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TSTC Health Information Technology students benefit from online classes

June 05, 2020 by Naissa Lopez

(HARLINGEN, Texas) – Medical office specialists are often among the first faces that patients see as soon as they enter a clinic. Compassion, care and a genuine desire to help others are a few of the traits that define those in this profession.

Remote learning at Texas State Technical College has made earning a Medical Office Specialist certificate accessible for these prospective students in the comfort of their own home. The program allows students the chance not only to start a rewarding career, but also to experience the hands-on learning that TSTC prides itself on.

“In our program, the instructors make themselves readily available to each student by offering virtual office hours and virtual learning labs every week at various times,” said TSTC’s Health Information Technology department chair Sarah Brooks. “The program also utilizes a variety of real-world software applications that students will gain hands-on experience in.”

Medical office specialists heavily rely on the use of computers and technology. While their direct contact with patients is minimal, they are still a vital piece of the puzzle that keeps a clinic running smoothly.

“A medical office specialist’s main job function is to ensure the information found in the patient’s electronic medical record is timely, complete and accurate,” said Brooks. “This is typically a fast-paced working environment with little downtime.”

Though online learning does offer an advantage because of the ability to study at home, it is necessary that students understand that earning a degree or certificate remotely does require focus.

“Self-discipline, self-motivation and time management are traits that are critical in being successful as an online student,” added Brooks.

Despite not being physically on campus, Brooks reiterated that potential and current students in these programs need to know that TSTC will be right beside them through their journey.

“Students need to know they are not alone,” she said. “Our instructors and students work together as a team, sharing their work, life and educational experiences during the online learning process.”

To learn more about TSTC’s online Medical Office Specialist certificate, visit

TSTC Alumnus Solving Environmental Challenges in West Texas

June 05, 2020 by Daniel Perry

(WACO, Texas) – Ethan Sessums sees his job as a way to give back to the environment to make it better.

“I am always looking for a challenge,” he said.

Sessums is an environmental scientist at New Tech Global Environmental in Midland. He began work shortly after graduating from Texas State Technical College’s Waco campus in spring 2019. His work focuses on creating and implementing remediation plans to fix environmental problems.

“People are overlooking the decontamination procedures,” Sessums said. “It is absolutely essential in this environmental industry to focus on decontamination management and handle issues.”

He works with regulatory agencies like the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and Texas Parks and Wildlife.

“They want you to send them a detailed list and a detailed job plan of what you are going to do to clean up,” Sessums said. “They don’t want to know what the regulatory issues are. They want it cleaned up.”

Sessums grew up in Whitney and is a graduate of Whitney High School. He said he knew his postgraduation plan would include TSTC because of cost-effectiveness.

“I did not want to put myself in a position like friends and others have been where they can’t find a job and are buried with student loan debt,” he said.

Sessums began in a different program at TSTC before shifting to pursue associate degrees in the Environmental Technology and Occupational Safety Compliance Technology programs. He changed majors because of his interest in government, prevention and regulations.

“I have always been good at the inspection side in noticing and documenting things,” he said.

Sessums said he enjoyed much of the hands-on work he did, from learning how to put on pressurized suits and face masks to using air tanks.

Sessums credited Lester Bowers, statewide chair of TSTC’s Environmental Technology department, for giving hard-earned knowledge to him and his classmates.

“You can talk about theory and look at scenarios all day, but until you have someone who has been through it and been on-site and run into trouble and come up with solutions, that is what makes an instructor special,” Sessums said.

Bowers said Sessums exhibited honesty and efficient time management skills as a student.

“Ethan was an active participant in classroom discussions and activities, encouraging an environment of inclusion for all other students as well,” Bowers said. “He was adept at fostering healthy discourse in small groups of peers as well as effortlessly capturing the attention of larger groups.”

Sessums’ career advice for students is to focus on hands-on learning to back up the theories they learn. And, he said students should be prepared to go where the jobs are. 

“You have to be willing to move,” he said. “If you want to start out making real good money like you expect to make, you have to put yourself out there. You have to put your time in. You have to do the three to five years to where you can pick the job you want in the future.”

For more information on Texas State Technical College, go to  

TSTC, City of Ennis Poised for Productive Future

June 05, 2020 by Daniel Perry

(RED OAK, Texas) – More than 20 miles separate the city of Ennis from Texas State Technical College’s North Texas campus in Red Oak in Ellis County.

Ennis can count more than 3.6 million workers within a 60-mile radius of the city. This means there is an array of area jobs, from machining to welding, for which  people can learn skills at TSTC.

“From a logistical standpoint, we are learning that we are in the center of a lot of these hubs, these major industries and distribution centers and manufacturing centers,” said Marcus Balch, provost of TSTC’s North Texas campus. “I think that is in large part due to the major interstates coming through. There is a major railway that travels very close to the area, both north and south.”

Marty Nelson, Ennis’ city manager and interim economic development director, said new city leadership is signaling a need to build stronger connections with county entities, including TSTC.

“I think it is a resource that brings value to Ellis County,” he said about TSTC

Nelson said the city’s economic development is divided into four categories: downtown, industrial, maintenance and retail.  All provide potential opportunities to work with TSTC.

The city recently completed a $9 million infrastructure project in its eight-block downtown that was heavily damaged by a tornado in spring 2013. Part of the work included installing a fiber-optic network operating downtown irrigation, lighting and sound systems.

“We have city-owned facilities in, and in close proximity to our downtown, and each one has become a hub,” said Ennis Mayor Angeline Juenemann. “Those hubs are connected together to create a Wi-Fi mesh network over our downtown.”

Nelson said the city recently signed a deal with Freshpet to build a manufacturing facility employing about 400 people with average wages of $60,000 a year.  Buc-ee’s recently opened on Interstate Highway 45, providing about 175 jobs.

“Having a technically skilled workforce gives you a competitive advantage,” he said. “The availability of a workforce – in many cases, a skilled workforce – might be a great determining factor if you go to the next round in a site selection.”

Adrian Castanon, a coordinator in TSTC’s Career Services office, said Ennis Steel Industries Inc. hired in 2019 a North Texas campus graduate of  the Computer Aided Drafting and Design Technology program.

Castanon  said that earlier spring he was working with an Ennis company specializing in manufacturing paper and printing labels for retail stores because of interest in TSTC’s Industrial Systems – Electrical Specialization program.

The city is projected to have more than 1,000 new homes constructed in the next 18 months, Nelson said.

“It is reverse migration,” Nelson said. “The Metroplex is so dense and commute times are so long. I think people are trying to find places to live so they don’t have to be in all the congestion.”

For more information on Texas State Technical College, go to 

After working in government sector, instructor finds fulfillment at TSTC

June 05, 2020 by Naissa Lopez

(HARLINGEN, Texas) – Elizabeth Bryant has enjoyed many fulfilling careers in her professional life. She has worked for the government, spent time as a journalist, and even been a legislative aide.

However, she now considers her most rewarding role to be that of instructor of government classes at Texas State Technical College.

Inspired by her mother, who was a first grade teacher in her home state of Louisiana, Bryant has found her passion at TSTC, where she is eager to change the lives of her students, just like her mom.

“It was inspiring to see how much my mom meant to her students,” she said. “She always remembered who they were when she’d run into them. I always thought teaching would be a rewarding way to spend your time.”

Bryant worked for 25 years in government jobs at both the state and federal level before becoming an instructor.

“I decided to finish my graduate degree with the goal of teaching college freshmen and sophomores focusing on civic engagement,” she said. “Of all the professional experiences I’ve had the good fortune to enjoy, being at TSTC is by far the best.”

Although she no longer works in government, her prior career is not too far away.

“One of the assignments in my courses is to write to an elected official requesting assistance with an issue in their community,” she said. “They also can write to an elected official to request clarification on an issue facing our state or our country. It is wonderful when students share with me the results of this assignment. Many have been able to solve community issues or gain deeper understanding of current events.”

Bryant’s time at TSTC has brought many new memories that she is grateful for.

“Each time I see a student succeed and take another step toward achieving their goals is so rewarding,” she said.

TSTC’s hands-on learning and student-to-instructor ratio are not only qualities that she thinks make TSTC different, but also factors that she would have appreciated during her own college years.

“I would have really benefited from a place like TSTC when I was transitioning from high school to college,” she said. “TSTC offers flexible schedules with multiple platforms, such as online learning, compressed semesters and traditional lecture courses. TSTC focuses on student success beyond their time on campus.”

The commitment to student success does not end once students leave the classroom.

“TSTC is committed to placing students in great jobs once they complete their program,” Bryant said. “Some prospective students may be worried because they’ve been out of the classroom for a while, but that should not stop them from pursuing their degree. TSTC instructors are committed to working with students to help them adjust to the college experience.”

TSTC’s fall registration is currently underway. For more information, visit

At TSTC’s Challenger Learning Centers, visitors become guardians of the galaxy

June 05, 2020 by Naissa Lopez

(HARLINGEN, Texas) – “Space missions” at Texas State Technical College’s Challenger Learning Centers in Harlingen and Waco are as close to becoming an astronaut as you can get without flying into the galaxy.

The centers provide engaging experiences for students of all ages that allow them to take their curiosity for space exploration to the next level.

Upon arrival, visitors divide into groups to work in a Mission Control simulation and even get hands-on experience in a working laboratory. These missions aim to provide team building, creativity and critical-thinking skills.

“Construction for TSTC’s Challenger Learning Center in Harlingen began in the summer of 2013,” said Ashley Contreras, coordinator of TSTC’s Center for Science and Math Education. “Our grand opening was in December of that year, and we began launching missions in January 2014.”

The addition of the Challenger Learning Center at TSTC’s Waco campus makes TSTC the only institution in the world to host two centers. To date, the centers in Harlingen and Waco have provided learning opportunities to over 31,000 students.

While hands-on experiences are part of the unique learning process, academics are also a big focus.

“The Challenger Learning Centers are aligned with the math and science Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills standards,” Contreras said. “This is evident through our grade-appropriate simulated space missions, STEM activities, and planetarium lessons.”

Alternative learning, such as the Mission Control simulation, provides students with science, technology, engineering and math skills that they might not experience otherwise.

“Places like the Challenger Learning Centers are important because we provide a one-of-a-kind learning environment to assist students of varying learning modalities in understanding certain key subjects through hands-on, project-based learning,” Contreras reiterated. “In Harlingen, we have had schools from Laredo down to Brownsville and up to Falfurrias join us in experiencing our simulated missions.”

While the centers are aimed at younger visitors, you do not need to be under a certain age to participate in the fun.

“Occasionally, we will have visitors who happen to see the large astronaut and space shuttle posters outside of the building and have their curiosity piqued,” she said. “Our team is always happy to deliver a tour and let them experience what it would be like to blast off in our replica of the Challenger shuttle to the International Space Station.”

Contreras added that the imagination of students who visit makes their work worthwhile.

“Every day is a new experience, and it is so easy to get caught up in the students’ enthusiasm,” she said. “They make us feel like we are real astronauts.”

Currently both centers remain closed due to the ongoing pandemic, but that has not stopped the stellar staff from preparing for the future.

“We will continue to abide by the policies and procedures set by TSTC’s leadership and reopen when we are able to do so,” Contreras said. “In the meantime, we are preparing for the new mission packages we will unveil to schools for the upcoming academic year. We are very excited.”

The two Challenger Learning Centers at TSTC are affiliated with the not-for-profit Challenger Center for Space Science Education in Washington, D.C. Founded in April 1986, Challenger Learning Centers across the nation were started to honor the astronauts lost during the Challenger space shuttle mission that same year.

To learn more about the Challenger Learning Centers at TSTC, visit

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