(SWEETWATER, Texas) – Israel Lopez was inspired by his mother to return to school.
At age 42, Lopez is completing his Associate of Applied Science degree in Wind Energy Technology at Texas State Technical College, all while thinking of his mother’s journey when she was 61.
“My mother returned to school and earned her degree. She was 61 when she started and 65 when she graduated,” he said. “Now she is a counselor helping people.”
Lopez said age is only a number to him, and he knew he would be able to earn a degree from the moment he stepped onto the TSTC campus in Sweetwater.
“I liked the location because it was isolated and would allow me to focus on my studies,” he said.
It was a campus tour led by Billie Jones, a Wind Energy Technology instructor, that made Lopez register immediately.
“Billie is a true closer for the program. She had me sold from day one,” he said.
Lopez said he wanted to be more independent when it came to work. Being a glazier in the big cities was his first career. But he knew there could be more for him to do in the workforce.
“In the world of skyscrapers, you have to think about your next move before you do that move,” he said. “I had been working jobs since I was 20 and never pulled the trigger to change professions. Life is too short, and I knew I needed to make that change.”
Lopez said his age has not stopped him from enjoying the college experience. He is a resident assistant and one of the students who Jones said the other students look up to during class.
“He does a great job helping students, not only from our program, but the entire campus,” she said. “I am proud of what he has been able to do in our program.”
One thing that Lopez has been able to do is secure a career before he completes work on his associate degree. He will begin work with NextEra Energy Resources in May while he completes his core requirements online. He is on schedule to graduate following the summer semester.
“I am excited to be able to say TSTC helped me find a career,” he said of his upcoming job at the Javelina Wind Energy Center near Laredo.
Lopez said each instructor at TSTC has offered him something different. According to Lopez, structure was provided by Arnoldo Soto and Gary Blake, while on-site experience was provided by Russell Benson and Jones.
“They each provide you with something unique,” he said. “They have experience in the field and will tell you what to expect. Billie is going to break you of all your bad habits. Russell is going to give you the stories from his experiences.”
For Lopez, starting college in his 40s was not a difficult decision. He hopes that more people his age look at TSTC if they want to make a career change.
“This is the perfect spot for older students,” he said. “TSTC in Sweetwater is the best place to receive an education because there are no distractions, the air is clean, and you have brisk mornings, which is the best way to start your day off in class. You will be able to do anything as long as you apply yourself to do your best.”
The job outlook for the wind energy industry is bright. According to onetonline.org, the need for wind turbine service technicians in Texas was forecast to increase 102% from 2020 to 2030. The average annual salary for a technician in Texas is $51,560, according to the website.
TSTC’s Wind Energy Technology program offers an Associate of Applied Science degree and a certificate of completion at the Harlingen and Sweetwater campuses.
For more information about TSTC, visit tstc.edu.