VC Process Technology Program students win national troubleshooting title

Victoria College Process Technology Program students Dave Garcia, left, and Derrick Giddings view the big-screen TV to develop skills needed to compete in the North American Process Technology Alliance’s 2021 Troubleshooting Skills Competition.

The four-member “Team DCDR” surrounded the big-screen TV in Room 226 of Victoria College’s Industrial Training Center on the afternoon of April 24, anxiously waiting to hear the final results of the North American Process Technology Alliance’s 2021 Troubleshooting Skills Competition.

San Jacinto College had won the last three titles and was the favored to win it again. Victoria College Process Technology Program students Dave Garcia, Kyle Cooley, Derrick Giddings and Rolando Garza felt they had performed well in the virtual event. But their confidence wavered after the third- and second-place teams were announced.

“They announce the top three and start with third place, then announce second place and, finally, first place,” said Lawrence Wick, VC process technology assistant professor and coach of Team DCDR. “San Jacinto College always has a very strong team, so when they weren’t announced as the third- or second-place finisher, I got a little worried.”

“I was thinking if we won, then San Jacinto got second place,” Giddings said. “When they announced the second-place team and it wasn’t San Jacinto, my heart kind of dropped.”

But Team DCDR’s fears were laid to rest when it was announced that the Victoria College foursome had won.

“I’m on Cloud 9,” Garcia said. “San Jacinto wrote our troubleshooting book, but we were up for the challenge. We weren’t in this to just do our best. We were in it to win. That was our mentality throughout the whole thing.”

Nineteen teams representing five states and Ecuador qualified for the competition. Victoria College had qualified just one time before in 2018. Teams must troubleshoot in areas including three-phase separation, absorption, biodiesel distillation, boiler systems, compressors, cooling towers, decanters and ethanol dehydration and fermentation.

“Troubleshooting is very important to the industry, because it affects quality, safety, performance, efficiency and the environment,” Wick said. “These all affect a company’s bottom line.”

The four VC students, who will all receive their Process Technology Certificate this spring, began preparing for the competition almost a year ago.

“When we first met and started to get to know each other, we did a few exercises, and that brought us a lot closer,” Cooley said.

“We all came together as a team,” Garza said. “No one stepped on anyone’s toes. All ideas from each member were taken into account.”

The team members complemented each other with their specific skills and personalities.

“All our strengths worked together,” Giddings said. “Kyle is just a natural, and he had the full concept of what was going on. Dave’s strength was his focus, and Rolando’s strength was his detail. And me, I’m a natural-born troubleshooter, because I’ve looked for trouble all my life.”

Team DCDR felt confident after the early rounds of the competition.

“Round 1 is usually relatively easy,” Wick said. “When they came out of Round 4, they said they felt really good about it. That’s when I felt they had a really good chance.”

“I’m not as optimistic as the rest of the guys,” Cooley said. “I was doubting us pulling it off. But all our product was on spec, and we solved all of the scenarios pretty quickly.”

To add to the drama, the announcer stammered while trying to say the winning team. Finally, he got the words “Team DCDR” out to the joy of the group in Room 226.

“I went through the ceiling,” said Giddings, who was still high-fiving his teammates three days later. “National champions! I give major credit the Mr. Wick. He spotted us and picked us out for the team.”

“It took a lot of teamwork,” Garza said. “We went in there with a strategy, and we stuck with it. That’s what helped us through.”

Now, thanks to their hard work, the four team members can make a very impressive addition to their résumés.

“This team gelled from the very beginning,” Garcia said. “We would do extra hours with Mr. Wick every week. We’d go to the library and do some self-study. We took this very seriously.”

“This is such a busy time of the year,” Wick said. “They have finals and other things going on. But they still found the time to practice. Placing in the top three is quite an accomplishment. But the guys were saying they wanted to go for it and take first.”

For more information on VC’s Process Technology Program, call (361) 573-3291 or visit