Innovation in education award for Western Tech

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Randy Kuykendall does what he does partly because of what a teacher once told him not to do.

“In high school I wanted to take wood shop,” says Kuykendall, a director of Western Technical College in El Paso. He was told that students in college-prep curriculum do not take shop classes.

Kuykendall wondered why college-track students were being dissuaded from vocational classes. He took woodworking anyway.

And that helps explain why Kuykendall, his son Brad and his brother-in-law Bill Terrell, who run Western Tech, will be honored later this month. But it’s also because of Western Tech’s nearly 50 years of service, growth – and perhaps most importantly, the success of its graduates.

The Hub of Human Innovation, a local nonprofit business incubator, has named Western Tech the inaugural recipient of its Innovation in Technical Training and Education award.

The award will be presented at the Hub’s 2017 El Paso Innovation Awards breakfast March 21. Two other award presentations – Innovation in Restaurant and Design, and Innovation in Downtown Redevelopment – will also be presented.

“Vocational school” once had a slightly negative ring to it, the perception being that only “advanced education” mattered, and why would anybody want to learn to fix appliances? Turns out people who can fix things are in demand.

Western Tech’s slogan, “College for the Real World,” aptly describes what the school offers students at its two local campuses. From its beginnings as El Paso Trade School, and name changes to Western Tech Institute and Western Tech College, the school has helped prepare more than 20,000 graduates for careers in countless vocational fields.

Students learned basic vocational skills, applied what they learned through internships with local companies, and settled into vital professions nationwide.

Randy Kuykendall, 65, and Bill Terrell, 58, are partners at family-owned and operated Western Tech. Randy’s son Brad, 31, is CEO.

Terrell’s grandfather, Mark, started the school in 1969, then sold it to his son, Marvin Terrell, who is Bill’s dad. Marvin brought in son-in-law Randy in 1974.

“We had seven employees,” said Randy of the trade school once located on Texas Street in Downtown El Paso. “Five were teachers; the other two of us did the rest.”

Bill Terrell joined the operation in 1979, wearing such hats over the years as receptionist, career service rep, admissions rep, director of admissions and school director.

“I had the opportunity to do all of those,” Terrell said, learning the ins and outs of running a business. Brad Kuykendall came in as CEO in late 2015. His dad and Bill are board members.

Western Tech now has 223 employees and 1,500 students at its main campus in far East El Paso and at its Northeast campus, training electricians, plumbers, auto mechanics, computer technicians, welders, various medical technicians, etc.

The school’s goal is to make its graduates highly versatile and highly employable. Western Tech also helps students learn their trades by partnering with local businesses through internships and hands-on training.

“The more we partner with industry, the better for all,” Randy said. “Everybody wins. These jobs are being filled by competent people.”

Terrell and Kuykendall say they’re surprised by the upcoming honor.

“There are lots of others who are deserving, and lots of good businesses here,” said Terrell. “We are a tradition here in town, but it’s still about the people we have.”

Added Kuykendall, “We’re very honored, and consider it a ‘shared’ honor with our employees, partners and students.”

“I’ve known Randy and Bill for 14 years, and I’ve seen them take the concept of a trade school and do something unique, and expand it,” said Joe Wardy, current Hub CEO and president, of 2017’s honoree.

“They’re very involved in the community, they dared to ‘step out there,’ and they’re willing to grow. They’re concerned about their graduates and are totally dedicated to serving their community.”

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