The answer might not come in the immediate future, but the Mechanical Contractor’s Association of America (MCAA) is betting on some eventual return on its investment as nearly 135 students from 25 colleges and universities descended upon Atlanta for the sixth annual Student Chapter summit. College students and their faculty advisors and instructors participated in the 2006 summit at the Sheraton Buckhead Hotel near the heart of America’s southland. The event is hosted annually by an MCAA local association and is open to all MCAA student chapter affiliates.
The purpose of the student summit is to provide an opportunity for the future professionals of the mechanical construction, plumbing, and service industry to learn more about the industry and the career opportunities that it offers.
MCA of Georgia, which is also a sponsor of the Georgia Tech and Southern Polytechnic State University student chapters, sponsored this year’s summit. The fast-paced agenda included a review of the 2005-06 student chapter competition, a detailed announcement of the 2006-07 competition project, a mini competition designed for the summit, educational presentations from successful HVAC contractors, local building tours, and a trip to Turner Field for an Atlanta Braves baseball game.
Most of the student attendees are juniors and seniors, eager to explore future employment opportunities and network with students from around the country.
John Gentile, executive vice president and CEO of the MCAA and a driving force behind the student chapter program said, “The value to the students of being able to get first-hand advice for two days from some of the best mechanical contractors in the business is more than worth the time away from the classroom.”
Michael Cullinane, the current national president of MCAA and president of Bert C. Young & Sons Corp., welcomed the students and faculty to Atlanta during the Wednesday morning breakfast kickoff meeting. Cullinane noted he had attended the last four student summit meetings. “Over the years, we have seen that one of the greatest benefits of the Student Summit is the negotiation skills training that takes place during the mini-competitions,” he said.
Jack Wilhelmi, current chairman of the MCAA education committee and division president of Waldinger Corp., also welcomed the student crowd. “Be sure to spend time networking with your peers while you are here. I’ll guarantee that sometime in your future careers you will meet one of the people in this room in a negotiation,” said Wilhelmi. “It will be invaluable when you can say, ‘We met in Atlanta in 2006.’ You have no idea how important networking can be to your negotiations.”
CONTRACTORS AND STUDENTS BENEFITThe summit is a gathering of students enrolled in four-year colleges who are pursuing degrees in construction management, mechanical engineering, or other related disciplines. MCAA has been using its educational efforts to attract future HVAC recruits from these talented students.
Kim Steele, corporate recruiter for Waldinger, was present at the conference. “These people are our future. It makes good sense to be here recruiting good talent.” A look around the room verified that Steele was on to something. Approximately 15 mechanical companies from California to New York were in attendance.
Many of the students interested in the mechanical trade will work as interns with companies they meet through their MCAA contacts, and some will find themselves with job offers long before graduation. Each student chapter has a local MCAA affiliate that serves as a sponsor. The students’ efforts are often focused on recruiting new members as senior students graduate each year. Freshmen and sophomores are less likely to join because they have not yet seen the importance of networking.
Each chapter provided activity reports the first morning. In addition to recruitment efforts, many said the chapter’s focus is on community support. The University of Louisiana-Monroe chapter told an interesting story: Several students are members of the Louisiana State National Guard and served in rescue and clean-up duties after hurricanes Katrina and Rita caused devastation throughout southern Louisiana.
Geoffrey Lewis, two-time student chapter president at Purdue University, shared some secrets of recruiting with his peers during a special portion of the program. Purdue has placed high nearly every year in the Student Chapter of the Year competition.
Lewis told the crowd, “We try to promote the travel aspect of field trips, educational summits, and national MCAA meetings. Also, a big key is to simply ask local contractors to help you with projects - they want to be involved. We also make every effort to create contractor-student activities to bring students in touch with prospective employers.” Lewis also works with local companies to establish internship programs. Purdue currently has about 12 student internships with HVAC companies.
MCAA provides various grants to help student chapters fund various activities, even travel to the student summit and the annual national MCAA convention. According to Gentile, a $3,000 emerging chapter grant is available for newly established groups, $2,000 internship grants are available to assist with contractor placements, and $3,000 chapter excellence grants are also available. “About half of our education foundation’s annual budget goes to fund the education program and the internships,” said Gentile.
MECHANICAL SYSTEMS TOURAfter a morning of meetings, the students boarded buses with their box lunches and headed for downtown Atlanta. The first stop was the Christopher W. Klaus Advanced Computing Building on the campus of the Georgia Institute of Technology. When the facility is completed this fall, it will house some of the most advanced computing labs and innovative educational technology in the world. The building will also include a substantial number of environmental and sustainable features with the goal of achieving the prestigious LEED Silver rating from the U.S. Green Building Council.
The second part of the tour was at the High Museum of Art & Woodruff Arts Center. The facility had recently completed a major expansion that added five buildings and more than doubled the museum’s exhibition space.
Marjorie Harvey, director of architectural planning and design, said, “Proper climate control is essential to a museum’s ability to attract important gifts, loans, and exhibitions. We are often required to demonstrate our ability to meet and maintain environmental standards for the preservation of works of art.”
The new systems had to be installed on a fast-track schedule, and operating well in advance so that the museum could record gallery temperature and humidity conditions. Without proper conditions, the Louvre display would not have been allowed to travel to Atlanta. An international design team and Trane designed a new chiller plant to supplement to existing chillers. The entire project was completed on time. The installation was performed by B&W Mechanical Contractors of Norcross, Ga.
The buses then headed back to the hotel where everyone traded short-sleeved shirts for windbreakers and then reboarded the buses for Turner Field. Unfortunately for the home team, the New York Mets showed why they had already clinched a playoff berth in the National League. However, one of the students caught a foul ball midway through the game to the cheers of his fellow students. All were provided field-level seats courtesy of the MCA of Georgia and dinner courtesy of the Waldinger Corp.
All student chapters do not focus totally on mechanical contracting, but the goal of MCAA is to broaden the awareness of the HVAC and plumbing industries among college students in order to attract the best possible talent for future years.