Don’t mention the words “Domestic Diagnosis” to Brad Bartz. It’s a sore point with the first-year HVACR student at Ranken Technical College.
“I don’t like hearing that name,” says the 24-year-old.
Let’s say Bartz believes he is not getting the grade in this class that he was shooting for.
“I think I got a ‘C’ in that one,” he said, in a low tone of voice, almost embarrassed to admit. “I’m not proud of that one. I don’t know how I did that.”
OK. That might be a stretch. He admits to somewhat botching a course project in the 40-day class, which took place at the start of the 2007 spring semester. The project entailed rerouting some copper tubing down to a compressor.
In the process, instructor Paul Mueller had students poke pin-sized holes in the tubing, two going down to the compressor and two going to the evaporator. Two of the holes were to be brazed, while the other two holes were to be sealed using a heat stick. Each student was supposed to test for leakage - and Bartz thought he had done a good job, but…
“The thing was, when I pressure-tested it for leak testing, I guess I did not turn enough pressure into it, because when the teacher came by and tested it, there was a small leak,” he said. “When he put more refrigerant in to test it, there were little tiny bubbles coming out. He said, ‘I can’t pass it.’”
Thinking over what he “messed up” earlier this semester, Bartz added, “That hurt me pretty good.”
Not that the resident of Maryville, Ill., is brooding over spilled refrigerant. It was a learning experience, and that is why he came to Ranken in the first place.
“We did a lot of debugging in that class,” he said, meaning students had to analyze and troubleshoot problems with refrigerators, room air conditioners, and freezers. “I definitely learned a lot more [in that class]. It was a stupid mistake. I think I was more nervous than anything.”
With three more weeks of school left at the time of this visit, Bartz was more optimistic with the remainder of his course outcomes. After earning only As and Bs in his first full semester, the confident student was expecting the same results for his second semester courses, which includes “Intermediate Algebra,” “College Composition 1,” “Computer Literacy,” and “Install Practices and Electric Theory.”
“I had a stroke of bad luck in that class,” said Bartz, still trying to shake off the outcome of the “Domestic Diagnosis” class. “‘C’ is average, but I don’t like to be average.”
EXCEPT FOR THAT ONE CLASS...In truth, instructor Steve Jones believes Bartz is anything but average. Jones had nothing but glowing remarks for what Bartz is accomplishing in his class, “Install Practices and Electrical Theory.”
“He is doing a great job,” said Jones. “I can tell he wants to do good. He’s a good kid.”
On this day the class is bending pipe for a furnace run. Bartz, working with fellow student Dave Murphy, measures everything to be exact.
“We have to know everything out there,” said Bartz. “I know we did aluminum-to-aluminum soldering, but the teacher said that is not done much any more. But, it’s good to know.”
Reflecting back, he added, “Most of this is mathematics and I’m pretty good at that.”
Bartz thoroughly enjoys the hands-on instruction - and, if he could, he’d only have hands-on courses.
“I am good working with my hands,” he said. “I always have been. I am much better at showing you how to do something with my hands, than writing it down on paper. Right now, I can guarantee I know what needs to be done.”
“I love it, man,” he said. “I tell you, I can’t get enough of it. If I had to go to a college, I’d rather pick a trade school. I think this is a better trade school than what I’ve been hearing about the other ones” in the St. Louis area.
This being a Friday, Bartz could go home after Jones’ class. That is not the case on Tuesdays and Thurs-days, when schooling is from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. “I could go without the general education courses,” he confessed, but knows the value in learning proper English and math. “Nowadays you have to have that to have a degree.”
Not that Bartz is experiencing problems in either math or English composition. He just completed an Algebra quiz, earning a 109 score on the test.
“I took elementary composition my first semester because I was not sure of myself, being out of school for a few years,” he explained. “The same with math, but I think I caught on. It made it easier for me this semester by taking those elementary classes last semester.”
STILL WEIGHING OPTIONSAt this point in time, Bartz is uncertain which market he wants to step into: commercial or residential. “They had a job fair here last week. I looked at a couple of things,” he said, pointing out that he visited Hoffman Brothers Heating and Air Conditioning, a large residential and commercial contracting firm which covers the greater St. Louis area. “They seemed to be all right. What I am mostly interested in is local 36, sheet metal union. They mostly do a/c things and here I got an A-plus in this sheet metal class. I know I am good at it, but I could be better, of course.”
Bartz believes he will know more after completing the “Commercial Refrigeration/Light Heat and Air Conditioning Theory” class offered next fall, along with the accompanying shop segment. He has enrolled in that course, and also plans to take “Oral Communications,” “College Comp II,” and “Principles of Sociology.”
“I’ll know that answer after taking commercial refrigeration next semester,” he said referring to the question of commercial or residential. “I’ll see if I like it or not. Commercial refrigeration pays more, I know.”
He still has visions of owning his own business, but he knows that will not be immediate.
“I know I am going to get a job when I get out of here,” he said, as Ranken boasts that 98 percent of its graduates find gainful employment in their chosen field within six months of graduating. “There’s no doubt. If one person does not pick me, another will.”
Bartz said it will be strange not attending class this summer, but he will be earning needed cash for fall tuition by working at a grocery store. Since he lives with his mother, he has cut back on paying for rent, which is OK with his mother.
“She’s overjoyed that I’m going to school,” he said.
Bartz did not look for a summer job in the trade simply because “most of the jobs that were offered at the job fair were long-term jobs and were not hiring summer help.”
Looking ahead, he said, “Now that my first year at Ranken is over, I do believe that it was a good choice for my life and I have no regrets in enrolling. The only thing that I believe that I need work on is the electrical part of the trade. I’m not horrible at it, but I do need improvement.”
“I’m not really horrible at anything I’ve done yet,” he added. “I just need more general practice.”