Faculty Spotlight: Electrical Technology Instructor Josh Leininger
Some teachers are born ready, and some are just a little late to recognize their true calling for leading a classroom of hopeful students toward their education and career goals. Josh Leininger was in the second group.
He had what it would take: the credentials to instruct the Electrical Technology program at SJVC’s Temecula campus with a degree in Electrical Technology, as well as one in Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning and Refrigeration (HVAC-R). He had solid teaching experience as he previously trained recruits in the Army, during his ten years of military service.
He worked for several years as an electrician. But Josh’s push toward career accomplishment didn’t make the connection to passing his knowledge and talents along to others. “I always wanted to make myself better,” he says. “But I never thought I’d be a teacher.”
San Joaquin Valley College’s Temecula campus was looking for someone to teach the same HVAC-R program from which Josh had earned his HVAC-R Associate degree in 2015. A mentor with whom he had kept in touch suggested he apply for the position.
A couple of interviews and instruction demonstration later, Josh accepted a part-time faculty position. “I wasn’t comfortable yet (with teaching), but I accepted the challenge, and I’m glad I did.”
Josh felt the weight of his responsibility to give students what they would need to succeed in their chosen field, and he was determined not to let them down. “The first time teaching in front of the class, I stuttered with my nervousness.,” he remembers. “But my mindset was, they’re looking to me for knowledge, they’re paying for that knowledge, and I’m going to give them that knowledge.”
He hit his stride – and comfort level – pretty quickly. It was not long before he slid comfortably into a full-time faculty position. His ease with students and the success of his program made Josh a natural choice to help launch the new Electrical Technology program on campus in 2018.
Josh was happy to groom so many who wished to enter the field he enjoyed. There were no bumpy starts or second-guessing. “I’m here rockin’ it now,” he reflects.
He would agree that, sometimes, it is perhaps more ‘rocky’ than ‘rockin’. “I can teach them (students) all the things they need to know about electricity, but I can’t teach them how to be an adult,” he says. “A lot of that is reinforcing the importance of being on time and developing those habits for when they’re on the job, in the real world. I do crack the whip when it comes to professionalism like deadlines, uniforms, meeting times and showing up for lectures. Employers will see those qualities as loyalty and respect for the business, and if you show up late your boss is going to hand you your (final) paycheck.”
Graduates of the Electrical Technology program enjoy a wide range of employment opportunities.
“Our program prepares students for multiple careers: residential electricians, commercial electricians, industrial electricians and Programmable Logic Controlling (PLC) electricians,” says Josh who is also authorized to teach OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) for his students’ certification.
Exercising professionalism is always the undercurrent of success. “The electrical trade is very unforgiving,” says Josh. “If you didn’t learn something you should have learned in the program, employers are going to know it right away – most of the time in the (job) interview.”
Josh can tell when students are really starting to ‘get it’. “One of my favorite moments is when students begin to understand formulas and theories behind electrical calculations. I teach students how to do it the right way, then reverse the math – and they can see how the components are related. That’s their ‘ah hah’ moment. You can see an increased level of understanding. They start using the terminology and talking like electricians.”
Josh knows what it is like to cross that bridge of realization – and others even more daunting. He joined the Army at seventeen and after ten years and three tours of Iraq where he was injured, he received a medical discharge. Adjustment to civilian life did not come easy and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) made him feel frozen in place. He needed a bridge to get up and out of his predicament.
“My Dad (James) didn’t graduate from high school and worked in a factory job his whole life. He wanted more for me.” It was his Dad’s words that finally shook him loose. “He said to me, ‘Why would you waste all that military time just to sit here in this chair and do nothing?’ His mind finally made the connection. “A lot of it is your inner motivation and I knew nothing is going to be given to me; I’m going to earn it.”
College was Josh’s way out. And he found the emotional support he needed right at home. “My wife (Edlyn) motivates me to become more successful. She tells me ‘You can do this’ or ‘You can do that’, and I’m becoming better every day.” Earning his degrees in Industrial Technology and Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning and Refrigeration (HVAC-R) redirected his focus.
Maybe he could help others get to the other side of their best life.
Josh remembers how powerful those supportive voices were to his educational achievements and makes sure his students hear that encouragement from him. “I’m always available and supportive. Students know that if they have issues, they can contact me, and I will answer emails immediately. They may not get the answer they were looking for, but they will get the answer they need to hear.”
Josh wants his students to push past their current struggles and envision the future they are creating for themselves and their families though their education. And he is fine with being the hard truth they need to hear to get there.
“Some of our students come to our college because it didn’t work at other colleges,” says Josh. Many have had several jobs start and stop with long, uncertain gaps in between. “The best thing about teaching is being able to change the outcome of their stories,” says Josh.
It is a story lived far too often. “Family members tell them they can’t do this or can’t do that,” says Josh. “I tell them they can do anything they want, it’s just whether they want to put in the effort.” Somehow his students know Josh is speaking from a place that once looked just like theirs.
“I talk to them very much like I would talk to a soldier,” says Josh. “You’ve come this far, given up this much; you can’t stop now. Finish what you have left. Dropping out is not an option.”
Josh feels it is his responsibility to be the kind of mentor to his students that helps them bridge the gap of their efforts to their eventual reward. It all becomes a reality when they walk across the graduation stage with so many others who made the same sacrifice for their own career and financial dreams.
For too many, it was an uncertain accomplishment. “Some never really expected to graduate,” says Josh. “They have come and thanked me, telling me that I brought them across that stage. But I tell them that they did that, I just helped motivate them.”
Josh shows all his new students a video that talks about being the ‘best you can be’. “It’s about when you get to the top of a mountain, you look for that next mountain and start climbing that one.” Call it a stage, call it a bridge or call it a mountain. It is the means they choose to get to the life they imagine.
Josh has that same message of encouragement for each new class of students. What mountains will challenge them and what kind of gear, instruction and motivation will he provide them to climb to their greatest heights.
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