Spending more time at home during the pandemic inspired Elissa Atabala-Catherall to pick up a power tool to help with projects around the house. She is now studying Electrical Power and Controls at TSTC.

(ABILENE, Texas) – While housebound and helping her husband with home improvement projects during the COVID-19 pandemic, longtime hospitality industry employee Elissa Atabala-Catherall picked up her first power tool.

She decided it was time to begin a new career.

Atabala-Catherall researched options involving an electrical career and discovered Texas State Technical College’s Electrical Power and Controls program. Now she is on track to graduate this summer with an Associate of Applied Science degree, with plans to return to TSTC to begin studying Computer Networking and Systems Administration.

“My husband did a little electrical work around the house, and I would help him out,” she said. “I then changed my first light fixture and decided I wanted a career change. I found this program at TSTC and have been happy I chose this career.”

Atabala-Catherall admits that she has always been “a city girl at heart,” but the move to Abilene changed that.

“Moving here was eye-opening for me. It was when we moved to Abilene that I discovered I liked power tools,” she said. “I have had my struggles balancing life and everything that goes with it. I know I made the right decision to return to school.”

Atabala-Catherall said her time in the TSTC lab has helped her with additional home projects, crediting instructors Cody Davis and Kevin Staton for teaching her basic and advanced techniques.

“They have been a big support system for me in class,” she said. “They will help me with anything to make sure I succeed. They are so much more than instructors, and I am able to call them friends.”

Staton said Atabala-Catherall will be an asset to any company she works for, either in the electrical or computer fields.

“She is the best example of a person who will give you the most out of themselves,” he said.

Atabala-Catherall’s work ethic is evident by the amount of time she spends at TSTC.

“It is easier for me to get my work done here, both online and in the lab,” she said. “TSTC is able to provide students with the space to make sure they are successful. With Kevin and Cody both here, it is easier to have your questions answered to make sure you understand what to do.”

Atabala-Catherall said the reason she wants to learn more about computer networking is because the future is in technology.

“So many homes are going to be called smart homes,” she said. “The more I know about both fields, the better job opportunities I will have in the future.”

For now, Atabala-Catherall likes to show off her skills on the many home improvement projects she works on with her husband.

“He is so proud of me for doing this,” she said. “We have started installing new plugs around the house, and he has actually become my assistant.”

Electrical and electronic engineering technologists and technicians can make an average salary of $63,260 in Texas, according to onetonline.org. The projected growth for such positions in the state is 14% between 2020 and 2030, according to the website.

TSTC offers an Associate of Applied Science degree in Electrical Power and Controls in a hybrid format, combining virtual learning with in-person, hands-on lab work. In addition to the Abilene campus, TSTC’s campuses in Fort Bend County, North Texas and Waco offer the program.

Electrical Power and Controls is part of TSTC’s Money-Back Guarantee. If participating students do not find a job in their career field within six months of graduation, they will receive a refund of their tuition.

For more information about TSTC, visit tstc.edu.

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