Honorable Mention: Don Vallentyne, hvacr instructor at the Valley State Prison for Women in Chowchilla, CA

Don Vallentyne, an hvac instructor at Valley State Prison for Women in Chowchilla, CA, for three years, is a veteran of the hvac industry. His background is impressive and varied.

Vallentyne has been a credentialled instructor for six years, a technician for 21 years, an owner of an air conditioning company for four years, and a technician trainer for various companies for 10 years. He now teaches one refrigeration/air conditioning course per term to 27 women ranging in age from 21 to 60.

“Some are very eager to enter the workforce, while others are looking to increase their knowledge,” said Vallentyne.

Having had to start the program from scratch, this teacher was in charge of determining the curriculum, ordering texts, and obtaining equipment.

Donations in the form of heat pumps, package heating and air conditioning units, several ice machines, walk-in boxes, evaporative coolers, and a training simulator have helped him teach the trade to women at the institution.

“The most important idea is to give students lots of basic encouragement,” he said. “Yes, you can learn. Yes, women can do this work. Yes, even with a prison record you can get a job.”

He said the course he offers now is definitely different from conventional courses. Any day he may have a new student, or may lose a student through graduation or transfer. Due to this open enrollment, the class is structured to meet 27 students with a variety of knowledge levels.

Lisa Thibeaux, one of Vallentyne’s students, said, “I’ve been to business college as well as trade school, and I have never had an instructor who was half as devoted as Mr. Vallentyne. His hvac knowledge is exceptional, and he is dedicated to helping the class fully understand how things work.”

Publication date: 09/25/2000

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