2011 Best Instructor Winner: Instructor Mentors Students, Bridges Gap With Employers
For 2011, the Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI) and The NEWS are honoring Scott Naill as the HVACR Best Instructor. He has been teaching for 17 years at the Upper Valley Career Center, and his commitment to go the extra mile for his students and his program set him apart from the crowd. Naill is dedicated to modeling professional behavior to his students, and he is making a tremendous impact on future generations of the HVACR industry.
A visit to Upper Valley’s HVACR lab immediately proves that there is something different about Naill’s teaching method. When guests walk in the door, they are treated to an experience that is unlike visiting any other high school class. Every single student in the room comes up, greets the guests, introduces him or herself, and shakes hands. It’s completely unexpected from a group of teenagers, and it clearly exhibits how well they are being trained for future employment.
“I don’t force them to shake hands,” Naill said. But when his juniors join the program, he always starts out by asking them, “Who wants a job in heating and air conditioning? Who wants to make good money?” Then he tells them, “You don’t know who’s walking in that door. If you don’t make a good impression in 15 seconds, you’re not going to get that job or make that money.”
Naill has an open-door policy and lets industry members and employers know they are always welcome to visit. “Some teachers don’t like to be interrupted. We get interrupted all the time,” he said. “They may distract us, but overall it’s well worth it.” (And thankfully, Naill stocks a large dispenser of hand sanitizer in his office for all of his guests to use.)
These interactions have led to many of his students finding their first jobs. “I work with them to be able to introduce themselves, to be appreciative and sincere,” Naill said, noting that his emphasis on soft skills and employability was originally instilled in him by George Combs, his mentor and instructor. Combs still teaches at Springfield Clark Career Center (Springfield, Ohio), which is where Naill graduated in 1989. “There were a lot of things instilled in me from George that I relay to the students,” he said.
After Naill graduated and was working in the industry, he joined Combs’ advisory committee — at age 18. “It was a neat experience,” he said. “I was able to network and have some input on ways to help George with his program.” Naill remained on the committee for five years, and during that time he started teaching adult education classes in the evening with Combs. “At 22 I started teaching adult ed HVAC to students ranging from 20 to 55. They’d look at me and say, ‘Where’s your father,’” he recalled. With Combs’ help, he continued on and eventually applied for his current position at Upper Valley.
While teaching, he went back to school to earn his own degrees. Naill now holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and is working toward obtaining his principal and superintendent licenses. In addition, every summer he returns to work in the industry in a variety of capacities. This has enabled him to sharpen his skills and keep up with trends.
When Naill started out at Upper Valley, the HVACR program only had 12 students enrolled. Currently the program is at full enrollment, with 21 juniors and 12 seniors. In fact, this year there was a waiting list of students hoping to get in.
“If you want to have a job teaching, the first thing you’ve got to do is keep your enrollment up,” Naill said. “If you want to keep a job, you may have to go beyond those working hours to keep the program up and going and keep competitive. Some instructors are willing and some are like, ‘How do you find time?’ ” The answer is simple; according to Naill, “You do it in the evening.”
Terry Krogman, who has been Naill’s supervisor at Upper Valley for the last 11 years, particularly praised Naill’s efforts in growing the HVACR program. “He’s taken it from being a program that’s struggling, to No. 1 in the nation,” he said. Plus, “Scott’s a great guy, and he’s not one for patting himself on the back.”
Upper Valley’s superintendent Nancy Luce, Ph.D., also described Naill as very deserving of the Instructor of the Year honor. “He is driven to constantly update and reinvent his program to meet the needs of students and employers,” she said. “He’s open and willing and interested to work with stakeholders, plus he’s very student focused. He serves as a mentor not only when they’re here, but also after they leave. He’s a tremendous role model.”
Naill said he appreciates that Krogman and Luce both give him free rein to do whatever he thinks is best for the HVACR program. He also noted that he wouldn’t be able to do what he does without the help of Tony Trapp, who joined the program as a paraprofessional 10 years ago.
The two make a great team. While Naill’s background is in heating and air conditioning, Trapp brought an electrical-electronics background to the program. When the students file into the classroom for a lecture period, Naill typically starts to ask the tough questions; Trapp will jump in and say, “C’mon guys, what does that mean?” Together, their different personalities have complemented each other and brought balance to the program.
“When you have a two-teacher program, their philosophies tend to collide and there’s friction because of ego and other things,” Naill said. “Tony and I have never had a major disagreement. His philosophy and my philosophy is the same for helping the students to be successful.”
Trapp also noted that both he and Naill are very focused on mentoring students and “taking them under our wing.” He added, “We provide them with a comfort zone because unfortunately, some of our students don’t have a comfort zone at home.”
Involved Advisory Board
One of the biggest differentiators of Upper Valley’s HVACR program is its advisory board. Naill started out with four members on the board, and he has since grown it to 40 active committee members.
Naill said he had to “really hustle and work hard” to build connections with local contractors, distributors, and manufacturers to join the board. He knocked on doors and did whatever he could to form relationships with industry members. The benefits have been evident.
“If it wasn’t for [the advisory board’s] input and help, we wouldn’t have the enrollment we have today,” Naill said. “I haven’t done this by myself by far; it’s been the advisory committee members.” He explained that each member “has their own role — some donate money, some donate time, and some mentor our students.”
According to Krogman, “Scott has the best advisory committee on the campus. Other programs try to model what he does. His relationship with employers is phenomenal.”
Luce added, “It’s a tremendous representation of what can happen when business and industry work together with educational partners.”
Becky Hoelscher, a national account executive for Emerson Climate Technologies, is one of Naill’s advisory board members. “I have worked with Scott Naill as an advisory member for the past five years,” she said. “Scott has recruited students that need to be taught work ethic, professionalism, and the trade of HVACR as sophomores in high school. Each year I have witnessed these students maturing in the professional field as juniors and seniors. He has full enrollment with a very high success rate.”
Because of his active relationships with so many businesses in the area, Naill has been able to focus on marketing efforts for the HVACR program. Thanks to donations from his advisory committee, he is able to hand out T-shirts to all sophomores who visit the lab and express interest in enrolling in the program.
His marketing efforts have also extended to the web and social media. He created a website for the program, www.uppervalleyhvacr.com, and both he and Trapp are active in promoting the program through Facebook and Twitter. Their efforts have been guided by Fahlgren-Mortine, a PR firm that has provided them with pro bono marketing consultation.
Facing the Challenges
In the midst of the program’s success, Naill still faces many challenges as an instructor. One that he agonizes over is funding, because it’s difficult to get state and federal legislators to see the value in career and technical education.
“The present administration talks about the lack of job skills that high school students have. The reason why they’re lacking skills is that they don’t have the skills when they graduate from their comprehensive school,” he said. In contrast, Naill, noted, there is no better platform for gaining employable skills than a career-focused program.
It also hasn’t been easy to build up a committee of involved advisory board members. “Getting the employers involved is a challenge,” he said. “I tell them they’re only going to get out of it what they put into it. It seems like employers always complain about getting good, qualified technicians to work for them out of the schools, but the instructor can’t do it all by himself.” So Naill continues to urge his advisory board and others to visit their program and meet with and mentor the students.
“Tony and I try to get employers to get here every bit, to come to the open house, come to mentor. We find ways for them to interact with students,” Naill said, which ultimately leads to matching the right employer with the right student. “If you don’t have the student and company linked right, it’s not going to be successful. I really find it beneficial to be able to connect the employer with the student, to be able to merge those things together and have it work right.”
One way Naill links students and employers is through an apprenticeship program he instituted. To be eligible for an apprenticeship, students must maintain a 2.5 GPA, have at least 95 percent attendance, and be recommended by all of their academic and technical instructors. Then, seniors who qualify as apprentices can work and attend class on an alternating two-week schedule.
Currently, Naill has six seniors working as apprentices. When asked what Mr. Naill has taught them, all six reported that he has drilled into their heads the importance of being professional and having good people skills. Bethany Pellman, a senior who is currently working at Emerson Climate Technologies, said that Naill taught her how to be professional, and that’s what enabled her to get a job testing compressors, which she loves. “I was determined to do this and I plan on furthering my education,” she said.
Senior Curtis Hughes, who is an apprentice for a local contractor, admitted that he used to be “the quiet guy.” But, he said, “Mr. Naill stressed communication skills. He really taught me a lot about how to break through and talk to people, and it’s made my life easier when I’m asking for help.”
When Naill talked about the meaning he has found in mentoring students, his emotions rose to the surface. “I just want to help these students achieve and be successful contributors to the community. For the most part, I want to help students help themselves,” he said. “I’m here to give them the tools, and it’s their motivation that’s going to take them to the next level.”
Publication date: 11/14/2011