Wednesday, December 15, 2010

State Of The Art Gear At Tech School Worth Billions - All Donated

What's all this fuss about airplanes? The Army already has two of them. - Sen. Flugelhorn, OH.

Waco – When it comes to the so-called peace dividend, the old Capitol Hill Air Force joke is nowhere better illustrated than at Texas State Technical College.

The story goes this way. After the top brass build the bowling alley, the PX, the officers' bungalows, the swimming pool, the gym and that all-important golf course, they come back to the Hill for the money to throw in some runways and hangars.

You create a need, then you fill it; you make a market, then service it with supplies, parts, trained workers and engineers.

It's worked well in wars both cold and hot, and you'd best believe the eagles circle in the skies overhead.

This is the place where President George W. Bush parked Air Force One when he was at the Western White House in Crawford. Likewise, the Saudi Royal Family keeps at least one private airliner on tap, serviced and ready, with multiple flight crews standing by around the clock.

It's a big family.

Hangars, barracks, family housing – even a golf course - and thousands upon thousands of yards of reinforced runways engineered for heavy bombers sprawl across the rawboned Texas prairie at Waco.

Originally designed and dedicated as a World War Two Strategic Air Command training base where thousands upon thousands of cadets got their wings to fly B-17's and 24's, James Connally Air Force Base is
today a bustling combination of a state of the art industrial education center and the home of such major electronic warfare defense corporations as L3 and Chrysler.

Texas State Technical College is filling a desperate need for qualified workers to tackle the kind of high tech assignments that offer quality employment and benefits in today's global market place.

It's part of a system of three campuses located on ex-military installations. The south Texas plant is at Harlingen and there is a similar school at Sweetwater in west Texas.

There's a Catch, but it's not that famous satirical number 22 of World War Two fame.

To learn how to blend industrial gases for complex petrochemical reactions that lead to the formulation of pesticides, fertilizers and other high dollar agribusiness chemicals worth way more than motor fuel or lubricants, you need the gear that is good to go on the job.
Bio-medical monitoring equipment means the difference between life and death in surgeries and ICU wards worldwide. Aside from its complex operation, who is going to diagnose and repair its delicate mechanisms?

A small publishing firm needs to offer turn-key on-line cataloging and incoming 800-number sales and service to sophisticated consumers of machine tools, oil field equipment, or automotive supplies. Not only is job one a high cash flow monster, the security ramifications of servicing multiple industrial clients is a caution. Hackers could have a field day with confidential money transactions and sensitive consumer information. How do you construct and maintain a firewall and encryption system to safeguard against anything from sabotage to outright theft?

You train the people you need, and they need to have hands-on experience with state of the art gear. Where does it all come from? According to Bob Simonette, a department chairman in the college's electronic media and webpage design program, “It's all donated.”

In a question and answer period following his orientation day presentation, he is asked if he could estimate the worth of the equipment donated to the school by industries needing qualified workers.

“I'm not sure. It's in the billions.” He shrugs, smiles, acknowledges that he runs three computer labs with 20 machines each loaded with the latest software – both PC's and Mac's – and industrial donors picked up the tab.

This guy makes it sound like it's the only way to fly.

He's probably right.

The college has a flight training program that turns out qualified private and commercial pilots on a routine basis. They train them in single and dual-engine aircraft. Jet engine service? There is a hangar filled with equipment and students. Computer-driven machine tools? Ditto. State of the art welding – it's a very important job in the Texas oil fields – is handled in a department that trains and places fitters and welders all over the oil patch, from its most remote locations offshore to the big enchilada at Houston.

The point is that all the gear – from the airplanes to the engines, the lathes and milling machines, and the computers that drive them – were donated by manufacturers who need to get qualified workers up and running so they can keep it in the road and moving ahead.

It's a theme that runs through his talk. His one and only Power Point slide quotes a Plano business developer named Andy Rutledge who writes extensively about education.

“Education isn't something you get. It's something you take; it's something you steal.”

What kind of people go to TSTC? Mostly guys. In fact, according to Autumn Outlaw, the chief of new student orientation, the gender breakdown is about three-quarters male and one-quarter female.

Not to worry, she told a class of new students assembled in a modern auditorium. With 36,000 college students in the Waco area, meeting women is not a problem. The school provides free tickets to all of Baylor University's sporting events, McLennan Community College has an extensive nursing degree program, and local attractions find ways to comp students who are out on a lark to a good time.

Everyone who stays in business long knows a market when they see one.

The lady is filled with practical tips and information. For instance, DPS Troopers lurk at the Crest exits on I-35 leading to the campus. They know when classes commence and they know students who are late are going to speed. Besides, the DPS headquarters unit is located.

All financial aid money is put on a “Tech One ID” that just happens to double as a Master Card. If you use the ATM at the Recreation Center, you don't pay a fee.

Registered Nurses are standing by at the Student Health Center to apply Band-Aids and butterflies, dispense aspirin and assess medical conditions. They also sell health insurance there. You could save yourself thousands of dollars by taking advantage of the system, she advises new students.

She began by introducing herself as “The only named Outlaw on campus...There are many outlaws on campus, but I'm the only named Outlaw.” Hard to forget a name like that. It's a big family.

The final orientation experience came when the students hit the computer lab to learn to log-in and give themselves a password. People do everything from check their grades and change their schedules to register for classes, apply for grants and scholarships and leave messages for the faculty.

Communication is the key to everything, but there are rules.

Said Carrie Bernal, a key player in the Office of Information Services, “These are not your home machines; these are state machines.” Misuse or any other hanky panky will get you kicked out.

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