(WACO) – The presence of Del Rio High School graduates studying Welding Technology at Texas State Technical College in Waco is becoming a familiar sight.
“As far back as when I was a student at TSTC in the late 1990s, there were guys from Del Rio here,” said Ashley Yezak, a Welding Technology instructor at TSTC in Waco.
Del Rio on the Texas-Mexico border and Waco in Central Texas are more than 300 miles apart. But what connects the cities is Tod Townsend, Del Rio High School’s welding instructor and his passion for the field he wants to pass on to his students. He estimated 25 Del Rio students have traveled in the last seven years to Waco to study for certificates and Associate of Applied Science degrees in Welding Technology.
“Every year I take some of my juniors and seniors on a tour around Texas for three days and we visit all the welding schools we can,” Townsend said. “When I was at TSTC and met all the instructors and saw the rigor of the courses, it looked like the best program for sure.”
Arturo Ponce, 19, took one of the college tours and liked the hands-on tradition of attending TSTC.
“You can go anywhere there is a job,” he said about welding. “There is always a need.”
Ponce and Luis Saucedo, 19, are already connecting their college learning experiences to industry by working part time at a fabrication shop in Crawford. Luis Saucedo’s brother graduated from TSTC in Waco earlier this year with an associate degree in Welding Technology and worked at the same business.
Saucedo said he likes learning additional skills in gas tungsten arc welding that build on the basics he learned in Del Rio.
Jose Munoz, 20, a second-year Welding Technology student, said he wants to learn about metalworking so he can work on older automobiles and hot rods.
Most of the students live on campus in the Village Oaks Apartments, though not all are roommates. The apartments the students congregate in typically have the newest video games and occasionally flow with musical sounds from the border.
“Here in Waco you need money to do something, but down there in Del Rio, not really,” Munoz said. “You can go to the creek, the lake.”
Some of the students said it has been an adjustment getting used to Waco, particularly with traffic and stop lights. Some students have learned that Spanish is not the dominant language in the area, while others crave Del Rio’s locally made tortilla chips.
“We feel like we are taking care of each other,” Ponce said.
Roberto Lopez, 19, a second-year Welding Technology student, does not think the drive to Del Rio is that lengthy. He grew up on a ranch and often helped his father with welding projects.
“I go home almost every weekend,” he said “The biggest thing I have miss is my family.”
Townsend sends his students off with other skills to help them in classes, and later, jobs.
“Pretty much anyone can teach the skill of welding,” he said. “But I can teach them how to be professional. I meet them in the hall, look them in the eye and shake their hands. I believe you have to be professional before anything. If you teach them that, no matter what field they are in, they are going to be successful.”
Townsend thinks more of his welding students will be on their way to Waco in years to come. Del Rio’s welding program has at least 60 students this year, Townsend said.
“He actually cares about the program and the reputation it has at the high school,” said Joshua A. Garcia, 19.
The San Felipe Del Rio Consolidated School District is finishing construction on the Gerardo J. Maldonado Career and Technical Education Center, which will house welding, automotive, construction and other technical programs that are now taught at Del Rio High School. Townsend expects all the technical programs to grow because there will be more learning space. Classes will begin at the new building in January.
For more information on TSTC, log on to tstc.edu.