Faculty member prepares students for Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning and Refrigeration career….and life
Students in the Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning and Refrigeration (HVAC-R) program at the SJVC’s Trades Education Center (TEC) in Fresno are getting much more than they imagined when they first enrolled. They knew they would learn about heating and cooling principles, electrical theories, mechanical and electrical diagnostics and installation and service techniques, but they did not realize they would also learn what it means to work independently and the value of having a life-long advisor in the industry.
“A HVAC-R tech is outside on the go, kind of a lone wolf out there,” says Jason Reynolds, faculty member for the program. “Other trades always have an apprentice, but we’re by ourselves all day long.” And when you mostly work alone, you had better know what you are doing.
“I tell my students to remember this: When you leave school and start a job, your pay is going to be determined by what you know. And what you know is determined by how much time and attention you give your education. You are responsible for how much money you’re going to make.”
Jason also gives them an important lifetime resource. He considers himself on-call for graduates who get stuck on a problem while out in the field. He knows the value of that resource because he has been in that same situation when he started out in this industry.
In 2004-2006 Jason was an evening student in SJVC’s HVAC-R program and working full-time days in the heating and cooling industry. His knowledge was increasing daily, but sometimes not fast enough to figure out a piece of equipment that was malfunctioning. While on-the-job his program instructors generously patched the gaps in his knowledge – sometimes in the middle of the night.
“I had a restaurant’s walk-in freezer go down at 2:00 AM and wasn’t sure what I was running into,” says Jason. “There was a quarter million dollars of food in that freezer, so I called my instructor at 3:30 in the morning. He told me to call a dry ice place and pack the freezer full. He knew what was wrong and helped me get the part the next day. Sometimes it’s trial by fire. This lesson is part of my curriculum now on thinking what you can do to get this customer going immediately.” Along with the lesson to keep current resource contact information.
Jason was an attentive student who describes himself at that time as “an intelligent person, but always a mediocre student’. But he had a wide range of interests and knowledge that gave him lots of insight into almost any situation. And he really liked to share that information with others. “I was ‘Google’ for all my friends, and when they asked me something I would either know it or would find it out.”
His love of learning new things made teaching a natural segue. In 2012 he became a part-time faculty member for the same HVAC-R program that had given him his career education and training. By now he and his wife, Irene, had three children, Josiah, Priscella and Leesa. Jason balanced his day-job with instructing his evening HVAC-R classes with great encouragement from his family.
But when the college moved the HVAC-R program from evenings to days, Jason decided to commit to a start-up company that needed him full-time. It did not make him happy to let go of the faculty role he enjoyed so very much. “I absolutely loved it, every single minute of it,” he remembers. “I regretted leaving it every second.”
Over the next few years companies opened and closed and Jason worked steadily, strengthening his experience base. But teaching was his first love. When Irene pointed out that SJVC was looking for HVAC-R faculty, Jason did not hesitate. He submitted an employment application and was called the next day. It was a perfect reunion.
Jason brings a lot of work and life experience to the HVAC-R classroom. He recognizes that each of his students begins class with varying levels of skill, but will leave 18-months later much closer in knowledge and accomplishment. “One student doesn’t even know what a hammer is and there’s another student who can rebuild a car engine,” says Jason. “Because all of the students are different, I develop a lesson plan that approaches the same subject from several different angles.”
His teaching style expands to encompass various student learning capacities. “I don’t force my views on students, I just try to ask the right questions in order for them to find the right conclusions. No one really wants to be told what to do, so if I can encourage them to analyze a situation and come up with a solution, they don’t only retain more, they feel a sense of accomplishment.”
Sometimes there are serious struggles that can create frustration for students. “They might think they’re never going to understand something,” says Jason. “I tell them that it’s not that they won’t ever get it, it’s that they just haven’t gotten it yet. Then I try to figure out another way for us to approach it.”
When it all comes together, it is magical. “When they go from confusion to understanding – that look is priceless,” says Jason. “Man, when they get it, it’s just awesome.”
Jason has seen the HVAC-R classroom change over the years since he was a student, as more people are attracted to a career that offers great independence, growth potential and income stability. It is changing in another way, too. “HVAC-R is getting more females into the trade than a lot of other trades,” he says. “We are one of the fastest trades out there that females are joining.”
Jason encourages women to explore a career in Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning and Refrigeration. His mother was a trailblazer in a male dominated industry, and he remembers her struggles very well. “My mom was the first woman to work in ‘the field’ for the City Parks and Recreation Department where, if you were a woman, you worked in the office. She was a park maintenance worker for 30-years where she trimmed trees and cleaned up city parks at a time when women didn’t even think about moving into physical careers.”
His mother’s experience gave him a perspective of women in male-dominate occupations that shapes him today. “I don’t see women differently when it comes to work. If women want to do it and can do the work, they should be able to. My daughters are very empowered that way.”
Jason’s family is essential to his career success and impacts what he brings to the classroom. His wife is his strongest supporter. “She knows several of my students by name and asks how they’re doing. A lot of my students are younger, some have just gotten married or started families, and I might share a little bit about marriage. I squeeze in some life lessons because I want them to be successful in life, not just in their careers.”
When Jason’s students take a seat in his class, they do not realize there are fringe benefits not necessarily within the curriculum. They get a mentor, a life coach, a wealth of knowledge and experience and, yes, they get a phone number good for life.
What more could a newly honed Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning and Refrigeration technician wish for?
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