Faculty Connections – Meet Ricardo Castillo

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Ricardo, 37, was born in Corpus Christi, but grew up in Los Fresnos, a small south Texas town just north of the border. Ricardo is Lead Electrical Instructor at Tulsa Welding School & Technology Center in Houston. He joined the school in May 2022, a month before the first rollout of the Electrical Applications program.

Thanks for your time, Ricardo; tell us a little about how your electrical career got started.

I’ve been doing electrical work going on 16 years. My brother-in-law got me into it. I moved to Houston to live with him and my sister in around 2007. When I first moved to Houston, I obtained a job as a car salesman at a dealership, but it wasn’t really for me. My brother-in-law kept telling me I should come do electrical work with him because he needed a helper. So, since I didn’t enjoy being a car salesman, I went  and started my career as an apprentice electrician, and he was shocked about it! Since I was living with them already, I had a free ride to work, I didn’t have to spend money on gas. It made sense to me!

ricardo castillo

I started working as his helper and he taught me as much as possible. I saw he was doing good financially, and how much he enjoyed it. The projects they put him on were special commercial projects, so I really wasn’t out doing the usual grunt work. I was inside the buildings, working on panels, working on distribution equipment. I enjoyed doing that with him, so he’s definitely the one that lead me into electrical.

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So over 16 years in the field, what kind of work did you do?

I’ve done residential, commercial, and industrial. I started off doing commercial work with him, then my brother-in-law moved on, but I stayed with the company. They moved me from the commercial side over to the service department. I was still only a helper at the time, but I was doing service work, going into businesses, people’s homes, doing any type of service work with a technician. I did that for a few years while I attended a four-year trade school in Houston. After the four-year program, I was tired of Houston. I wanted to move back home to Corpus, so that’s what I did. While in Corpus Christi, I joined the Local Union 278. I was down there for eight years. I did residential and commercial services. They also sent me to a refinery job in an industrial plant; that’s when I learned how to do industrial work with aluminum rigid pipe. I started working with the maintenance hands. I started to learn motor controls, PLC, MOVs and all different types of components and relays.

I’ve done a lot of different things. While I was in Houston, I even worked in streetlighting for a few months. We helped out with traffic lights, stop lights, the walk/don’t walk signs – all kinds of lights and signs. I learned how to program them as well.

As a kid what did you want to be?

In high school I wanted to be a firefighter. I even joined the volunteer fire department and got to experience the life of a firefighter. I have an uncle who was a fireman and I really wanted to do that. It was hard to join the department, so I moved to Houston and became an electrician!

What made you go into teaching?

I moved down to Brownsville, TX, in 2019 and started working as a maintenance technician for a company at a factory. I worked the second shift, from 2pm until 11.40pm, but that meant I didn’t get to see my kids. I worked six days a week and I missed out on my son’s flag football games, my kids’ school activities. I started to look around, and I ran across an ad for an Electrical Instructor at a trade school in Brownsville. At first, I thought being a teacher would be a joke because I was one of the worst students in high school. I hated school. But, after I saw the ad, I thought more about it. I thought electrical is something I really like doing, I’m pretty good at it, and the hours and pay would be better. So, long story short, I sent my résumé, and they called me the very next day.

I did their training for two weeks and shadowed an instructor for three weeks. Then COVID hit, the world changed, and everything was going to be 100% online using Zoom. So not only was I brand new to teaching, but I had to learn how to do all this on the internet. Anyway, we got through it and once we were allowed to go back in-person, I started going to campus. It was so much easier engaging students in person rather than through a computer screen. After several months they made me lead instructor, and then asked me to manage the program. I had to learn how to order material, how to keep students retained. I had to learn all this, and I still had to teach my own classes day and night.

So, how did you land at TWSTC in Houston last year?

Ms. Kimberly Knox was the campus director of that school in Brownsville. She joined Tulsa Welding School in March 2022. They were opening up an Electrical program in the summer and she asked my DOE at the time if I was interested in helping her run the program here in Houston. So, Ms. Kimberly gave me the opportunity to come here. I talked it over with my kids who still live down south, and I made a big sacrifice to go ahead and try this.

What do you like best about teaching?

When students who come here knowing nothing and walk out at the end of a day excited because they made a light turn on! Everybody does it, every single day; we all turn on a light switch. But nobody thinks about the hard work that was put into making that light work or appreciates it until you lose power. So, when these individuals walk in here knowing nothing about electrical work, and I see their eyes light up just as bright as the light that turns on  – that’s what makes me enjoy teaching. It’s the joy of seeing them accomplish something, make something work, and the fact that they are so excited that they want to record it and put it on Snapchat or Instagram. Stuff like that right there is what makes me enjoy teaching.

Tell me something most people don’t know about you.

Most people don’t know that I’m a musician. I’ve been playing instruments since I was a child. The drums are my favorite instrument; I’ve been playing since I was 8 years old. I’d play at bars with my father’s group at 13 years old. My father got me into the music world. My whole family are musicians. I have cousins and uncles that have been playing since their childhood. My grandpa, may he rest in peace, was the one that got us all into it. Even my mom at one time played the bass and my dad played the keyboard; they’d go to restaurants, just set up and play for tips.

If you could choose to have dinner with anyone, alive or dead, who would that be.

Well Britney Spears is still alive, so I still have a shot with her! But I’d say my grandfather Pablo Serrata. He’s the only grandparent that I never was able to share a meal with. I would love to hear some of his war stories, or just to hear what his voice sounded like.

Tell us about your family, Ricardo.

My kids still live down south with their mother. I have three children; Ricardo is 12 years old; Moises is 11, and my darling daughter, Aidelee is eight. It’s hard being away from them. It’s a sacrifice that I’ve had to make to move up here. I hope one day that they see that making sacrifices, doing things outside of their comfort zone, will help them succeed in life and accomplish their goals. We FaceTime and visit each other as often as possible.

You get an unexpected day off, what would you do?

I’d stay at home and barbecue; just cook out in the barbecue pit, drink some adult beverages, and just relax, try to get over all the stress. Just once to not hear my phone ding every five minutes would be amazing. It feels like I’m at school 28 hours a day, eight days a week, at the moment. We’re opening up an afternoon shift. So very soon, next month, I’m there morning, afternoon, and night.

What was your favorite part of the industry when you worked in the field?

Honestly, I think I enjoyed the service side the most. Job to job was different; I wasn’t doing the same thing all the time. One hour you’re doing one thing, the next hour you’re doing something completely different. Also because of the different people I’d meet, the conversations I had. I’d meet people and we’d get to talk and discover that we know the same people. It’s such a small world sometimes. Plus, on service you’re always driving, you run into restaurants that you need to try, or different stores you didn’t know.

What advice do you have for new students just starting out at TWS?

Don’t get discouraged. When I was in school, there were times when I wanted to quit because I couldn’t understand and would get frustrated. I’ve always hated schooling. This trade will get you to make sacrifices, work long hours, relocate, drive from city to city, and it can get very tiring. Just keep working. Keep your head up, keep going. The end result is very rewarding. Continue to educate yourself once you graduate. Remember, just because you come to a trade school to get your license and get hours under your belt doesn’t mean you’re done with learning when you leave. You still need to educate yourself every three years; there are new codes to stay up to date with. So, stay educated, keep asking questions, don’t assume anything or act like you know everything because you can get yourself or somebody else hurt. Always ask questions if you don’t know what you’re doing. Most importantly, remember to be safe.

What was your favorite tool of the trade when you worked in the field?

My favorite tool was my watch, or my phone to see what time it was, so that I could go home. That would be my favorite tool ever. Anything that’s going to tell me to cut it off, go home and turn on the barbecue pit!

If you could tell anyone “Thank you” for helping you become who you are today who would that be?

My grandmother, Erlinda Serrata. She passed away a few years ago, and she helped me become the person I am today. She fell and broke her hip; she couldn’t do a lot of stuff around the house. She was always the one making food, washing clothes, washing the dishes. And after she got hurt, I had just finished high school, I was going to university school in the evening. So, in the mornings I was at home, I’d help her around the house. I was always taking care of her. I think helping her like that made me more responsible and made me the man I am today.