An Instructor For The People

Cody Plaso (left), Placerville Calif., and Bernard Merkel, iTi instructor and Best Instructor Honorable Mention, review a project in the classroom.
Bernard Merkel is quite well thought of in his field. Not only did his students submit his name with glowing praises for his inspiration and accomplishments, but HVAC instructors and program administrators from all around the country also nominated him for the honor of best instructor. That's pretty high praise, and garners him a spot on the Honorable Mention list for the Best Instructor contest sponsored by The NEWS and ARI.

Merkel is the director of HVAC Service Training for the International Training Institute (iTi) of Rochester, N.Y., which is the training arm of the Sheet Metal Workers' International Association (SMWIA) as well as the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning National Association (SMACNA).

As Merkel said, "My duties are somewhat different than most HVACR instructors who are employed by a vocational trade school." His classroom consists of 160 Joint Apprentice Training Committees (JATC) around the country. Merkel is a different kind of instructor, indeed.

"I assist in setting up schools and labs so the JATCs can teach HVACR service for their apprentices and journeypersons. I meet with the associated committees and instructors to develop lesson plans that suit their geographical area and contractor needs," said Merkel.

Bernie, as his peers know him, began in the industry as a sheet metal apprentice for the Leo J. Roth Corp. His interest in furthering his industry education in service eventually led him to the Rochester JATC sheet metal school, which in 1975 didn't have a service curriculum. Guess who became the new instructor?

After 30 years in the classroom, Merkel finds himself engaged in either train-the-trainer service classes or assisting one of the 160 sheet metal JATCs in developing a service class or lab. He hasn't lost his touch at getting in front of the students, either.

"I will instruct as the need arises or if an instructor is not comfortable with the subject matter," said Merkel. His expertise ranges from basic refrigeration and electricity, to residential systems and chiller operation; and from residential gas heating to oil, steam, and hydronic systems.

According to fellow instructor Cary Norberg, an HVAC specialist with iTi in Waterford, Wis., "Bernie Merkel motivates, inspires, and encourages his students simply as a role model. His depth of knowledge of refrigeration and service is immeasurably vast. Students who see Bernie in the classroom are inspired by who he is and what they might become."

Merkel oversees a number of programs. He has four basic classes, which consist of three intense weeks of class theory and hands-on application. Also, he has four advanced classes, which consist of one week commercial applications theory with hands-on. Rounding out the offerings are two direct digital control (DDC) classes for a general background of HVACR electronic controls and hands-on. According to Merkel, he has plans to develop more classes to fulfill industry and contractor needs.

John Hamilton, a student from Woodbury, Minn., perhaps summed it up best when he said, "He is the best instructor I have ever had. He finally was able to make the concept of heat flow understandable to me."

After all, isn't that exactly what a best instructor should be able to do? Help people learn?

Quick Stats

Contest Placement: Honorable Mention

Instructor: Bernard Merkel

College Or School: International Training Institute

Location: Rochester, N.Y.

Years Teaching: 30

Publication date: 11/14/2005

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