BY AMANDA SOTELO
Valley native Maria Contreras is making a name for herself in the wind energy industry, a career field traditionally dominated by men.
Contreras graduated Fall 2015 with a 3.5 gradepoint average and earned an Associate of Applied Science Degree in Wind Energy and Turbine Technology. Even before receiving her degree on stage, she had already accepted a job offer in her field with Duke Energy Renewable Services in Armstrong, Texas.
She now works as a Technician Level I and said TSTC and her Department Chair and Instructor David Gomez helped prepare her for this time in her life.
“Mr. Gomez prepared me for the fundamentals of my job,” said Contreras. “I wasn’t blindsided when I began working. My foundation was set.”
Contreras was one of five females in the program and said she loved every moment because she had the best instructors, mentors and handson training available.
Before enrolling at TSTC, Contreras worked as a truck driver, a position she took right after graduating from PSJA High School in 2001. She described her time as a truck driver challenging because not many people believed she could do it.
“It’s a male-dominated field, and I was the outcast,” said Contreras. “Men would give me wrong directions so I could get lost and get my load delivered late. It was a learning experience though, because I came to realize that I could only truly rely on myself and I was the only one in charge of my success. So I decided I needed an education and TSTC was there for me.”
Of course, Contreras is quick to point out that her parents were her biggest encouragers.
“My parents have always made me strive to become better,” said Contreras. “They taught me how to stand firm on my own two feet and work hard every day.”
Working hard is one of the traits that make her stand out to her instructor and current employer.
“We are so happy for Maria and her job placement,” said Gomez. She is a very diligent, hardworking and respectful individual.”
“The first time I met Maria, I could tell she had a lot of drive and very big goals for herself. It caught my attention,” said Cody Vincent, supervisor of wind operations at Duke Energy Renewable Services. “She is a very hard worker and TSTC gave her the proper tools she needed to be prepared for the job at hand. She also always has a smile on her face and all of the site workers enjoy working with her.”
Not only does this New Year mean a new career for Contreras, but it also means a new university. She will continue her education at Texas A&M University-Kingsville, where she will pursue a bachelor’s degree in Industrial Engineering.
“TSTC helped me accomplish my goal of graduating from college,” said Contreras. “But they also helped me recognize that it doesn’t stop here. I want more.”
Students in TSTC’s Wind Energy and Turbine Technology learn the basic skills needed to be successful in the field: electrical, mechanical, hydraulic, pneumatic, computer control and climbing skills, and last, but not least, safety awareness.
Gomez said the department’s general job placement rate is 94 percent.
“A part of my job is not only teaching them skills, but also placing them in their first job,” said Gomez. “I help my students build their resumè and I contact employers to help them network.”
In the Rio Grande Valley alone, there are four major wind energy companies. Duke Energy Renewable Services, IKEA Group, NextEra Energy and E.ON Climate and Renewables. Gomez said he is currently placing the majority of his students here in the Rio Grande Valley.
According to Gomez, the starting pay for a wind turbine technician is currently $20 per hour. Based on performance and productivity, a technician can earn more annually.
“There is a wind energy boom in South Texas right now, from Corpus Christi to the Rio Grande Valley,” said Gomez. “Every time a new wind farm is erected they need wind turbine technicians and our students are trained for these
jobs.” Wind Energy and Turbine Technology is also offered at the TSTC campus in West Texas. For more information on the program locally, call Gomez at 956-364-4780.