Coyne College, a 113-year-old school, has been training students for careers in the HVACR industry since the 1930s. It’s a place where faculty and staff help out students, as well as graduates, both inside and outside of the classroom. And while the school itself has been around a long time, the school combines traditional and new methodologies when it comes to recruiting and teaching students.


The Coyne Electrical School of Chicago was founded in Chicago in 1899. According to the school’s catalog, at the beginning, it trained mainly electricians. By 1930, Coyne added HVACR training and radio repair to its instruction and in subsequent decades included other forms of technical training.

According to the school’s catalog, “Near the end of the 1960s, the Coyne Electrical School merged with another school, the American Institute of Engineering and Technology, a drafting, engineering, and electronics institute. The result was Coyne American Institute.

“In 2010, Coyne American Institute became Coyne College. Today, Coyne College provides entry-level job-training programs at three campuses.”

Two of the campuses are in Chicago and include programs for health care, electrical/electronics, and HVACR. A third campus focuses on court reporting.

While Coyne started offering HVACR certificate program training in 1930, it was not until 2005 that the HVAC associate degree — Associate of Applied Science (AAS) — program was introduced. Both programs have some core HVAC classes in common: Introduction to Mechanical Refrigeration Systems; Introduction to Electrical Servicing; Introduction to Commercial Controls; Commercial Controls and Applications; Gas Heating; Air Conditioning, Electric Heat, and Heat Pumps; and Troubleshooting Systems and Installation. Other courses are also required for the AAS degree. These range from more HVAC technical courses, such as Advanced Controls and Computer Applications and Sheet Metal, to an applied general-education component with coursework including classes in other fields, such as Introduction to Supervision, Written Communication for Technicians, Speech Communication for Technicians, Applied Environmental Science, Applied Business Ethics, Mathematics for the Trades, and Workplace Psychology. The diploma day program takes 42 weeks to complete, while the diploma night program takes 56 weeks. The day degree program is 78 weeks long, and the night degree program is 104 weeks.


Contractors recruit new hires and schools recruit students. Coyne College uses a myriad of avenues to get the word out about the school. The school sends representatives to high school career fairs and uses media outlets for this purpose, as well as students spreading the word about the school themselves, said Phil Rizzo, an HVAC instructor at the college. Also, the school continues to be on the lookout for new modes of recruitment, he said.

In addition to traditional methods, the school utilizes various forms of online recruiting. Kelley Anderson, director of education at Coyne College, said, Coyne “advertises on the Internet, through the school website, and through various social media outlets like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and others.”

And once prospective students become enrolled in the school, instructors and students interact via social media.

“We have a Facebook page and use it to communicate with students and graduates,” said Rizzo. “Our instructors also use email to communicate back and forth with students and graduates that may have study questions or technical questions in the field.”

Social media also is implemented for instructional purposes. Anderson said that, with the aid of students, HVAC instructor Mike Voitik made and posted instructional videos on “Coyne’s YouTube channel, which can be found by searching ‘Coyne 1899.’ The videos follow Voitik, step by step, as he completes HVAC
projects that range from boiler clean and checks, to finding a refrigerant leak. Videos are an excellent resource for students, graduates, and the general public.”

Before and After Graduation

Though social media is utilized as part of the learning process, most of the HVACR learning at the school occurs in the classroom and lab. Approximately 67 percent of the classes are HVAC lecture and theory, and the remaining 33 percent of the time students perform hands-on lab work.

Though classes are offered during the day and night, and the instructors are all full-time employees. Anderson said many of the instructors “have their own companies and perform HVAC work outside of their full-time teaching responsibilities.”

Rizzo said that by working in the HVACR industry in addition to teaching, it allows the instructors “to keep up to date with changes in equipment and problems in the field.”

In addition to instructors having field experience, the school has a Program Advisory Committee (PAC), with people on it who have real-world industry experience. The PAC consists of some “industry personnel practitioners, affiliated partners, and other interested parties who work with the faculty and staff to improve the programs.

“These PAC members are the people who know exactly what they’re looking for in an entry-level employee and help define the skills, knowledge, and competencies that become the objectives of Coyne’s occupational courses and programs.”

Justin Rivera, an employee with HeatMasters in Chicago who received an AAS degree from Coyne College, said that the teachers in the HVAC program made sure that he really learned the information.

“After I completed group projects, the teachers would let me pick out any air conditioner, any refrigerator, or any compressor to work on,” he said. “They really give you the time to figure it out, whether it’s a few minutes or a whole day. If I needed a hint to solve the problem, the instructor was always a few feet away.”

He added, “Mr. Voitik, my troubleshooting teacher, stayed after school with me on occasion so I could work on furnaces and boilers. He explained solutions to me in ways I could understand.”

Rivera said that he has taken all that he learned at Coyne College into the field with him after graduation. “One thing that sticks out in my mind the most is the air conditioning and refrigeration courses. The instructors drilled those fundamentals in my head day after day — charging, evacuating, brazing, and pump downs.”

Andrew Gallardo, also a Coyne College graduate, said that what he learned at the school has been beneficial in his work as well. “Since my graduation, everything, from the first day of class to graduation day has not only helped me at my current job at [wholesaler] Gustave A. Larson Co., but has made the transition here a smooth success. Knowing and understanding how refrigeration, heating, and cooling works helps me not only with making sure the contractors have the right product, but if I do a side job, I know how to complete a job from start to finish.”

The strong relationships that the school develops with employers is the key to Coyne graduates getting hired, said Anderson. “We are continually developing strong partnerships with HVACR companies and offering our employer partners hands-on, value-added services similar to activities provided by a placement or staffing company, but without the typical fees involved. Services include screening graduates based on employer-specific criteria, scheduling individual and group interviews, and introducing alternative cost-effective solutions for entry-level training or apprenticeship programs.”

An example that Anderson gave of Coyne College and an HVAC contractor working together in the hiring process is one involving Four Seasons Heating Air Conditioning and Plumbing and illustrates the extent to which the two partnered for this process.

“Graduates were identified by Coyne staff based upon stringent GPA and attendance requirements determined by Four Seasons. Coyne also conducted group meetings with the graduates that qualified and presented detailed information regarding Four Seasons’ expectations and requirements. We helped schedule testing, and coordinate other documentation required by the employer including drug screening, background checks, strength testing, driving abstracts, and school transcripts. Coyne provided graduates with an additional two weeks of employer-specific training at no cost to the graduate,” said Anderson.

As a result of the school and contractor partnering, Four Seasons hired 46 Coyne graduates in 2012.

On the other side of the hiring coin, the school lends a hand to graduates looking for work. Someone from the career-services department meets with students close to completing their program, in order “to determine which employment opportunities would be the best fit [for both employer and employee] based upon the student’s skills, interest, personal situation, and the employers’ requirements. Coyne also helps students write résumés and work on their interview skills, job search strategies, social media, and networking opportunities,” said Anderson. “Job leads are also emailed to graduates approximately twice a week.”

The school even has alumni who return looking for employment, which aids the school in finding “qualified candidates for employers that require specific experience and talent in the marketplace,” stated Anderson.

Publication date: 2/25/2013