The hvacr department at Oklahoma State University in Okmulgee, OK has been unsuccessful in the past with keeping students in its program.

This does not mean that OSU has a bad program; on the contrary, the school’s air conditioning and refrigeration department has been around for more than 50 years, and it boasts a 100% job placement rate for graduating students. Moreover, the school is revered by area contractors.

OSU has no problem with educating students and finding them jobs. The problem has been keeping students throughout the required two years. In the past, the program has only had an average 20% retention rate.

Currently, a new direction in the program has 83% of the students graduating.

Gary Wantiez, instructor and head of the Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Technology Depart-ment at OSU, says the retention rate has gone up due to the establishment of a mandatory internship program two years ago. The mandatory internship places students with an area contractor after their first semester. The student then alternates every seven and a half weeks between taking classes on campus and working for the contractor.

“The driving force of this is high demand and low availability of qualified technicians,” said Wantiez.

Everyone Benefits

With the program, Wantiez has been able to help fill the technician shortages around the area, which includes parts of Oklahoma and the Dallas-Ft. Worth area of Texas.

Wantiez also says that this mandatory placement benefits the students. “The students are getting to apply what they are learning, and they get to earn money while they are doing it.”

Wantiez says that many students drop out because they don’t believe that what they are learning in the classroom will be applied when they graduate. This opportunity allows students to see that what they are learning is useful. Wantiez also stresses that it is not enough to have students work in a lab; they need to be out in the field gaining experience.

Approximately 30 contractors are taking OSU up on its offer, including Ken McDivitt of Service Experts in Norman, OK. Presently, McDivitt has employed seven current hvac students and has recently hired a past intern for full-time employment.

McDivitt says that this program is helpful because it gives students necessary experience. Oklahoma state law requires that techs be able to pass the journeyman’s test. By the time students have finished their internship and are out of the program, McDivitt says they should be able to pass the journeyman’s test without a problem.

This has been a benefit for McDivitt because he has been able to keep some of the students working for him after they graduate. One student in particular has done just that.

Daniel Avery began working for Service Experts before he started at OSU, and then interned for the company during his schooling. This past August, Avery graduated from the two-year program and went to work full time for McDivitt.

Avery says that the program definitely is able to raise the retention rate. He says if it weren’t for the internship program, he probably would not have finished.

“It helped me because I have a family,” Avery said. “In a regular program, that’s a full two years without working.”

Like many hvacr students, Avery needed to take classes but still had to be able to make money. McDivitt paid Avery for his internship and he was able to not only help out his family, but also pay his tuition.

Wantiez said that most contractors do this. While the student is interning, the contractor may offer to pay half, if not all, of their tuition, plus housing and study materials. Contractors, in turn, get the opportunity to tell if they want to keep their intern after s/he graduates.

“The contractor has the student for roughly a year,” Wantiez said. “This is a good opportunity to see what kind of employee they have and if they want them to stay.”

The student also gets the same opportunity by working for a contractor and deciding over time if he wants to work for the company after graduation.

Wantiez says the program is a complete success, and not just because he has been able to raise the department retention rate. From his first graduating class in the program, all of his students but one went back to the employer they interned with.