTC to protect our country,” he said.

Another student wanted to stay close to his home in Haskell. Moeller said since graduating from TSTC, the student is welding in Haskell while also learning other trades, like electrical work, on the job.

“I have told him and many of my students to soak up all of the knowledge you can,” he said.

With welding being one of Moeller’s focuses at the school, he looks for competitions throughout West Texas. In October, he hosted an event that was judged by Stephen Hope, TSTC’s welding instructor in Breckenridge.

“Monty and the school are big supporters of the programs we offer at TSTC,” Hope said. “We have had many students from his school enroll in West Texas.”

Hope said students from the technical school based in Rochester come into TSTC with an advantage.

“The students are a step ahead of many first-year students. That is a direct result of Monty and what he teaches,” Hope said.

It showed during the TSTC competition. The three students welded a 6-by-6-inch cube and continually ground the cube, and checked for leaks before the final judging.

“These students were prepared for this competition,” Hope said.

Moeller said students from smaller campuses, like Haskell and Benjamin, attend the school through a cooperative agreement. The purpose, like at TSTC, is to prepare people for the workplace.

“So many students do not go to college anymore. We set up our programs to help get people to work,” he said. “We also tell our students that if they go on to higher education, like TSTC, they will be more marketable.”

Moeller plans to bring additional welding students to competitions scheduled later this month at TSTC in Abilene and Sweetwater.

“The more we can show our students the great facilities TSTC has, the better chance they will come here to earn a certificate or degree,” he said.

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TSTC candidate for graduation eager to educate people about safety

(WACO, Texas) – For Mary Lopez, attending Texas State Technical College is a family effort.

Not only did Lopez’s education mean a move from Combes in Cameron County to on-campus housing in Waco, but it also involves her family keeping her on schedule with assignments and helping her study.

“My family has really stepped up to the plate in supporting me in this opportunity given to us,” Lopez said. “If it was not for them being team players, I do not think we would all be succeeding as we are right now.”

Lopez is an associate degree candidate for graduation in the Occupational Safety Compliance Technology program at TSTC. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, TSTC will honor graduates with a virtual graduation celebration on Thursday, April 22.

“She always strives for excellence in all of her schoolwork and makes certain her kids do the same,” said Mark Wilfert, lead instructor in TSTC’s Occupational Safety Compliance Technology program. “It is a pleasure having her in class, and I know she will be excellent in her future endeavors.”

There were several things Lopez enjoyed about the program, from hosting a study group for classmates to hands-on labs using equipment to determine gases in the air. She also learned about the different kinds of personal protection equipment. During her time in the program, she developed an interest in manufacturing.

“I like order and consistency,” Lopez said. “In a manufacturing facility, it is the same routine over and over. You know what to expect and what will happen, and nothing changes.”

Lopez grew up in Laguna Heights, near Port Isabel in Cameron County. She said her childhood was a time of protectiveness, with much time spent with her siblings.

Lopez graduated from Port Isabel High School and then joined the U.S. Army, where she was a generator mechanic.

“It (the military) taught me discipline and structure,” she said. “It taught me not to leave anyone behind. If I see someone struggling, it kicks in for me to help. The mission is to not stop until you finish.”

When she left the military, Lopez said she had a challenging time finding a job that suited her. She reached out to an education and career counselor at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for guidance. She learned about Occupational Safety Compliance Technology and that it was offered at TSTC’s Waco campus.

“(TSTC is) giving me a second chance at a career in my life to where I can feel I am contributing to my community and be a role model to my children that involves more than being a housewife,” Lopez said.

This summer, Lopez will begin taking classes to earn the Associate of Applied Science degree in Environmental Technology – Compliance at TSTC. In the future, she wants to gain experience in the manufacturing field and teach at TSTC.

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TSTC Plumbing and Pipefitting Technology program eager to fill Texas jobs

(WACO, Texas) – February’s historic winter weather in Texas made people realize the importance of plumbers as pipes broke, causing damage to apartments, homes and businesses.

“It shined a light on the plumbing industry and made people see we are not always as prepared as we think we are,” said Clyff Curry, business manager of the Plumbers and Pipefitters Local Union 529 in Waco.

Texas State Technical College’s Plumbing and Pipefitting Technology program in Waco offers a three-semester certificate program that covers backflow prevention, blueprint reading, piping standards and other topics. The curriculum is a mix of online lectures and hands-on labs.

Jimmy Bibb, an instructor in TSTC’s Plumbing and Pipefitting Technology program, said four large Texas companies have contacted him in recent days seeking graduates. He said the inquiries prove how in demand graduates are.

“They have put in the work, showing up to class on time,” Bibb said. “They have completed a rigorous program. Now they have the knowledge and skill set to enter a well-diversified workplace.”

Texas had more than 39,800 plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters making an annual mean wage of $50,840 in May 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Curry said there is a pressing need for plumbers now in Waco because of new construction in the commercial, hospitality, manufacturing and residential housing sectors. He said all of the projects will need pipe and mechanical work.

“The jobs are there in the industry, but we are pushing people into other fields that may or may not be as lucrative with job availability,” he said. “It is not thought of as a top industry, even though you have plumbers out there making as much as doctors. We have insurance and pensions for the future, too.”

Chris Sproles, president of Central Texas Plumbing Solutions in Waco, said it is hard finding qualified people to fill plumbing positions.

“We have advertised different ways for journeymen plumbers,” he said. “In the last year, as far as licensed plumbers, we have had three that have inquired, with two that were licensed in Texas and one that was moving here from another state. Out of those folks, I was fortunate to hire the two guys that were in Texas.”

Sproles said his company’s problem, along with other businesses in the plumbing industry, is an aging workforce.

“My workforce is lots of guys over 50,” he said. “We struggle with that. They are great guys, but they are nearing the end of their careers. We do not get good qualified candidates, for sure.”

Sproles said the company occasionally hires apprentice plumbers.

“We do get a lot of inquiries from apprentices starting out,” he said. “We are extremely selective with those guys. We are looking for someone that can learn the trade with the intent of staying here.”

Sproles said high school is the place where guidance should be given to encourage students to pursue the plumbing field.

Curry said people entering the plumbing industry should understand geometry, trigonometry and physics and have a mechanical aptitude.

“There has to be a reemphasis on work ethic,” he said. “Even in our trade, we want to work smarter, not harder. You have to be willing to put forth the effort.”

The federal labor statistics agency predicts there will be a need for more than 511,000 plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters by 2029. This is attributed to workers retiring, along with new construction and the upkeep of plumbing systems.

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Inspired by her parents, TSTC alumna establishes career in culinary arts

(HARLINGEN, Texas) – Growing up around restaurants and catering inspired Stephanie Salazar to enroll in the Culinary Arts program at Texas State Technical College.

Salazar received her Associate of Applied Science degree in 2019 and is now the dietary and nutrition services director at McAllen Nursing Center, where she is able to utilize her skills in the industry while also helping others in the process.

“My parents had a catering company when I was growing up, and I would help where I could,” she said. “My father also had his own restaurant. My parents are the ones who inspired me and pushed me to be creative and explore the culinary world more.”

She said that not only was the Culinary Arts program hands-on, but the encouragement from the instructors also gave students extra motivation.

“I loved my classes and all the material I was exposed to while at TSTC,” she said. “The instructors really push their students to get out of their comfort zone and work with foods they otherwise would not have.”

TSTC Culinary Arts instructor Emma Creps vividly recalled Salazar’s desire to continually learn new things.

“You could just tell by the way she performed in the labs that she had a passion for culinary arts,” she said. “Stephanie definitely stood out in her class and never hesitated to take initiative, ask questions and seek advice. I am truly proud of her.”

The Culinary Arts program equipped Salazar with the information she needed to succeed not only in the field, but also in other areas that come with a career.

“The courses I took at TSTC in regard to management really helped me know how to break down things properly and be as effective as possible,” she said. “Learning about that side of the business helped me in the environment I went into because I knew the structural foundation of what I needed to do.”

She added that her knowledge of the industry brought her one of her greatest successes.

“I recently started my current position and was recruited due to my record at a previous company,” she said. “I was offered a higher position and a much higher salary. I am very proud of the role I have right now and am also proud of my degree. I am able to live comfortably because of it.”

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for chefs and head cooks will see a faster-than-average increase through 2029.

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Photo caption: Stephanie Salazar completed her Associate of Applied Science degree in Culinary Arts at TSTC in 2019 and is currently thriving in her position as dietary and nutrition services director at McAllen Nursing Center. (Photo courtesy of Stephanie Salazar.)


TSTC’s Building Construction Technology program lays solid foundation for students

(HARLINGEN, Texas) – Building Construction Technology at Texas State Technical College equips future builders with the tools needed to step into a booming industry.

TSTC instructor Rick Vargas discussed the program and how it benefits students.

“Our TSTC instructors have first-hand industry experience that we share with our students,” he said. “This is the only construction program in our area that can teach students full-scale, hands-on construction from start to finish. By graduation, students will know what it takes to complete residential and commercial construction projects.”

Much of the program focuses on hands-on learning so that students are confident about heir skill set as soon as they begin applying for jobs.

“The majority of our classes require on-campus labs,” Vargas said. “We make sure that every class has a different project to work on so that nothing repeats itself. Our projects include floor framing, wall framing, roof framing, interior and exterior finishing, installing doors and windows, roofing, cabinetmaking, drywall, painting and surveying.”

Sebastian Tovar, a 2018 graduate of the Building Construction Technology program, credits TSTC with helping to establish the foundation for his career.

“TSTC gave me the opportunity to get training on things like rough framing, blueprint reading, estimating, schedule building, project management, and much more,” he said. “These are all skills that I use daily in my career.”

Now Tovar is thriving as an assistant superintendent at SpawGlass general contractors in San Antonio.

“My greatest accomplishment to date would have to be graduating from TSTC,” he said.

Vargas said that students considering enrolling in the program should enjoy getting their hands dirty, but also know that the skills they leave with will always be in demand.

“You have to have a passion for building or working with your hands,” he said. “There is currently an abundance of job opportunities for students, and there are bound to be more opportunities in the next several years. We have companies from all over the state that come down to recruit students from our Harlingen campus because they are so well prepared to enter the workforce.”

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Photo caption: Building Construction Technology at TSTC is a hands-on program that receives statewide attention from potential employers. (Photo courtesy of TSTC.)

Foreman or achitect engineer shows future house, office or store design plans and model to a young couple. Meeting at the construction office to talk about facade, interior decoration, home layout.


Curiosity drives TSTC student in learning about medical equipment

(WACO, Texas) – Jay Jackson is not daunted by a little hard work.

Jackson, of Bosqueville, is studying Biomedical Equipment Technology at Texas State Technical College and working on his family’s dairy farm in rural McLennan County. He also has a dream of attending medical school in Texas.

So far at TSTC, Jackson has learned about medical equipment networking, repair tools, medical image storage, and direct and alternating currents. 

“The instructors at TSTC are able to make comparisons and not leave you at the deep end of technical jargon,” Jackson said.

Mark Plough teaches Biomedical Equipment Technology at TSTC’s Waco campus and is also the program’s statewide department chair. He said he admires Jackson’s inquisitiveness.

“I find him to be a remarkable young person and wish we had more like him,” Plough said. “He has an insatiable appetite to acquire knowledge of many different subjects.”

Jackson said since being in the program, he has seen the array of career options that graduates can pursue. He said technicians can work in hospitals, for medical equipment manufacturers and at independent service organizations.

“It’s a good job that will give you predictable hours and very attractive entry-level pay,” he said.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has predicted there will be a need for more than 56,000 medical equipment repairers by 2029. This is attributed to the nation’s aging population and the development of new and refurbished medical equipment.

Jackson took advantage of college-level dual enrollment classes while a student at Bosqueville High School. After graduation, he attended a community college and later transferred to Baylor University, where he graduated in 2019 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology.

To continue learning as he goes through the medical school application process, he enrolled last year at TSTC so he could understand how the medical equipment he will use in the future functions. After medical school, Jackson wants to stay in Texas and pursue orthopedics.

“I like the carpentry aspect of it,” Jackson said. “It’s an art to shape bones, especially with things like hip replacements.”

When Jackson is not studying or in class, he is working early mornings and late nights to keep cows happy and productive at the dairy farm.

“I like working on the dairy farm and helping my dad,” Jackson said. “I do whatever I need to do that day.”

Registration continues for the summer and fall semesters at Texas State Technical College. For more information, go to

TSTC graduate shows mettle in pursuing plumbing career

(WACO, Texas) – Jude Gonzales has learned that the positive people with whom he surrounds himself both personally and professionally can be motivational in creating a career and life to be proud of.

Where plumbing is concerned, Jude Gonzales knows that there is always more to learn — and he is not afraid to try.

“You will never truly master plumbing,” he said. “It is extremely complex when you dive into plumbing. It is a day-to-day grind while accumulating wisdom and knowledge and remaining humble at all times.”

Gonzales graduated in 2019 from Texas State Technical College’s Waco campus with a Plumbing and Pipefitting Technology certificate. While at TSTC, he competed in the SkillsUSA National Leadership and Skills Conference in Louisville, Kentucky.

After graduation, Gonzales and his father made plans to move to Idaho. But while eating at a diner on the way there, they decided to go to Albuquerque, New Mexico, because a relative lives in the state.

Gonzales said he had a challenging time finding a job.

“I had an amazing certificate, a resume, people who were well-versed and thought very highly of me, but nobody hired me,” he said.

Gonzales tried a new tactic involving an Albuquerque mall, a business suit, a sign indicating he was ready to work, and a stack of resumes. He eventually met someone who gave him a business card for a plumbing company in Albuquerque.

“The next day I did an interview and was hired,” Gonzalez said. “I was making $13.50 an hour.”

He worked for that company for two years and accumulated hundreds of apprenticeship hours to take New Mexico’s test to become a journeyman plumber. He received the certification in 2020, according to state of New Mexico licensing information.

“There are long hours, you are constantly having to train, and you are green,” Gonzales said. “Once you overcome those challenges, it is extremely beneficial. It is its own reward in going out to do something very few human beings are wanting and willing to do.”

It was Gonzales’ bout with COVID-19 while in Albuquerque that made him realize he wanted to be closer to his family in the Waco area. Once he made a full recovery, he moved back to Texas. He is now working at Central Texas Plumbing Solutions in Waco and is preparing to take the test to become a journeyman plumber in Texas.

Gonzales grew up in Robison. After graduating from Robinson High School, he joined the U.S. Navy and worked in culinary arts before receiving an honorable discharge. He later enrolled at TSTC and chose Plumbing and Pipefitting Technology because he was curious about the work.

“Jude is very punctual, respectful and focused at whatever he chooses to do,” said Jimmy Bibb, an instructor in TSTC’s Plumbing and Pipefitting Technology program. “He entered this program with the intent of pulling everything out of it that he could. He was a star in the classroom and in the lab. Jude was always digging deeper and asking the hard questions.”

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TSTC Wind Energy Technology student accepts a job midair

(SWEETWATER, Texas) – It started like any other Wednesday for Rebecca Fortuna.

The Texas State Technical College Wind Energy Technology student was at the top of a wind turbine when her cellphone rang. On the other end of the call was a FieldCore representative, who offered Fortuna a job as an electrical wind technician.

“The call was one for the books,” said Fortuna, who is a candidate for graduation next month. “I was 300 feet in the air and accepted a job.”

It was her second call from FieldCore, which offers field services to maintain and upgrade power generation equipment.

“I had my first interview a week ago, and within a week, I was offered a job,” she said. “I owe this wonderful opportunity to all of my instructors.”

Fortuna’s family is excited about the opportunity.

“My husband was ecstatic, and my daughter was in disbelief,” she said. “She could not believe it happened so fast.”

Getting away from a desk job was one of Fortuna’s goals all along. After starting a career in health information, in 2016, she knew she needed a change.

“I am the type of woman who wants to do something different. I like to use my hands,” she said. “I didn’t mind the desk job. I just wanted more in my life. All of my brothers work in the wind industry, and I wanted to know what I had to do to get into the field.”

She knew that working in the wind industry would have its demands, especially since it is a male-dominated profession. But that has not stopped her.

“I am not afraid of a challenge. The wind industry is all around us, and it is growing so fast,” she said. “I wanted to be involved in that and wanted to be able to see different things.”

Fortuna, who is studying for an associate degree, was drawn to FieldCore because it gives her the chance to travel. She will begin training with the company in late April or early May.

Being a self-described busybody, Fortuna said the wind industry would provide her with different challenges.

“It is not a boring field because everything is changing daily,” she said. “This program teaches you so many different concepts. I like to get my hands dirty.”

Fortuna hopes she can influence other women to enroll in the program.

“A lot of the girls that I work with at my current job are intimidated because it is male-dominated,” she said. “I tell them it is not what they would expect. It is a great program for women.”

Fortuna said TSTC instructor Billie Jones has been instrumental in helping her learn more about the industry.

“Billie has been great. She will get in there and help you with anything,” Fortuna said. “I have told girls that they need to talk to her if they are interested in the program.”

Jones said Fortuna worked hard to achieve her goal.

“She is a great student. She is one of the hardest workers in class, and I know she will be successful,” Jones said.

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