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His preparation has served him well not only in the classroom, but also in his administrative role. Hernandez helped to found the HVACR program at South Texas College and served as its program chair for 17 years before recently stepping down from his administrative duties.
As program founder, Hernandez first had to convince the state’s higher education board that an HVAC program was needed in McAllen. Hernandez said he’ll never forget the day when he traveled to Austin, Texas, to meet with the board. The committee pointed out that a college 30 miles east of McAllen already had an existing HVAC program. But Hernandez sat down and explained that there was a real hunger for education in McAllen, and got the backing he needed.
Since Hernandez had grown up in the area, he knew firsthand about the challenges facing young people in the southern Rio Grande Valley. Hernandez was raised on a small farm and quit school to help his father. He was drafted by the army in 1968, and after his service, the GI bill helped him find his way into HVAC. “I’d been doing farm work and odd jobs all my life, and in 1974 I made a decision that I needed to do something. I got this opportunity from the GI bill, decided to go get my GED and then go to school for air conditioning,” he said.
In 1977, Hernandez graduated and went to work with a service company in Dallas for 11 years. In the meantime, his alma mater, Texas State Technical Institute (TSTI), approached him to see if he was interested in teaching. “I hesitated because I was a service tech, and my blood was in service. Then I said what the heck, if I don’t succeed as an instructor, I can always come back to my trade. Now I’ve been teaching for the last 24 years.”
After teaching at TSTI for several years, Hernandez was asked to chair the new program at South Texas College (then South Texas Community College) in 1993. One major challenge was to develop the course curriculum. “What did I know about curriculum? I was a service tech,” Hernandez said. Yet it is precisely that background that has made his courses successful.
“I always bring my field experience to the classroom,” Hernandez said. “To be a good instructor you’ve got to have field experience … you cannot teach just out of a book.” According to Hernandez, the curriculum meets all state requirements and has received exemplary ratings. He also continues to upgrade the curriculum to reflect ongoing changes in the trade.
Hernandez is always deeply concerned about the personal challenges of his students. “We live in an area with lots of poverty down here. There’s always hardships for students,” he said. “I try to do my best to help those individuals to not drop out.”
And it’s not because he wants better numbers for his program. It’s because he knows where they’re coming from, and he wants to open their eyes to the opportunities awaiting them. “I want those individuals to better themselves. I’m always preaching not to give up.”
One of his students, Keith Schweikert, said, “Mr. Hernandez is an instructor that truly cares about his students and the HVACR program he chairs. He has done more for the program than any one individual that I know of. He takes personally the program improvements and the students’ success.” And, Schweikert added, “No student has any problem going to see Mr. Hernandez if there is an issue to be resolved.”
Hernandez’s approach appears to be paying off. “Right now we are experiencing our highest peak,” he said, noting that fall 2010 enrollment had roughly 200 students.
The program also has a 95 percent placement rate. “There’s a big demand down here because really there’s a ton of hot down here,” he said. “You could say it’s a steady job - there’s always work for everyone.”
And the plentiful work has allowed many of Hernandez’s former students to achieve great success in the field. He is gratified to watch as they increase their incomes, improve their living situations, and even start their own businesses. Hernandez said that seeing their success is all he needs.
“Sometimes my students ask why I never opened my own business,” he said. “My goal in life was to be an instructor. I’m not a business person, so teaching is what’s in my heart. When I see these individuals being successful, and I’m their mentor, that’s enough for me.”
Publication date: 11/08/2010