The list of colleges and universities with an hvacr technology degree program is woefully short. Lack of interest can either shut down such a program, or provide reason enough to never open one in the first place. So how is Ferris State University in Big Rapids, MI, still able to draw students and provide a steady output of qualified workers?

Each student from Ferris’ hvac technology program receives 20 to 25 job offers after graduation. It’s clear Ferris State University is on to something, and it’s no secret — over 40% of Ferris’ hvacr students come from outside the state.

Establishing a Partnership

Ferris State began its hvacr technology program in the mid-1980s, and since then it has always had the support of industry corporations, especially Johnson Controls, Inc.

According to Mike Feutz, Ferris’ program coordinator, Johnson Controls has always been available to help with expenditures, providing money to help out with purchasing equipment and so forth.

Recently, Johnson Controls made its most lofty donation to the university to date; the hvacr department officially opened its new on-campus laboratory, complete with over $280,000 worth of new equipment and computers, and featuring 10 Metasys™ M-5 workstations.

Johnson Controls has also benefited from its partnership with Ferris. According to Renee Jennings of Johnson Controls, the company employs 250 individuals throughout Michigan. Of that number, it is estimated 20% to 25% are Ferris graduates. Many other Ferris graduates go on to take positions at Johnson Controls in other areas of the country.

Jennings feels that by contributing to Ferris, Johnson Controls is contributing to the development and future of its industry.

The company is also willing to hire before graduation. “What we’ve also done is a co-op program,” Jennings said. “We tend to get involved with students early.”

This allows students to get the necessary hands-on experience they need. Not only are the students learning in the labs, they also get out and, as the department motto says, “Learn by Doing.”

Ambitious Instructors

Ferris is not stopping with its new technology lab. The next step is to have a new hvacr building on campus, but first the university is looking for funding from the State of Michigan. Currently, Feutz and several other staff members have been coordinating the effort, and instructors are very optimistic that the building will one day be a reality.

Although it may be years yet before Ferris has its building, the paperwork is started and letters have been sent to senators to urge funding. This time around, Ferris instructors were able to join forces with several organizations to start a campaign to fax and e-mail their state representatives. Feutz, along with other hvacr staff, was able get help from such organizations as the Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute (ARI) and the United Association (UA), to name two.

Feutz says he would also like to someday establish an online curriculum. This would enable students to take part in hvacr courses and earn their degrees over the Internet. This move would bring the hvacr industry into the technology era and possibly pique the interest of individuals who would never have thought of entering the field.

This move would also allow individuals to take part in hvacr from anywhere in the country. This could be especially beneficial, since a great number of hvacr technology students at Ferris are from out of state, and the hope is that interest will continue to grow.

“The staff is really outgoing,” said Megan Ruehmeier, secretary for the Mechanical Service Con-tractors of America (MSCA) student chapter. “We wouldn’t have gotten any of this done if they weren’t outgoing.”

Students like Ruehmeier praise the instructors’ motivation, as well as their experience and wealth of knowledge.

Many of the instructors are still active in the hvacr field beyond the campus. Ruehmeier says that this extra involvement has made it possible for them to keep students up on the cutting edge of the industry.

Student Support

As said before, graduates of Ferris’ hvacr program are offered between 20 and 25 jobs after completion of the course work. There are several reasons for this, but one central reason is the support that can be found on campus from student organizations. Ferris has an American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) student organization, as well as the only student MSCA organization in the country.

These chapters play a vital role in finding job opportunities for students and offering a source where students can ask questions. Speakers are even brought in to offer tips on how to succeed in the industry.

Taking part in these organizations is not required, but strongly recommended. “They help you find jobs and internships,” Ruehmeier said. “And they prepare students for real-life situations.”

Joe Parker, MSCA chapter president, agrees and says that it is as easy as giving your résumé to your chapter advisor.

Parker also says that Ferris has gained a great reputation, which makes its name on a résumé very valuable. Parker recently attended this year’s MSCA conference in Toronto, ON, Canada, and was told by several contractors that Ferris State University is not one of the best, but the best.

Parker and Ruehmeier both believe that contractors find Ferris to be exceptional because Ferris instructors not only teach students the technical issues, but also keep them up to date on the business aspect of hvacr.

Parker says that Ferris graduates are so valuable because, “When we graduate, our knowledge falls between service and engineering.”

Michael Laws, ASHRAE chapter president, concurs. Laws recently completed an internship and says he was surprised to see that he was much further ahead than another intern he worked with at the same level.

“On the first day I was doing load calculations and selecting equipment,” Laws said. “I was designing systems during my internship.”

For more information on Ferris State’s hvacr program, contact program coordinator Mike Feutz at 231-591-2351; 231-591-2492 (fax); (website); (e-mail).

Ferris State Students Excel in ASHRAE Competition

Students of Ferris State University’s Hvacr Engineering Technology program took top honors in two categories of the annual international student design competition sponsored by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE).

Students submit reports containing their proposals for system selection or system design relating to the hvac systems. The students are then supplied with Internet-downloaded designs and criteria of the building for which they must make system proposals. This year’s building was based on a college campus building in Greenville, SC.

In this year’s competition, Ferris beat out 17 other colleges and universities throughout the nation and the world. This competition marked the fifth time the university has taken part in the ASHRAE-sponsored event. It is also the fourth time the university has placed in the top three.

Last year Ferris took second-place honors, and in 1997 and 1998 students placed third and first, respectively.

Students from the Applied Technology Center in Grand Rapids, MI, under the direction of associate professor Mike Korcal garnered first-place honors in the system design category, while their counterparts at the Big Rapids campus under the direction of professor Mitch LeClaire placed first in the system selection category.

Publication date: 11/06/2000