(SWEETWATER, Texas) – For three high school seniors, a few hours in Texas State Technical College’s Automotive Technology lab give them each a sense of pride and accomplishment.
Sweetwater High School seniors Ely Barrera and Jacob Rosas, along with Colorado High School senior Richard Martin, plan to continue their journey in college after completing the TSTC dual enrollment program.
Barrera first will play college football in Kansas before returning to TSTC.
“I get to play college football, but I am planning to return to TSTC because I enjoy this program,” he said. “I know while I am in Kansas I will be working on my teammates’ cars.”
Barrera said he chose to take part in the dual enrollment program for one reason.
“I wanted to change my mindset from being a middle-school student to a college student,” he said. “I have been part of the TSTC program for three years, and this has taught me to shoot for the stars.”
Martin began the program two years ago and is always open to learning more about vehicles.
“This gave me a good idea of what I could do,” he said. “I am always willing to learn more, and this has helped me a lot.”
Rosas said he is taking part in the program in honor of his late father.
“My dad was an engineer, and in honor of him I wanted to do more,” he said. “He always taught me to work hard. I know he would be proud of my decision.”
The three seniors said TSTC Automotive Technology program instructor Gerod Strother is more than just their instructor.
“He is like a father figure to me,” Rosas said. “He is a close friend you can talk to about different things.”
Barrera said Strother relates to the high school students in a good way.
“He talks to us like we are on the same level,” he said. “He takes each lesson step by step with us so we can understand what we are doing.”
Martin also has seen himself progress with Strother teaching him.
“He does a good job of letting us know what we need to do,” he said. “I am a hands-on learner, and this program is perfect in teaching me the best way to do different things.”
Strother said he remembers his own time in high school as a way to relate to the dual enrollment students.
“I was in their shoes in high school before, and I know what it is like,” he said. “I want to see them come in here, take what they are doing seriously while having fun, and do something with what I am able to provide them. It makes me feel good to see them succeed in school and life.”
The seniors agreed that the best part of the program is when they are in the lab working on vehicles.
“I like to get in there and get my hands dirty,” Martin said.
They have also taken what they have learned and applied it at home.
“My parents have really enjoyed me taking the classes,” Martin said. “I have actually been able to work on my dad’s vehicle.”
Barrera hopes that more of his high school classmates will look into the program.
“I have talked to some people who like cars and told them this was a good program,” he said. “I hope to see more people take part.”
Rosas said taking dual enrollment classes while in high school gives him a certain feeling. Barrera and Martin agreed with his assessment.
“I feel accomplished when I complete a lesson,” Rosas said. “I feel like I am ahead of everyone because I am working to complete something special.”
The need for qualified automotive service technicians and mechanics is expected to grow in Texas over the next several years. According to onetonline.org, Texas has more than 60,000 technicians employed around the state, and that number is forecast to top 65,000 by 2028. The average annual salary for a technician in the state is $45,520.
TSTC offers an Associate of Applied Science degree in Automotive Technology and an Automotive Technician certificate of completion at the Harlingen, Sweetwater and Waco campuses. Several other certificates, including Chrysler Specialization, Tesla START Technician and Toyota T-TEN Specialization — and a Basic Automotive occupational skills award — are also available, depending on campus location.
For more information about TSTC, visit tstc.edu.