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San Joaquin Valley College Blog

From Tools to Textbooks: The Journey of HVAC-R Expert Craig Gusse into Education

January 30, 2024

Throughout his life, Craig Gusse has had three major attributes going for him: he has a natural curiosity about how things work, a love of learning something new and a strong inclination to share valuable information with those who share his interests.

As an instructor for San Joaquin Valley College’s Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration (HVAC-R) program at the Hesperia campus, Craig has ample opportunity to exercise all three facets of his nature – much to the advantage of students seeking successful education and training in their chosen field of study and vocation.

Craig’s many years in the HVAC industry as both service-provider and educator at the high end of training operations, brings a broad-based perspective to students’ education and training, as well as service expectations in the field. Students in San Joaquin Valley College’s program get a reality check from a viewpoint few are in position to provide.


What is a brief recap of your experience in the HVAC-R industry?

I’ve been in the HVAC industry for 40-years, with over ten years as a Technical Service Advisor when I traveled the state, teaching licensed contractors about products, practices, higher efficiency units and ever-changing technologies.

I’ve headed up multi-million-dollar company’s HVAC departments and started my own business with a couple of friends in the industry. But this felt like the right time to get out of the field directly and pass what I know on to the next generation.


What motivated you to get into the college level education area of HVAC-R?

I’ve always enjoyed teaching so much and this sort of fell into my lap. I knew it was my calling in life. I loved being out in the field, climbing up and down ladders, so it was a struggle for me to give that up. But it was time to give up the tool bag; and teaching was a natural move.

The union put me through a 4-year (apprenticeship) program and every aspect of the industry was taught in that program. My entire career, I’ve either been learning from somebody or teaching someone. I earned my college diploma in Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning in 1996.


How did your decision to teach full time unfold at SJVC?

I was online with a recruiter and had a couple of job offers when this (SJVC) job position popped up. It seemed like a perfect fit, so I put in a job application. It was a smooth transition from application to interview process.  SJVC was in need of an instructor, and I was in need of a job. It was a perfect fit.


How would you describe your teaching style?

I like to teach applied knowledge. There’s a lot of information in textbooks – and that’s great for theoretical information. But, unless you know how to apply that knowledge out in the field, it does you no good. Learning by doing is essential.

My wide experience has taught me a lot, but I don’t try to be prideful, get too full of myself. I’m just here to help students get further in their education and career. They’re here to learn and what I know will be given to them freely. Humility goes a long way.


What do you most hope to give your students?

For me it’s more about a love of learning. If you don’t love to learn, you’re not going to go far in this field because it’s constantly changing; equipment, techniques are constantly evolving. If you’re not learning something every day, you’re being left behind.

But no one can learn everything – that’s why we have specialties such as commercial refrigeration, industrial refrigeration, residential air conditioning. That’s what I love about this career: no matter how good you are or how much you know about this industry or specialty – you can still spend a lifetime learning.


What is your greatest obstacle in the classroom?

I don’t look at anything as a struggle; it’s more like a puzzle for me. I tell my classes all the time: ‘There are no problems; there are only solutions.’ And that’s where applied knowledge comes in vs. textbooks and lectures. I’ve got all these little shortcuts and formulas that are easier to understand and that you don’t find in a textbook that students seem to understand better.

I didn’t grow up with computers so Craig, (Chambers, fellow instructor) at half my age, shows me all the computer programs and platforms of our curriculum; and he benefits from my experience out in the (HVAC) field. We are invaluable resources for each other.


When do you know a student ‘gets it’ and is ready to move forward?

It’s that lightbulb moment when you can look at a student and tell if what you’re putting out there is being comprehended. A lot of students struggle in the beginning, but as I get to learn their abilities, I curtail my teaching to meet their level of understanding. It’s kind of an art to figure out how a student relates and create analogies they can understand on their terms.

One of the most satisfying moments in teaching is when a student says, ‘I finally got it; I understand!’ And you see the smile that comes behind the lightbulb. To watch another person experience that – it’s fantastic.


How do you connect with HVAC-R students?

I take the time to get to know students on a personal level, their real-world experience, so that I can better relate to them. I’ve had students come in who have not had educators who could relate to their life experiences. People just wanted to be treated and understood on an individual level.

I don’t care if you’re homeless or a multibillionaire; I’m going to treat you the same and show all students the same respect.


What drives you to share your knowledge with your students?

I am but a humble man trying to give the benefit of my experience to the next generation of up-and-coming technicians. It is my love of learning, and now my love of teaching, that motivates me. I feel it is my duty to give back to the industry that has treated me so well.


What is most important for your students to know about the HVAC-R industry?

If you don’t love to learn, you’re not going to go very far in this industry. If you’re not learning something every day (on the job) you’re being left behind.

But no one can know everything; that’s why we have specialties such as commercial refrigeration, industrial refrigeration and residential air conditioning. Even if you break off into a specialty, there’s always something new to learn.

Whatever direction they choose, I’m trying to teach them to be a professional: calm, cool and methodical in their thinking.


What do you especially want your students to leave the HVAC-R program knowing?

To pace yourself; be balanced in all things in your life. The strongest muscle in your body is your brain. Increase the power of your brain and you can make your body do anything you want it to do.

Lead by example. It’s all about how you respect and treat other people.

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