Teacher Learned HVAC Craft From Father

November 10, 2005
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Silberstein plays show-and-tell with his students with the help of a refrigeration trainer. He shows a device and his students tell all they can about the component.
Eugene Silberstein started working in the HVAC business with his father, "an air conditioning man for over 50 years," Silberstein said.

"I started when I was 14, working as a helper, a gofer, handing tools to mechanics." It was natural for him to enter "technicianhood." Roughly 13 years ago, he applied for a mechanical/service position at a vo-tech school, but with the magic of serendipity, it became a teaching position.

"That was the start of a beautiful thing," Silberstein said. The timing was right, too; he was ready to get out of the field, but not ready to leave the trade itself. He found himself enjoying his new career immensely. "It's a great thing when you get up in the morning and you love where you're going," he said.

Silberstein earned Honorable Mention honors in the Best Instructor competition sponsored by The NEWS and ARI.

His current position at Suffolk County Community College, Brentwood, N.Y., is fairly recent; the program itself started up in 2003 with Silberstein at the head.

The program doesn't have an advisory board yet. "We have not yet graduated a class," he pointed out. However, "We are constantly in contact with company owners, contractors, and industry professionals who provide us with ongoing feedback so that we may mold the program to what the industry wants and needs." Open houses allow for still more feedback.

Recruiting new students is a high priority. SCCC's HVACR program is promoted to other students in the school, to local high school students, and at job fairs.

Reciprocity

One of the sponsors of the HVACR program is the Oilheat Institute of Long Island (OHILI), Silberstein said. "OHI uses our facility when the college is not conducting class."

A new community program will give students in the heating systems course the opportunity to visit local homeowners and perform combustion testing on their heating equipment. "This, of course, will be done under the direct supervision of an instructor," Silberstein said. "The homeowner will then be presented the results of the test, which they can present to their service company in the event system repairs are called for."

Even politicians seem willing to help this fledging program. "Local politicians have been very helpful in obtaining county funds," he commented. "They pay semiregular visits. They also bring our institution to the forefront by setting up media coverage of HVACR-related activities at the college."

Silberstein checks the operation of a student-constructed refrigeration trainer as the students look on.

Advancements

"I am contacted on a regular basis by company owners and technicians who are interested in bringing their HVAC understanding to the next level," Silberstein said. "Since many of the students in our program are already in the field, it is important to keep their interest, provide useful information, and present material in a manner that will not put an already tired technician to sleep.

"Who wants to listen to someone lecture for three hours after spending eight hours in a 120 degree F attic?"

To make tests more meaningful, students are encouraged to write their own test questions for any given topic, he said. "When unit tests are given, a substantial portion of the questions come directly from the student test bank."

In the HVAR design class, students perform Manual J evaluations - of their own homes. "Even after the course has been completed, they will have a working load estimate on their own home that they can use to size and ultimately design their own system, if they so choose."

Rewards

Teaching may not have a lot of instant gratification. "You don't always know if they're grasping the information," he said. However, "it's really awesome having students come back and telling you about their successes."

For example, one day in Manhattan, "a guy came running down the street and bear-hugged me," Silberstein said.

"I said, ‘Milton, how are you doing?' He asked, ‘How do you remember me?' I remember all of my students.

"He said he was working at Loews' movie theater concessions. I said, ‘What, you're selling popcorn?' It turned out he was in charge of all the concession refrigeration for all of the Loew's Long Island theaters."

Seeing that he has made an impact on the industry, Silberstein said - "that's what keeps me going."

Quick Stats

Contest Placement: Honorable Mention

Instructor: Eugene Silberstein

College Or School: Suffolk County Community College

Location: Brentwood, N.Y.

Years Teaching: 13

Publication date: 11/14/2005

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