ACHRNEWS

Following Brad Bartz

January 29, 2007
Brad Bartz stands near the entrance leading to Ranken Technical College, a private, nonprofit institution of higher education located in St. Louis.

[Editor’s Note: What is it like attending a trade and/or vocational school these days? The NEWS wanted to know … and so it went to Ranken Technical College in St. Louis to find out. NEWS Senior Editor Mark Skaer trailed Brad Bartz, a 24-year-old first-year HVACR student at Ranken, during various times in November and December of last year. In this issue is the first report, giving NEWS readers the background on Bartz, why he decided to enroll in the Construction Division at a trade school, what he plans to get out of Ranken and his education, his future plans, and more. Look for future installments, too, as The NEWS and Skaer will be following Bartz’s career footsteps in 2007 and beyond.]

ST. LOUIS - Maybe it’s because a reporter is in the backseat taking notes, but driver Emir Libic seems to be a little nervous. A calmer Brad Bartz sits in the passenger seat, trying to act naturally, looking out his passenger-side door window every now and then.

It seems the first-year Ranken Technical College students like to drive by nearby St. Louis University (SLU) - “At least once a day,” Bartz later confessed - to look at the campus view.

Umm … look at women, in other words.

The two had just eaten at their favorite - and economical - lunch place, Del Taco, which also happens to be a favorite noon dining place for SLU students. Looking at his watch, Bartz realizes it’s time to get back to Ranken for his “Fundamentals of Composition” class, held at 1:35 p.m. sharp, Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.

When Libic navigates his small auto into a parking space inside the campus grounds, a few of Bartz’s buddies are right there, prepared to exchange over-the-weekend notes.

“I didn’t care about school,” Bartz said, thinking about his days at Mehlville Senior High School, located in South County. “I was more into partying with friends than going to school.”

Taking the backpack from the trunk of his friend’s car, he adds with conviction, “I totally changed my attitude now.”

When asked to reveal more, he quickly responded, “Actually, this is the first time I get up and actually want to go to school. I like it.

“The teachers actually get me involved. I like hands-on training. I learn better with my hands than I do on paper. I like the fact I actually get told what to do and I then go in there and actually do it. You know, it is just fresh in my mind, I do it, and I learn a lot better.

“I love the fact that I can do it. I can actually explain it to people that don’t know what I’m talking about.”

He’s on a roll now.

“I told my mom how to calculate Btus and she is like, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa … what?’ I mean it really is not that hard, mom. Here is a piece of paper. I actually wrote it down on paper.”

Bartz, who lived with his grandparents, does not mind family members now asking the question, “How is school going?”

“I tell them it is going real well,” he said, smiling, and definitely content. “I am a little happy about it. I told them [grandparents] basically I’m exhilarated about it.”

A short laugh followed, before he added, “I had to tell somebody.”

CHANGING CAREER GEARS

So far, so good. Definitely.

Taking six class offerings in fall 2006, his initial semester, the son of divorced parents Jerry Bartz and Irene Mullenschlader earned two As (“Mechanical Applications Theory” and “Mechanical Application Shop”), one B+ (“Electrical and Refrigeration Shop”), and three Bs (“Introduction to Electrical and HVAC Theory,” “Elementary Algebra,” and “Fundamentals of Composition”).

Bartz even scored favorably in the “work ethic” grading section. Because Ranken treats students as professionals from day one, the college said its work ethic component is designed to teach the values, attitudes, and behaviors sought by current employers - “the qualities that are likely to lead to successful careers.”

Bartz understands its value.

“Yeah, because you are going to have to use that in the workforce,” he said. “You can’t miss more than three days. You have to have a reason why you were gone. If you were sick, you have to have a doctor’s note. If you are tardy more than 10 minutes, you have to tell them where you were at - just like you would do if you were in the workforce.

Bartz speaks from experience. He comes to learn HVACR after bouncing from job to job over the past few years. The truth be told, he was let go at a construction firm after he showed up late for an early morning concrete pour.

“I shouldn’t have overslept, which is not a good thing overall,” he confessed. “I felt real bad about it. I apologized to [construction owner]. My foreman said it was OK, but then the owner said I had to go.”

And, yes, at a different contracting firm, he was dropped after failing to report back to work with a doctor’s note in hand.

“I didn’t think [owner] was going to go crazy on me without a doctor’s note,” he said, explaining his position on the matter. “I didn’t have money to go to the doctor. If I would have known that, I would have asked my mom to take me to the doctor or something because I did not have insurance or anything. Money was really tight back then because I was actually paying about 700 bucks a month just for rent.”

In the end, it was these life road bumps that drove the twenty-something to return to school. He thought jumping straight into the workforce right out of high school was cool, but it turned out to be a tad harder than he thought.

“What got me interested in heating and cooling was working for the remodeling company,” he said. “We subcontracted out the heating and cooling if we needed something fixed on a furnace or the air conditioning unit. I was getting paid like $14 an hour and he [service technician] was getting paid, I know, $40 an hour. I’m like, I’m in the wrong business.”

The light bulb went on.

“My buddy had actually gone to Ranken and he had told me about it,” he said. “He had a degree as a machinist. Now he is making good money, working for a machinist shop.”

Just to make sure, the inquisitive Bartz went on the Internet and looked up the St. Louis college.

“At first I was going to do carpentry, because I’ve done that a lot,” he said. “I can refinish things. I was going to do that, but sometimes …”

He hesitated for a second.

“…It depends upon where you are at. They [carpenters] don’t work all year. Layoffs are pretty high right now, off and on all of the time.”

He turned to his grandfather, Bob Churchich, for advice. “My grandpa is like, ‘Why don’t you try heating and cooling, because they need you year-around, plus you get paid more.’ I’m like, ‘All right.’ ”

Bartz actually came to campus and talked to the folks in admissions. He took an assessment test for math and decided this is what he wanted to do.

Bartz, second student in the third row from the right, takes a written electrical test administered by veteran Ranken instructor Paul Mueller, who sits behind the front desk.

NO THANK YOU, WAL-MART

Before he could zero in on returning to school and attempt to join the HVAC ranks, Bartz had to establish a cash flow. It’s why he lived out his lease at his high-rent St. Louis-based apartment and then moved in with his grandparents across the Mississippi River. He now lives with his mother, Irene, and stepfather, Joseph Mullenschlader, in Maryville, Ill.

“I had enough money to live out the rest of my lease, which was only a month and a half,” he explained. “I did not renew it. That was last year. I actually worked for Wal-Mart for a while, just so I could get some money to figure out what it was I wanted to do.

“My whole plan was to go back to school and get some sort of degree. I just wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to do.”

Ranken Technical College first-year HVACR student Brad Bartz checks a refrigerant tank with a fellow student (in background).

AIMING FOR BULL’S-EYE With sincerity in his voice, Bartz said he has shifted gears.

“I want to be a tech. That’s what I want to do,” he said. “Further down the line, I might change it to something else, but as of right now, that is what I want to do.”

When he graduates - and Bartz stresses that he will - the changed man is uncertain if he will touch upon refrigeration, heating, cooling, all of the above, or what. “Whatever offer I get, I’ll consider it and see what happens from there,” he answered, not looking too far into the future. “As of right now, I need to get through school first.”

Further down the line, Bartz does see himself owning his own business. “I - maybe - may get [into] business education and get a bachelor’s degree in that,” he said, the wheels turning in his head. “My cousin is actually an electrician foreman right now. Maybe we can go in together and keep it in the family. I know he knows people.”

“That is what I plan on doing,” he stated again, meaning owning his own business. “I mean, I know it’s going to be long hours, but I like working. I like to earn my money, in a way … you know? You have so much more sense of pride out of it, I guess.”

The fact Bartz is getting a well-rounded education and hands-on training at Ranken meets his approval, too.

“I have good teachers for that, too,” he said. “I kind of really did not understand math that much. I wasn’t really that good in math, but I’m starting to get it now.

“I’ve been out of school now for - what? - five years. Here I’m trying to jump back into doing math. At first I was kind of sketchy. I wasn’t doing very good, but now I’m starting to get back up to speed so I’m really doing good at it now.”

Having concerned teachers and instructors is important, in his estimation. “They keep me interested,” he said, unlike his high school instructors, who he described as being “boring…with a monotone voice.” Returning to his current instructors, he added, “They keep you up to date. It’s really different.”

The bottom line is this: The eyes and mind are now on the target. “I’ve always been good with my hands. I like working with my hands,” he confessed. “I could not take a desk job. I couldn’t do it. It would drive me crazy.”

In the next installment, The NEWS spends a full day with Bartz in the classroom. Classes Bartz is taking in the spring 2007 semester include “Computer Lit,” “College Composition,” “Install Practices & Electric Theory,” “Install Practices & Electric Shop,” “Domestic Systems Theory,” “Domestic Systems Shop,” and “Intermediate Algebra.”

Publication date: 01/29/2007

SIDEBAR: BRAD AT A GLANCE

NAME: Brad Bartz

AGE: 24

ATTENDING: Ranken Technical College (St. Louis)

YEAR: First-year student, currently in his second semester.

SEEKING: Two-year degree in Heating, Ventilation, Air-Conditioning & Refrigeration Technology.

EDUCATION: Earned GED in 2002; attended Mehlville Senior High School (St. Louis) through spring 2001.

SIDEBAR:ABOUT THE COLLEGE

Ranken Technical College, based in St. Louis, is a private, nonprofit institution of higher education, founded exactly 100 years ago. It is rich with history and, for a century, has provided students with, what it advertises as “top-quality educational programs.”

According to Ranken marketing specialist Susan Flayer, Ranken’s state-of-the-art equipment and facilities and campus are continually updated “to provide students exposure to cutting-edge technology.” Through day and evening school programs, Ranken students are trained to enter over 100 professional fields. Per Flayer, each program features:

• A combination of technical studies, general education, and professionalism.

• Hands-on experience in a variety of technical fields.

• Involved and experienced faculty.

• Lifetime job placement.

Known for high academic standards, Ranken is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission and a member of the North Central Association.

In regard to school programs offered, there are 14 in all, including Heating, Ventilation, Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Technology, which is under the Construction Division. Students receive hands-on, practical experience in troubleshooting and repairing residential and commercial refrigeration, air conditioning and heating equipment.

Less than two years ago, the college revamped and remodeled its 11,000-square-foot HVACR training space. Figured into the equation were a new energy management lab, an ambient room for commercial equipment, a unitary ambient room, window units, refrigeration area, rack systems, and more.

For more information regarding Ranken Technical College, visit its Website at www.ranken.edu.

Publication date: 01/29/2007