Sweetwater Wind Energy Technology

(HARLINGEN, Texas) – A man dangles in a harness from a platform high above, head down and limbs hanging. Slowly, his colleague leaves the platform and maneuvers toward him for a rescue.

Below, Patrick Zoerner, a Texas State Technical College Wind Energy Technology instructor, monitors the rescue training session.

“Are you going to be able to reach that?” he calls up to his student. “Work smart, not hard.”

Just outside of the training area, new student Caleb Smith watches — he will begin classes in the Wind Energy Technology program in August.

Smith, a former Marine, became interested in wind energy when he saw wind turbines while living in Oklahoma. After moving to Texas, he saw many more.

“It’s just kind of a job opportunity,” he said. “I thought it’d be cool to work on those.”

Smith was on campus in Harlingen during an open house for the Wind Energy Technology program. The event aimed to connect prospective students with instructors before clearing them for registration.

There were only a couple of spaces left for the fall, TSTC enrollment coach Jonathan Martinez said.

“I think (wind energy is) booming — you see the windmills everywhere popping up,” he said. “I think that’s very intriguing to (students). It’s a great career.”

Wind turbine service technicians earn a median annual salary of $49,840, while wind energy project managers can net $116,240 each year, according to data from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration available at onetonline.org.

Many students who Martinez helps enroll are there through word of mouth. They have friends currently in the program or have heard about the types of lessons and opportunities available in the industry. Other prospective students enroll in the hopes of switching careers.

“I think that’s also a reflection of how well this program is doing,” he said.

The Wind Energy Technology program fills up fast, but Martinez still urges interested students to reach out to him.

“They can start working on getting cleared now,” he said. “Don’t get discouraged if it’s full. We can get you in as soon as we can.”

During the open house, Zoerner described the goals of the rescue training session.

“As I tell them, it’s all fine and dandy here. Make the mistakes here, what have you. But 400 feet in the air, better have your A game going,” he said. “The sun, the heat, the wind, the dirt in your face — that’s the nature of the beast.”

Together, the students safely reached the ground and unclipped their harnesses.

Zoerner shook Smith’s hand.

“Welcome to the program,” he said. “Glad to have you.”

Registration for the fall semester is underway. For more information, visit tstc.edu.

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