Electrical Technology program instructor brings field and life techniques into the classroom
In 2013, Eric Laumatia completed a short-term training program to become an electrician. The education he received was important to his career growth, but equally important were friendships he developed while in class that included the instructor, Jim DeBerry, and fellow classmate, Frank Saavedra.
“I’d had a great group of instructors and made a comment to Jim that I would pay it forward and help up-and-coming electricians the way I’d been helped,” says Eric.
Fast-forward six years. Jim is now the program director for SJVC’s Electrical Technology program on the Ontario campus and Frank is one of the program’s instructors. Eric and Frank were still good friends. “That’s the thing about electricians; we stay in contact,” says Eric.
One day, Frank casually asked Eric if he remembered that last-day-of-school comment he had made to Jim. “I knew what he was talking about, and it still rang true for me,” says Eric. There was an instructor position open and Jim and Frank were calling in the marker.
Eric was open for a change. He was working 80-plus hours a week and very much wanted more time with his wife Ursula and their 10-year-old daughter Ato. “I was already looking for a job in the electrical field that would let me get some time back without taking a hit on my paycheck.”
His work ethic made his current job a 24/7 commitment. “Everyone was on call,” he says. “We prided ourselves in being able to work when other people wouldn’t work.” That meant lots of hours, but also lots of earnings. “The money was great, but I didn’t have any time to be with my wife and my daughter and her activities.”
Frank was determined to pull Eric out of the field and into the classroom. “Frank gave me a good overview of what SJVC expects from instructors, where the program (Electrical Technology) stands and the labs that were being built.” The appeal was there.
He met with Jim to discuss the possibilities. “His first words to me were, ‘It’s about time’,” laughs Eric. All the elements came together. “It was exactly what I needed at the time,” says Eric.
Eric is just a few months into his new instructor position, but it feels very familiar to him. “This is my first teaching job, but I’ve spent many years teaching Sunday school and coaching sports,” he says. “I teach my class the same way I coach. I provide a lot of hands-on group activities and competition, with quizzes at the end.”
Some of Eric’s instruction can’t be found in books. “I write on the board every morning, under our ‘objectives’: Always be better than you were the day before,” he says. “I tell them to always be where they say they’re going to be. If you’re going to be at a job at a certain time; be there at that time. Always be accountable.”
Eric relates to his students because he knows their struggles. “It was not too long ago that I was in their shoes,” he says. “I understand the problems and challenges they are facing. A lot are dealing with cultural issues where education isn’t as important as that instant gratification of a paycheck. They limit their lives and potential based on immediate financial needs. But there’s a difference between a job and a career. A career is for the long run to support your family. A job is for right now.”
Eric wants to help break that cycle. “In our trade, you have to be confident,” he says. “It’s my job to give them (students) the tools, the opportunities and the environment to feel confident in their skills.”
He has a teaching style that gives students their best chance at getting to that place. “I’m very aggressive on teaching concepts,” says Eric. “I sit back during labs. I let them make mistakes and find the best way to fix them. Around week two or week three, they start to understand why I do that. That’s the best way to develop trouble-shooting skills; and by week four, they start fixing their own mistakes before they even ask for my help.”
Eric most enjoys watching his students’ knowledge grow. “When they come in, they know nothing about the subject; and on the last day of class, so many of them shake my hand and tell me they’re better electricians for taking that class.”
“They are rock stars,” says Robyn Whiles, Campus President, of Eric’s Electrical Technology class. “They encourage each other to attend, and hold each other accountable. The students appreciate their instructor and don’t want to miss anything Eric Laumatia has to say.”
Students rise to a higher skill level and gain deeper confidence, even at an accelerated pace. And they do it as a team. “The way I ensure that none of my students gets left behind is by building a team atmosphere in the class to where students will actively help each other out,” says Eric. “By the last week, everyone is involved, and there’s not one person sitting back.”
Eric has a strong sense of responsibility for the success of every one of his students. He came from a large Polynesian family and, as the oldest, was often in charge of his younger siblings. “My mom (Eliza) told me to always take care of those around you,” he says. “It’s very hard for me to turn away from anyone who needs help.”
Eric is enjoying the extra time his new position gives him to be more involved in coaching his daughter’s softball team. “I’ve been able to be there for every practice and every game,” he says. As one of four coaches for The Moreno Valley Shooting Stars, Eric saw the team go undefeated in the Softball World Series, which is comprised of 300 teams from many countries. “My students (SJVC) were very involved, and they cheered us on.”
Eric is the first in his family to be a college instructor and credits Jim DeBerry with planting those seeds of inspiration. “His genuine interest in students, their well-being…If someone was struggling, he took the time to help them out.” He would like to ensure that ideal is carried on.
His eyes constantly search his classroom, looking for that spark. “There are many I see potential in to become instructors,” says Eric. “I would hope they would go and have prosperous careers in the field, and when they’re ready, they can come back and pay it forward, as well.” It will be Eric’s turn to make that phone call that pulls them back into the classroom.
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