(ROSENBERG, Texas) – Texas State Technical College has been around a long time. Prior to 1991, TSTC was known as Texas State Technical Institute. During the college’s entire lifetime, no matter its name, graduates have been shaping the workforce of Texas and helping to lead industries into the future.
Steve Abernathy is one such graduate. His work has been essential in nuclear safety and the natural gas and oil fields. And TSTI helped get him where he is today.
Abernathy grew up in Waco, Texas. After graduating from high school, he didn’t have a direction for his life. He ended up working for seven years for the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad, during which time he met his wife and started a family.
It was a hard schedule. He worked every day and was often gone from home for weeks at a time. During the time he was working for the railway, his wife attended TSTI in Waco. As the years went by, Abernathy and his wife decided that a new lifestyle was in order. He ended up looking into TSTI and its programs.
While he initially wanted to go into chemistry, he ended up choosing the Nuclear Technology program, in no small part thanks to the head of the department, Bill Kesler. During his time at TSTI, Kesler would remain an important mentor for Abernathy, who graduated with an associate degree and began working at Texas Tech University in the mid-’80s.
Of his time at TSTI, Abernathy said he found solid confidence in himself and what he could do. He remembers spending days in the lab studying and learning about TRIGA reactors, one of which was at nearby Texas A&M University.
“My time at TSTI really helped me with practical application,” Abernathy stated.
That practical application came in handy during his time at Texas Tech. He became its radiation and safety tech manager at a time when proper safety protocols for radioactive materials such as depleted uranium rods were not set in place.
He recalled that at the time, anyone who had depleted uranium rods were to return them to the U.S. Department of Energy in Idaho. The only problem was that no one knew how to do so safely, so very few people did. Abernathy spent six months figuring out how to safely move the rods, documenting the process along the way. Soon, everyone was reaching out to him to discover how.
Abernathy’s knack for developing and documenting programs and procedures would carry with him through the rest of his career. During the early ’90s, he wrote papers on and joined many discussions regarding nuclear safety regulations. He worked with both the Texas Bureau of Radiation Control and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to develop safety procedures.
After his time at Texas Tech, he was recruited by Haliburton to run its field operations program. He was eventually promoted to director of quality for North America before becoming the global director of quality, a position he held for three to four years.
It was during his time at Haliburton that he transitioned toward operations and developing new programs rather than working directly with energy.
“I never imagined this is where I’d end up,” Abernathy said. “I was always seeking knowledge, and I realized that everything I did was regarding how to make the business better.”
He continues to work on the operational side of the energy business as vice president of Service Excellence and Advanced Analytics at Archrock, based in Memorial City. He credits TSTI with helping him take the first steps toward where he is today.
“My advice for those looking into or attending TSTC is to be a lifelong learner,” Abernathy stated. “That in itself will create value. You can’t beat that. You can’t beat work ethic.”
For more information about TSTC, go to tstc.edu.