From Vision to Success: Western Technical College’s 50-year Journey

Hispanic Community April 2024 PREMIUM

Western Technical College has been constantly evolving for fifty years, emphasizing its responsiveness to community needs, diverse student support, and career-focused education. It has always been committed to providing quality training in a caring, professional environment, ensuring student success.

Once upon a time, in a sleepy border town, some men had a vision. They took a careful look at the community. They saw that people needed jobs, and they saw that that the community could use more welders. What they saw next was a vision—they envisioned a school in which students could learn to become welders and earn some money to support themselves. They called the school Western Technical Institute. That happened more than 50 years ago. Fast forward to 2024. The town became a city. The welders are still there; the school is still there; the need is still there. But they don’t all look like the first ones. Customers walked in and said, “You’re so good at this, why don’t you teach some other things?” “Some other things” became today’s dozen programs; “some other things” became campuses on two sides of the city. The “institute” became Western Technical College in El Paso, Texas.

The first program has never gone away, and people’s need for jobs has not gone away, but modern responses to community needs and social and industrial progress call for innovation and expansion. The community needs nurses, and Western Tech stepped up and designed a program that could potentially turn out 90 nurses in a year. Most nursing alumni take two gifts to their worksites. They take their medical skill sets, and because they are mostly Hispanic, they also take their first language to their patients. Graduates are gratefully welcomed at local hospitals. Program Director Patricia Herbias, DNP, staying attuned to the needs her program can help eradicate, attended an event at which Educate Texas and HCA Healthcare Foundation brought together key leaders and partners in El Paso to explore creative approaches for overcoming workforce challenges in the system. Dr. Herbias is Hispanic and bilingual in Spanish and English. She’s also an Army vet.

Another healthcare program that is filling identified community needs is Physical Therapy Assistant. Given a climate chosen by retirees, in a state that boasts its “Friday night lights,” in a city with hundreds of combat returnees, physical therapists are always in demand. The exam pass rate for this program is 100%; the placement rate is 100%. 

Another healthcare program for Medical Clinic Assistants sends out dozens of grads annually to provide essential support to nurses and doctors. All three healthcare programs send Hispanics (usually Spanish speakers) into the community healthcare systems. Program Directors in all three programs are models of those who know their students, teachers, and worksites. 

MCA Director, Amanda Avila, serves on the Education Committee of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Through that contact, Workforce Solutions Borderplex (WSB) invited her to a meeting at which they learned about Texas Tech University’s need for MCAs. The community leaders want to begin a pilot program to help Western Tech’s MCA graduates fill that need at Texas Tech. WSB can help with daycare expenses or cover the entire cost. WSB might also provide stipends for MCA students willing to do an internship at Texas Tech. In recognition of the MCA program’s service possibilities, this program is folded into the City’s Recompete grant submission.

Avila is constantly aware of the percentage of her students who are single female parents, and she knows how to flex when the students need to attend at a different time, need opportunities to make up work, and need help when family issues are overtaking the time to attend school and do homework. It helps that she is Hispanic, lives within the same family structure as her students, and is a Spanish speaker.

Are we, as a nation, looking toward Mars? While the local university focused on engineers, Western Tech opened its Aerospace and Defense Technology program. This two-year technical program prepares the technicians, the go-no-go people who play the role of lifesavers tasked with deciding that a rocket should not only launch smoothly but also return safely to Earth. Alums from this program have been chosen by such prestigious entities as Lockheed Martin, White Sands, Blue Origin, and Los Alamos. All four have screening requirements that far exceed those of most companies, and when they want top-quality technicians, they turn to Western Tech.

The College is a “military friendly” school. It receives soldiers from Fort Bliss, one of the largest military installations in the United States. This means that faculty and staff must be prepared to work with the physically wounded as well as with diagnosed PTSD students. All of it goes into the mix: military and civilians, young and older, male and female, and those who identify differently. All are welcome, and Western Tech works diligently five days a week and sometimes on weekends to meet their special needs to provide them with the skills they need to acquire the certificates and degrees they will use to transition smoothly into the workforce. 

The College itself is “family friendly.” While that is not an official designation, the school can lay claim to it because of the ways in which they consider student and staff family needs. The school has been family-owned for more than 50 years. The owners are men with families, and they understand the issues of having a good job, having too little time, childrearing, and others’ laying claims on their energy. This bodes well for their students as they are inclined to appreciate the work-life balance and the desire most of us have to spend time with family. 

Western Technical College’s Mission is “to provide quality training and education in a caring, professional environment that prepares new students and working adults with the skills they need to succeed and advance in their chosen careers.” That is exactly what it is doing.


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