HYDE PARK, VT — Mark Wright has only been an hvacr instructor for one full year. But in that year, Wright has accomplished what some instructors spend a lifetime trying to do. He has captured the enthusiasm of his students, he has been able to successfully teach his students and lead them toward careers in the industry, and he has found unique ways to teach the trade.

More importantly, Wright can be classified as The News’ “Best Hvacr Instructor” of 2001 because he has made sacrifices in order to put the industry first.

Ask any instructor why they decided to be a teacher and chances are almost none will say for the money. The same is true for Wright. The 15-year veteran left a promising job as a service manager and took a pay cut to teach young people at the Green Mountain Technology and Career Center.

Wright reiterates what many people in the trade say when it comes to finding qualified techs. It only seems to get harder and harder. So Wright decided to take matters into his own hands and be the one who finds new students and sets them on a path in the hvacr industry.

Mark Wright (kneeling) with his current students (from left): Jeremy Shiffington, J.J. Staples, Jasson Wells, Jeffrey Davis, Abel Delgado, and Jeremy Kaufman.

Starting At Square One

Terry Bailey is the director of the Green Mountain Technology and Career Center. The center offers vocational training to high school juniors and seniors who would like to take a trade course as an elective. When Bailey came to Green Mountain, it had no hvacr department. In fact, Bailey says that when he came to Vermont, out of the 15 vocational schools throughout the state, not one had an hvacr program.

“I couldn’t understand why this couldn’t be a career choice,” Bailey said about hvacr.

One of the reasons Bailey felt this way is because he was originally at a school in Virginia that has a very successful hvacr program, and he didn’t see why that success could not be repeated.

The first step in doing this would be to find a qualified instructor. Bailey advertised the job opening in several local newspapers. The newspaper ad eventually found Wright, and the former service manager decided to look into it. But Wright said that he had no formal teaching experience, only his 15 years in the industry.

Wright interviewed for the job, took a mentoring program to earn a teaching degree, and the position was his. Wright says that the job looked like a great change of pace. He says that after many years in the industry his knees are shot, and a slower-paced job could do him well.

When Wright started at Green Mountain, nothing could have been further from the truth.

“When I got into it, they had nothing,” Wright said about starting at the center.

And Wright couldn’t have been any more accurate. The instructor had to create a curriculum, as well as build an entire lab. The space that the school gave him for the program, according to Wright, “was an empty cavity.”

To start, Wright had to find donations in order to build his lab space. The school gave Wright a $50,000 budget to begin the program. But the whole sum was meant to start the department, and whatever was left would be Wright’s salary. With that in mind, donations were extremely important.

The first step was to put together an advisory board. As a veteran of the industry, Wright was able to get a few local contractors and dealers together to help him out. The next step was to explore what others were doing. He then decided that he wanted to teach his new students the basics of hvacr, including residential heat, refrigeration theory, clean air, safe refrigeration practices, and other subjects. Wright is already aiming to extend his program to a two-year course.

Then Wright needed to obtain the equipment that would be required to teach those aspects of the trade. On the advice of a friend, Wright began to compose e-mails and letters to manufacturers or anyone else who could pitch in and contribute something to the lab. After making many contacts, Wright ended up with approximately $35,000 worth of equipment and system donations, including cutaway demonstration burners, oil pumps, and boilers.

The donations became teaching tools for Wright’s students. The new equipment and its installation was part of the classroom curriculum. Wright and his seven students took the time to install and set up the boiler lab for the course. Wright says that the process was not only a learning experience for his students, but something they could take pride in.

“They couldn’t believe that they built this boiler room,” Wright said about his students.

Keeping Them Interested

In his first year, Wright started with only seven students. One student was a 43-year-old man who was looking for training in order to change careers. But the rest of Wright’s students were young and in high school. With that in mind, capturing their interest and enthusiasm was a must. Building the boiler room, according to Wright, was a step in that direction.

Wright also made it a point to get his students out of the classroom in order to get them real-world experience. The first “field trip” left the classroom, but not the building.

“I took them for a walk through the school,” Wright said. “It was my way of showing them what’s out there.”

The walk through the school included a look at the building’s hvac systems. The class then spread out to other areas of the building. In fact, Wright’s class slowly became the repairmen for the school. Wright explains that his students fixed the refrigeration systems for the school’s walk-in cooler and they helped the cosmetology department.

At the time, Wright’s wife was teaching cosmetology at Green Mountain. The room where she was teaching needed water for the sinks and Wright’s students provided all the plumbing that was necessary.

Wright has also taken his students on other excursions, including a field trip to the F.W. Webb exposition held in Barre, VT. The instructor said that this trip was the talk of the school for the next week. Wright’s students received not only an education on new products, but they also came back with hats, screwdrivers, and many other gifts which became the envy of the rest of the school.

Wright’s class also visited a local grocery store where the manager gave them free reign to see all the mechanical systems. The students were even able to go inside a Season’s 4, 50-ton package unit.

Learning More Than The Trade

But even more helpful than any field trips or maintenance around the school, Wright and his students have even helped each other out. Wright said that he and his students became a tight-knit group, so much so that if one student in the group had problems, the rest would pull him through.

For example, if students had a problem on a system in their own home, the other students and Wright would take the time to come out and fix the problem.

Larry Robert, electronics instructor at the center, has seen first hand the rapport Wright has had with his students.

“Mark and I both started programs at the same time,” Robert said. “We are right next to each other [in the building] and we really relied on each other to get through that first year.”

Robert has seen the way Wright has transformed the classroom and his students.

“He brings in a lot of morals and a lot of things that kids don’t get right now,” Robert said. “I think that he really has a presence in the classroom and he has the respect of his students.”

Part of that respect comes from Wright’s attitude in the classroom and for the industry. The instructor tells his students that the field is not just a job, but also a way of life. And this way of life requires pride, devotion, and selflessness.

He also says that on the other side, his course is the perfect opportunity to see if the field is something his students want. He expresses “no harm, no foul,” meaning that if students take the course and hvacr is not for them, at least they tried.

And for those who try and excel, Wright says, “I make the promise that if they are interested and really want to stick with it, I will get them a job with one of my advisory board members.”

Publication date: 09/10/2001