(WACO, Texas) – After working throughout the country in the space industry, Clara Salazar has come back to the place where it all started.
Salazar graduated in 2020 from Texas State Technical College’s Waco campus with an Associate of Applied Science degree in Avionics Technology. Now she is teaching with some of her former instructors. She began working at TSTC in November 2022.
“I fully expect a few challenges, as she is likely to be younger than many of our students, who tend to come to the course with life experience,” said Martin Segraves, chair of TSTC’s Avionics Technology department. “She also needs to develop her teaching style, which will only happen with practice as she learns what works well for her. I fully expect that she will learn and grow as she encounters times when she struggles. That is part of the process of instructor development.”
Salazar is eager to continue sharing her industry knowledge with students.
“I want to see them bring new technology and new ideas to the Texas-based aviation industry,” she said. “They can bring in fresh knowledge and an abundance of information.”
Salazar said there are great opportunities for students who want to work in the fast-growing aviation and space industry. She also said more women are needed in the field.
“Companies need that diversity in the workplace, and companies strive to achieve that diversity,” she said. “They go out of their way to seek out those female workers to create a growing environment.”
Salazar grew up in Corpus Christi. Seeing NASA’s Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center with her father, who made regular trips to Houston, was an inspiration to her.
Salazar learned about TSTC through her brother, who was working at SpaceX in McGregor. Her goal while at Flour Bluff High School in Corpus Christi was to pursue a bachelor’s degree, but she realized that she wanted to get to work as quickly as possible.
She did not know what avionics was until she learned more about TSTC.
“It was a smooth transition during the first semester,” Salazar said. “The instructors made sure all the classes were very engaged in technology a lot to keep us focused on what we would be doing in the future.”
Salazar said TSTC gave her a great foundation to learn from in her work, particularly her experience with hand tools.
“Clara was an exceptional student,” said Dane Kunkler, an instructor in TSTC’s Avionics Technology program. “She asked the hard questions and looked beyond her training and what it could offer her for the future. She was a volunteer tutor for some of the more challenging courses. Her talent for mathematics was very helpful.”
Salazar began work at SpaceX at Boca Chica Beach in Cameron County after graduation from TSTC. She worked with electrical systems, heavy equipment and large wire harnesses during her time there.
“There were beach days on my off time, but it was over-70-hour work weeks,” she said. “I worked six days a week.”
After working at SpaceX for a year, Salazar followed a group of engineers and management to work at a startup satellite company in California. She later moved to Seattle and worked for Blue Origin doing development and research.
When a faculty spot opened up in TSTC’s Avionics Technology program, Kunkler and Segraves knew just who they wanted to fill the position.
“It was not an easy decision, but it was the solid decision that was the best for the future and for the students,” Salazar said. “The decision was made based on what I could do for other people. I knew the students could get super motivated.”
For more information on TSTC, go to tstc.edu.