Faculty Q&A with HVAC-R Instructor Leonard Kimbler
Leonard Kimbler, the instructor for HVAC-R (Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning and Refrigeration) training at the Rancho Mirage campus, is known for having a real passion for his work. But at the age of 17, he had turned down an incredible offer to work at a nearby international company that built the Space Shuttle for NASA. Leonard had a falling out with his mother, and he found himself homeless and on the streets for almost two years. Before that, in high school, Leonard had been noticed for showing amazing academic prowess. In the long run he knew his mom was looking out for his long-term interest, but as he says, “Being young and still a kid, I thought I knew it all.”
There is a good ending to this story, however, because wisdom does come from experience: Leonard has worked his way up and found his true calling as an inspiring teacher for the students on the Rancho Mirage campus in the HVAC-R program to become an electrician. Here is how he tells it:
Q: Tell us a little about your background.
A: I was born in Linwood, CA in 1968. I have always been the kind of person that people tell to please slow down; I’m going at 110% all the time! As a young man I wanted to be a drafting engineer. I learned so quickly in high school the teacher had to make me his assistant because he had nothing more to teach me. I don’t know how, but the word got around and a couple of engineering companies in the area, Rockwell International being one, approached me to come look at them. It was the first time I got to play on a CAD (Computer Aided Drafting) program. I was so into it they had to pull me off! In the end they offered to put me up in a house and pay for my food to come work for them. I didn’t realize then what a great opportunity it was and turned it down.
Q: What did you learn from that?
A: To swallow my pride! I thought I knew everything back then. I know now my mom knew best, but I had to learn it on my own. I started DJ’ing, then eventually went into my Mom’s business – she was a wallpaper hanger. I made good money for us and grew the business quickly.
Q: How did you get into HVAC?
A: After I met my wife and we moved to Pennsylvania, I worked my way up in a dinnerware factory for several years. But then my job was being shipped overseas to China, so I looked for a job they couldn’t ship overseas. At the time the NAFTA agreement offered workers like me free schooling to learn a new skill; that’s when I found HVAC. Once I was trained, I did HVAC work in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia for a bunch of retail companies like Lowe’s, Sporting Goods, Video Depot and also Wachovia Bank.
Q: How did you end up back on the west coast and eventually to SJVC?
A: I could use the security clearance I got from working at Wachovia Bank to get more work in California. It was rough those first years, though, because I had some medical problems and the recession hit. I had said to my wife I always wanted to be a teacher. I saw a job opening at another college in the area and got it. Soon after that, SJVC acquired them, so I just stayed on. It’s been about two years now.
Q: Tell me about teaching…
A: I love teaching. It was hard at first, but now I’m getting the swing of it. There are times when it’s frustrating with students who don’t want to participate, and that’s a challenge for me. I want to find ways to interest them.
Most teachers use a lot of PowerPoint presentations and talk to the screen; I’d rather tell my student’s real-life skills that I’ve used. The faculty here accept the fact I do things differently. Don’t get me wrong, the books are great; I want students to learn everything that’s in the books. But I also believe the skills will stick better by showing them. I tell them things the book won’t tell you. The book teaches the basics. I teach the real experience, the tricks of the trade. For example, when you go check on a heating system, the book says the first thing to do is look at the thermostat in a room. I say before you even touch the thermostat you should first look at the filter. It will tell you a lot. Things like that.
Q: What advice would you want students to know about the HVAC program and how SJVC prepares them?
A: As a teacher and as a school we see each individual differently; one student is into computers, another student is a chef who just wants to learn to do something else with his hands. The thing I would look for in an ideal student is someone who likes to work with their hands. And I don’t see this just as a man’s job; I’ve also trained a few women who were really strong HVAC students!
Number one thing: be creative. If you’re creative and know your stuff the possibilities are endless. And SJVC supports creativity; if you have an idea you want to try out you’ll get the support from faculty and staff to help you make it a reality. I love to see that excitement in a student.
Q: What’s the difference about going to SJVC?
A: What distinguishes SJVC from other schools is you have a really specific overall structure for how you’re taught. It’s a great system of learning with the emphasis on slowly progressing into a harder part of the course. You take three basic courses then they move you into an advanced course. It gives you a good foundation for the fundamentals before you’re challenged here and eventually in the real world.
Q: Anything you would like to add?
A: I just want to say, for myself, there’s nothing more gratifying than going out and helping someone else. I’ve always liked to bend over backward for others, whether I know them or not. I think teaching is a great job; I get paid to teach and help others. And they are so thankful for what you’ve done. It’s a great and gratifying experience.
What I’d like to tell current and future students is: don’t be afraid to fail. It’ll make you succeed. I heard a quote from Denzel Washington in 2016 that I never forgot. Throughout his acting career, people always told him to have something to fall back on if things didn’t work out. But Denzel said something like, “I don’t fall backward. I want to fall forward. I’ll try and do it better the next time.”
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