Charles Lopez (left) checks the continuity of compressor motor windings as instructor Eugene Silberstein provides guidance and fellow student Giovanny Perez (right) looks on.

"I wasn't a big fan of school when I was a student. I appreciate the fact that these guys are working all day, and I want them to know that what they do is important. I am on their side, and I want them to know that I will be there for them."

Those words are from Eugene Silberstein, an HVACR Instructor at Suffolk County Community College (SCCC), Long Island, N.Y. The words sum up Silberstein's philosophy and are a main reason why he is runner-up in the Best Instructor contest sponsored by The NEWS and the Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute (ARI). Silberstein, a 26-year veteran of the HVACR industry, was nominated by his students because of his knowledge of the trade and his rapport with his students - among many other things.

In his nomination form, Dan Suriel, one of Silberstein's students, said, "Professor Silberstein keeps his classes informative and fun at the same time. While most professors have dedicated office hours, Professor Silberstein is available when he gets up to the time he goes to sleep. He never hesitates to answer any questions that we may have. "What more can a student ask for?"

Click on "Quick Stats" for a brief rundown on Silberstein.

Silberstein was not handed a ready-made HVAC program at SCCC. When the program was first started in the fall of 2003, it was housed in one room in the corner of a campus building. The program now occupies four rooms and the school will soon break ground for an 18,000-square-foot facility that will feature four labs and four classrooms. It will be able to accommodate up to 150 students on an ongoing basis.

"The program is growing, the college community is excited, and our students are getting the training they want, need, and deserve," said Silberstein. "Who can ask for more than that?"

Silberstein's average class size is 17 students, who range from green to experienced.

"Some of my guys have been in the field for a number of years and they want to get a degree while others have been in the field and realize there is a lot of things they don't know," he said. "Half of my students are completely green. I try and pair up the experienced people with the new kids, as long as they don't show them any shortcuts. I'm going to teach you the right way. If you are going to learn shortcuts you are going to do it on your own time."

Silberstein doesn't give his students much of a chance to learn shortcuts. His classes include 45 percent hands-on training and 55 percent theory. Students can expect a one-year certificate or two-year AAS degree.

In addition to getting accolades from his existing students, Silberstein gets high marks for his efforts to attract people to the HVACR trade. He works closely with the SCCC Admissions Department in an ongoing attempt to recruit students. He also visits local high schools to visit with graduating seniors.

Silberstein calls attention to his program via his role as a consultant on the popular Internet chat room, a feature of His "Ask the Professor" discussion board has been a very popular feature.

But Silberstein is well aware of the problems that plague recruiting - namely parents. "I really think that it's the parents who are the problem," he said. "I don't blame them, they want what is best for their kids. They don't want them to struggle like they did when they were growing up. There is still this blue-collar mentality that you bust your ass and barely make a living. The label that has been put on mechanics is slowly changing and obviously we have to up the ante.

Eugene Silberstein discusses ECM technology with his class. (Photo by Harold Naideau.)

"We are letting the guidance counselors know that we need the people with 4.0 averages and not the ones that underperform and are ‘typical' trade candidates. We need the smarter ones."

At least the students that make it to Silberstein's classes have every opportunity to be the smarter HVACR technicians. Silberstein gives them that chance. As Suriel said, "He will keep explaining a subject until everyone understands. He knows how to take a complicated subject and explain it in simple English."

And it isn't all about Silberstein - it is about learning. "The students are encouraged to work together, forming teams," he said. "Using this approach, a built-in support system is formed. Students are held accountable for their work not only by me, but by their colleagues as well."

What more could you ask for?

Publication date: 11/13/2006