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.

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TSTC Ready to Meet Aviation Job Needs in Williamson County

(HUTTO, Texas) – The Texas aviation and aerospace industry is responsible for creating more than 778,000 jobs and a payroll of more than $30 billion, according to the Texas Department of Transportation’s 2018 Texas Aviation Economic Impact Study. 

“Aviation is a huge, growing field,” said Michael Smith, senior field development officer for The TSTC Foundation at Texas State Technical College’s Williamson County campus. “Aviation is a prime opportunity because you have an aging workforce.”

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has projected a need for more than 23,000 avionics technicians and more than 143,000 aviation mechanics and service technicians by 2029.

“We have two generations of workers that never went into those fields,” Smith said.

Williamson County residents interested in aerospace and aviation careers can learn needed skills in the Industrial Systems, Precision Machining Technology and Welding Technology programs at TSTC’s campus in Hutto. 

Robert Capps, TSTC’s statewide lead for the Aviation Maintenance department, said the COVID-19 pandemic has not decreased students’ desire to study in TSTC’s Aircraft Airframe Technology and Aircraft Powerplant Technology programs in Abilene, Harlingen and Waco. 

“We pull in quite a few students from the Williamson County area,” Capps said. “There is certainly plenty of interest.”

Capps said due to the popularity of TSTC’s aviation maintenance programs, spring student intakes are being considered for the first time at the Abilene and Harlingen campuses. Spring intakes will continue at the Waco campus.

Capps said he advises students visiting the aviation maintenance programs to be willing to move where their first job is.

“Unlike automotive, where you have mom-and-pop shops spring up all over the place, there are very few mom-and-pop shops popping up for aviation maintenance,” he said. “Most of the work is done in hubs.”

The Georgetown Municipal Airport can be considered Williamson County’s aviation hub, as more than 20 aviation-related businesses are clustered there. The airport has two runways, the longest being 5,004 feet in length. The airport’s economic impact is more than 500 jobs with a payroll that exceeds $14 million, according to TxDOT’s 2018 aviation impact study. 

Joseph Carney, the airport’s manager, said encouraging students to pursue aerospace and aviation careers should start in high school. He cited the Georgetown Independent School District’s Tango Flight program as a way to give students hands-on experience by building small airplanes to sell.

“This exposes the students to colleges with aviation programs,” Carney said. “They are not going into college completely blind.” 

One of Cedar Park’s largest employers, Firefly Aerospace, has more than 150 employees, according to the Cedar Park Economic Development Corp. The company specializes in designing, manufacturing and operating reliable launch vehicles. It has hired TSTC alumni for jobs in machining, manufacturing, engineering and technology integration.

Ben White, president and chief executive officer of the Cedar Park EDC, said Firefly Aerospace’s presence in the city and county signals a change in the economy.

“I think it has demonstrated Cedar Park can be home to high-tech and forward-thinking companies,” he said. “It is a startup company working with NASA to deliver payloads to the moon. There are many cities and companies in Texas that are working on that. That kind of demonstrates the progression of the workforce in Williamson County. It is becoming more of a high-tech workforce.”

There have been 31 openings for avionics technicians advertised through Workforce Solutions Rural Capital Area in the last 12 months. Several of the openings have been at Firefly Aerospace.

White predicts Cedar Park will be the next employment hub for the Austin area.

“You will see a lot of technical jobs, high-tech jobs, Firefly-like corporations, but you will also see regional headquarters and office support for corporations coming here,” he said.

TSTC also offers Aircraft Pilot Training Technology and Avionics Technology in Waco.

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TSTC Receives Greater Texas Foundation Grant

(WACO, Texas) – The Greater Texas Foundation has awarded a $715,742 grant to help develop Texas State Technical College’s performance-based education initiative. The grant was awarded through The TSTC Foundation. 

Performance-based education allows students to have flexibility with their schedules as they master set competencies in their programs. Faculty members guide the students as they take courses. 

“Performance-based education pathways allow students to build on their existing knowledge and complete credentials without putting the rest of their lives on hold,” said Sue McMillin, president and chief executive officer of the Greater Texas Foundation. “We are proud to support TSTC in developing these pathways to extend postsecondary opportunities to more Texas students.”

The money will be used to hire three instructional designers to reshape nine of TSTC’s programs in the next three years. Performance-based education is scheduled to debut in fall 2021 in the Computer Networking and Systems Administration, Cybersecurity, and Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning Technology programs.

“It is great for the institution,” said Kyle Smith, TSTC’s deputy chief academic officer. “I would say with this particular grant, it is going to be transformative for our students. If you look at the key drivers of the grant, it is all very student-centered. It increases the accessibility to college, the ability to accelerate, with programs being available from morning to evening.”

Instructional designers deconstruct curricula down to knowledge, skills and abilities that provide the foundation for competencies and master assessments, said Gena Jean, TSTC’s performance-based education program manager. Instructional designers will work with faculty to develop engaging curricula.

Performance-based education could allow some TSTC students to graduate early after showing they have mastered competencies to their instructors. Students will still have semesters, but the number of classes will vary.

“The whole intent of the vision is to put more Texans in great-paying jobs by allowing them (the students) more accessibility and flexibility in scheduling and the ability to accelerate through the courses they will be in,” said Lance Eastman, TSTC’s senior vice president of student learning and interim provost of the West Texas campuses.

The Greater Texas Foundation supports initiatives that increase rates of postsecondary enrollment and completion for all Texas students, with a particular focus on students who may encounter barriers to postsecondary success, according to the organization’s website. 

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TSTC observes Drug and Alcohol Awareness week with online presentations

(HARLINGEN, Texas) – Texas State Technical College is getting creative with events this semester. Social distancing has brought about a new way for students and staff to get together, and utilizing technology to get students involved in events that would normally happen on campus shows no signs of slowing down.

This month TSTC will recognize Collegiate Drug and Alcohol Awareness Week virtually. Current students and staff will be invited via a link that will guide them to an online hangout where different topics will be discussed. TSTC counselor Angela Dunn talked about the importance of the events, as well as what she hopes students will gain from attending.

“Collegiate Drug and Alcohol Awareness Week is an educational week held in institutions of higher education nationwide,” she said. “Alcohol and drug safety should be a priority throughout the year for colleges and universities, but this week is a helpful reminder to follow best practices and to bring attention to issues posed by excessive drinking or drug use among college students.”

The week will consist of various digital activities, including participants taking part in making graffiti art, an overview of making “mocktails,” and a Netflix watch party. As with any event, there were a few logistics that needed to be figured out to make sure that things run smoothly.

“All event planning comes with its own challenges,” she said. “Engaging students to attend the event is the hardest part of hosting virtual events. Other challenges are technical issues or participants not having supplies if it’s an activity.”

The activities planned for the week involve using household items, which Dunn said will allow for more students and staff to participate.

“We utilize generic items around the house that most people will have,” she said. “In order to avoid technical issues, we practice ahead of time to try to minimize any errors that might occur.”

Ultimately, virtual events such as this are to benefit students.

“Our hope is to open a line of communication within the college community,” she said. “We want to educate students on how to recognize the signs and behaviors of someone who might have issues with alcohol or drug abuse and teach students how to deal with stress in a healthier way.”

TSTC’s Collegiate Drug and Alcohol Awareness Week begins on Monday, Oct. 19.

To learn more about TSTC, visit


TSTC Nursing students achieve milestone

(HARLINGEN, Texas) – This week, Texas State Technical College celebrated a cohort of nursing students who passed the National Council Licensure Examination with a success rate of 96 percent at its traditional nursing pinning ceremony. The milestone is particularly special because the passing percentage with the Board of Nursing is 80 percent, which puts TSTC well above average of most other colleges and universities

This particular group of students was at the forefront of adjustments made by TSTC because of the coronavirus, something that Associate Provost Jean Lashbrook said adds even more meaning to their accomplishment.

“They have definitely stepped up to the plate, and quickly,” she said. “This group started in the fall of 2019 and completed their program at the end of summer 2020. They started the program with face-to-face classes and then had to quickly move to online learning with minimal face-to-face conversations with instructors, and the inability to be at the clinical sites due to the coronavirus.”

Program director Shirley Byrd acknowledged that both faculty and students being able to adjust so rapidly to the new methods of learning is something to be proud of.

“These students need to be recognized for the hardships they endured,” she said. “They came into the program with an excellent attitude and a gung-ho spirit to accomplish their goal of becoming registered nurses. They were already familiar with being able to interact with faculty on a daily basis, and all of a sudden, because of the pandemic, that was gone.”

The pinning ceremony, which became a tradition in the U.S. around 1916, was started by Florence Nightingale on her quest to honor nurses for their dedicated and selfless service.

“The pin identifies them as nurses,” Byrd said. “It bears testimony to their education.”

Lashbrook added that the ceremony is a well-deserved send-off into the field of nursing.

“Pinning is a rite of passage, so to speak,” she said. “It is presented to the new graduate as a symbol that welcomes them to the profession of nursing.”

Byrd said that the instructors of the program are incredibly proud of this cohort, and she even had a few parting words.

“Continue the dedication you showed in the program to your patients,” she said. “Show everybody what excellent nurses you have become. The world is yours.”

To learn more about TSTC’s Nursing program, visit

TSTC Dental Hygiene instructor brings experience from Alaska to Texas

(HARLINGEN, Texas) – Students in Texas State Technical College’s Dental Hygiene program are fortunate that their instructors bring a wealth of experience to the classroom each day. One of these instructors, Victoria Martin, lived in such diverse locales as Alaska and Puerto Rico before calling Texas home.

How long have you been with TSTC?

I began teaching with TSTC in the summer of 2016, but my love for wanting to teach at the Harlingen campus started much earlier, around 2007. I was living and teaching in Anchorage, Alaska, back then. My husband and I would come down to the Rio Grande Valley to vacation — and warm up a little. Going to and from the airport, we would pass by the TSTC campus. The main quad area of the camps is just beautiful, and I would say to myself, I pray I get to teach there someday.

What inspired you to get into teaching?

One of my former instructors, a mentor and friend, approached me to take over one of her classes when she retired. I was deeply honored. Once I started, my love for teaching grew with every class.

What did you do before your time with TSTC?

That is a topic that could make its own book. As I mentioned, I was teaching dental hygiene in Anchorage. During that time, I was also highly active in the American Dental Hygiene Association, along with practicing clinical dental hygiene in a public health setting. Besides providing oral health care in a hospital setting in Anchorage, we would fly to parts of rural Alaska to set up portable dental units and provide oral care to Alaska Natives. It was a fun and exciting time. My husband was a commissioned officer and dentist with the United States Public Health Service. Later, he was transferred to Puerto Rico. While there, I completed my master’s degree in dental hygiene. When my husband retired, we moved to the Rio Grande Valley.

What do you enjoy most about working with students?

Wow, there are so many things that I love about teaching. My favorite is watching the students grow, not only with their dental hygiene and critical-thinking skills, but also as confident professionals. By the time they graduate, they believe in themselves and are willing to take any challenge head-on.

Do you have a favorite TSTC memory?

A year after I had been teaching, my dad, who is a dentist, came down from Chicago to visit. I brought him to the TSTC dental hygiene clinic to meet my co-workers and students. This simple thing turned into a lifelong memory for both me and my dad. Both the faculty and students not only welcomed my dad, but they treated him like a rock star. My dad felt incredibly special and still talks about it to this day. That moment will forever be in my heart.

To learn more about TSTC, visit

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 Alumnus Provides Environmental Safety Needs

(WACO, Texas) – Chadwick Cole of Lorena took his mother’s advice to heart when he was a teenager growing up in Bryan.

“My mother told me to never stop learning,” he said.

After graduating from high school, Cole pursued psychology at a two-year college but did not find the classes enjoyable. He needed a change, and found it at Texas State Technical College’s Waco campus. He graduated in 2001 with an Associate of Applied Science degree in Environmental Health and Safety.

“I’m proud to say I graduated from TSTC,” he said. “I felt like I got my money’s worth.”

Cole said TSTC gave him the confidence he needed to enter the workforce. 

“Chad was success-oriented from day one, and we all knew he was destined for greatness,” said Martin Knudsen, an instructor in TSTC’s Occupational Safety Compliance Technology program.

Cole went to work as a project manager at ESESIS Environmental Partners less than a week after graduating from TSTC. The company was founded in 1988 in Waco by Charles Thorn, who decided in 2010 to sell the company to his employees. Cole and two co-workers bought the company and several years later relocated it to Elm Mott.

Cole does not sit in an office all day. He travels throughout Texas doing Phase 1 environmental site assessments, along with asbestos, lead and mold inspections, on commercial buildings and homes. The company recently added COVID-19 surface testing because of demand.

“I own the company because I know to be a success, it is in my hands,” Cole said. “I know I will not be laid off. I want to be in control of my destiny.”

Cole said there is a need for people to work in lead inspecting, as well as asbestos and mold consulting. He said the jobs are great ways to work with regulations and use problem-solving skills.

“If you want to help people with environmental challenges and issues, this is the career to go into,” he said.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Texas had more than 3,000 environmental science and protection technicians earning an annual mean wage of $48,400 in 2019. 

Jobs for these technicians are projected to rise to more than 37,000 through 2029 in the United States, according to the federal agency.

“In today’s industrial world, there is and always will be a need for individuals that possess the knowledge and skills we offer in the environmental program,” said Lester Bowers, TSTC’s statewide chair of the Environmental Technology department. “The skills and education our students receive here offer them numerous opportunities in industry such as program management, consulting, training and regulatory positions.”

Cole graduated in 1996 from Bryan High School.

“We heard about TSTC, and my grandmother and mother brought us (he and his fraternal twin brother, Christopher) to campus, and we toured several programs,” Cole said.

Cole said the Safety Training Presentation Techniques class is one he will always remember. The morning of his presentation to the class, Cole hurt his hand as he was going down icy steps at his on-campus apartment. 

“That class set me up for success because I wasn’t used to talking to a lot of people (at one time),” Cole said.

For more information on Texas State Technical College, go to

Sisterly advice leads Hitchcock to TSTC Vocational Nursing program

(BRECKENRIDGE, Texas) – Sisterly advice led Sally Hitchcock to Texas State Technical College’s Vocational Nursing program.

Hitchcock’s sister completed TSTC’s Vocational Nursing and Registered Nursing programs and recommended that she look into it as a career path. She is on track to graduate in December.

“I always wanted to be a nurse. The timing and finances were not always there for me,” Hitchcock said. “My sister gave me the push I needed to get started.”

In addition to the push, Hitchcock said her sister offered advice.

“She told me I would not be disappointed with the program or instructors,” she said. “The instructors want to see you succeed and do your best.”

One thing her sister did tell her was not to fear saying something most people do not like to say.

“My sister told me that it would be OK to say no to functions and other events,” Hitchcock said. “I knew that would be hard, but it is something I knew I would have to do.”

With studying taking up more time, Hitchcock has leaned more on her family.

“My husband has taken over the mom-and-dad duties around the house. He has been supportive of me while I am in school,” she said.

Hitchcock said TSTC’s instructors have helped her and her classmates throughout the semester in adjusting to online learning.

“The instructors have made this transition as easy as possible for us,” she said.

Having to adjust to online learning will also be a learning experience Hitchcock will use in the nursing field.

“It is going to help me deal with crisis management,” she said. “Many of the nurses we talk to during clinicals said day-to-day things are changing for them. It is fascinating to see all of the protocols they have to go through.”

Hitchcock noticed one consistency in the nursing field.

“The nurses are a patient’s main support system. There is no family around some of the patients,” she said. “They are not only nurses, but they are the patient’s companion. That is what I want to be to my patients.”

Hitchcock plans to continue her education and has a career goal of becoming a hospice nurse. Like her sister, she has some advice for anyone thinking about entering the nursing profession.

“I would tell people don’t wait until you are 37 to get started,” she said. “Still, this was one of the best decisions of my life.”

For more information about TSTC, visit

TSTC Alumna Leads Effort to Improve Axtell

(WACO, Texas) – Amanda Ruble has quickly put her fundraising and marketing skills to good use for the betterment of Axtell, an unincorporated area of McLennan County.

“It does not have a big-city feel,” she said. “We have a good school district out here.”

Ruble, who grew up in Gatesville, is a 2017 graduate of Texas State Technical College. She took online classes to earn an Associate of Applied Science degree in Business Management Technology.

“I am extremely proud of the young woman Amanda has grown into,” said her mother Sherri Ruble, an instructor in TSTC’s Computer Networking and Systems Administration program in Waco. “She has always been goal-oriented. I know that once she sets her mind to do something, she will.”

Amanda Ruble was a marketing director when she was laid off in March. She now has businesses at her home selling candles and shirts.

The idea for Axtell’s farmers market came from an item on an Axtell-focused Facebook page. People thought it would be a great idea for those who grew vegetables to gather and sell them.

Amanda Ruble thought about the idea and decided to take the lead for residents. She started a Facebook page for the Axtell Farmers Market and Trade Days and asked Leroy-Axtell Fire and Rescue’s fire chief to allow the market to set up on land next door to their building.

Amanda Ruble learned the 20-member volunteer force needed a new Jaws of Life to enable them to answer emergency calls. She decided all proceeds from the farmers market would go toward this purchase.

“We have two deadly intersections out here, and people wreck all the time,” she said.

The first farmers’ market in July yielded more than $600 in donations. Eventually the younger Ruble was able to raise $15,000 with farmers markets held twice a month starting in August.

In late September, she had a meeting via video conferencing with representatives of Daniel Stark Injury Lawyers in Waco to discuss the Jaws of Life project. Ruble said she was surprised when the law firm offered to contribute $15,000 to enable the volunteer fire department to make the purchase.

Billy Brown, the Leroy-Axtell Fire and Rescue’s assistant fire chief, said the effort brought residents together. He said the volunteers found out through a group text about all of the Jaws of Life funding being raised.

“It’s great to know there are still kind-hearted people out there,” Brown said.

Ruble’s next goal is to raise money for a park for residents. The park is planned for the land the farmers market takes place on.

“We need something here,” she said.

The Axtell Farmers Market and Trade Days are held from 9 a.m. to noon on the first and third Saturdays of each month next to the Leroy-Axtell Fire and Rescue’s building. The last event of the year will be held Dec. 19. The event will restart in the spring. The market adheres to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and McLennan County health and safety guidelines for COVID-19.

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