BIG RAPIDS, Mich. - Ferris State University (FSU) isn’t just famous for its world-class HVACR training facility and top HVACR curriculum. It’s also well-known for its soft skills training as well. After all, learning the HVACR trade takes more than just mechanical and engineering know-how; it takes people skills, too. A student with just a “book-taught” education may have trouble getting past an interviewer at a company for which he or she would like to work.

The interview stage can be a big stumbling block for many qualified applicants. Just ask any HVACR contractor. Some of the best mechanically skilled applicants fall flat on their face when they are asked about their strengths, weaknesses, and aspirations. It is not that they aren’t proud of their accomplishments or know where to improve; they just haven’t developed any good communication skills, especially for the interview process.

In order to improve their interviewing skills, FSU HVACR students are asked to participate in a once-a-year mock interview session with members of the school’s advisory committee - people with an extensive amount of interview and/or business experience. The latest sessions took place in early November at the school in Big Rapids. This article will explore some of the comments made toNEWS’Business Editor John R. Hall, a member of the advisory committee.


Andrew Kobe spent two years at Michigan State University studying dairy farming, mainly because he grew up on a dairy farm. But he wasn’t happy pursuing a career in that field. He had heard about the new facility that houses the FSU HVACR program and decided to make the change. Kobe wants to get into system designing after receiving his bachelor’s degree next year, and realizes he needs field experience to get his feet wet.

“I would prefer to work in an office, but I need to work in the field to understand design work,” he said. “I realize how important it is to be able to interact with people in the field, too.”

Kobe said that more people would be interested in the HVACR trade if only they knew about the opportunities available. “Going into the trade is what is holding people back,” he said. “People just don’t know enough about it. There are a lot of college prep courses taught in my high school, but I preferred to look into the technical side.”

Kobe noted that he would like to work for a company similar to the Lansing (Mich.) HVACR contractor he has worked for in the recent past. “I want to work for a company with an experienced management team who is well-respected,” he said. “And even in slow times, they will have work for me.”

Lucky Chandana, a bachelor’s degree student, took a different route to FSU than Kobe. He came to Big Rapids via Toronto via his home country, India. He learned about customer service by working in his parents’ manufacturing business in India. Chandana honed his people skills and was ready to learn a vocational trade.

He worked for a Toronto HVACR contractor prior to his arrival at FSU and that experience made him hungry to learn more about the design side of HVACR. “I wanted to work in HVACR because of all of the hands-on opportunities,” Chandana said. “I like to learn all of the time. For example, our field work at FSU right now involves working at a museum in [nearby] Grand Rapids. We are working on energy management for the museum building.”

While working for the contractor Chandana honed his people skills and management skills. “They trusted me a lot after just four months as a helper,” he said. “The boss trusted me to run some of the service calls, too.”

Chandana is fluent in four languages and is president of the International Student Organization, which organizes activities for all foreign students at FSU. He has the leadership skills and also the desire to solve any problem that comes his way.

“At the end of each day I want to say, ‘Did I learn anything and did I solve the problem,’ ” he said.

Emery Goniea took a different path to FSU than did Kobe or Chandana. He has spent years in the business world, none of which has been in HVACR. When his employer shut down operations and went overseas, he was faced with a tough decision. He asked himself if he should make another parallel move in his trade or seek a new profession. At the age of 42, with a young family, it was a tough decision.

“I felt that HVACR was a good trade because of the security it provided,” said Goniea. “My strength is being able to adapt to change.”

Goniea spends his week as a full-time student and drives home on weekends (two-hour drive) to be with his family. He isn’t at FSU to do the typical “young guy at college” things.

“I am leaning toward design work,” he said. “I’d like to work for a company that encourages advancement and is not afraid to promote. I am also relocatable.”

Fortunately, Goniea is mechanically inclined and although he has no hands-on experience in HVACR, he knows his life experiences and his desire to improve are key factors to his success.

“A good day for me is knowing that I did a good job and have done it right,” he said. “But I always ask myself what I could have done better.”

Goniea feels that some people shy away from the HVACR trade because the engineering degree is not as “glamorous” as an engineering degree in other trades.

He is seeking a summer 2007 internship and hopes to move into management after he receives his Bachelor of Science degree in May 2008.

If you’d like to contact any of these students mentioned in this article, or would like more information on how to contact two-year and four-year students at FSU, e-mail

Publication date:01/15/2007