"We had very meager beginnings," said Ray Peters, one of the present instructors in the program.
When Linn State was looking to create an HVACR course, the college called on Peters to come on board. At the time, he was running his own small, five-employee contracting business.
He took Linn State up on its offer and set out to create a program from virtually nothing.
"We put a program together and set up a few pieces of equipment and a small shop," said Peters. "We started with refrigeration and small appliances. By the second year, we did heating and air conditioning."
Peters admits there was not a lot to go on in the early years. He had to start a lab and develop the curriculum from scratch. But when contractors and students get a good look at the present Linn State HVACR program, it is hard to believe that it was ever so modest.
The department has made great strides, increasing the number and variety of equipment in the lab as it broadens the educational opportunities that are presented to enrolled students. "The changes we make [to the program] are in response to what the industry says it needs," said Peters.
With each year he has been at Linn State, Peters has put into place new programs and new opportunities that have been beneficial for students and local industry.
In fact, Peters has bridged the gap between HVACR training and the industry by giving his students a close look at what the field can offer and what they need to learn in order to be successful.
Peters' drive and ambition have earned him a runner-up award in The News' Instructor of the Year contest.
Out In The FieldAccording to Peters, one of the most beneficial programs the school put into place was a summer internship for all HVACR students. The internship is mandatory, and he believes that it changes many students for the better.
The students must find a contractor to work for during the internship. The internship takes place between the first and second years of course study, and lasts for 15 weeks during the summer. "The internship gives the students experience and shows them what they will be expected to do once they get in to the field," said Peters.
He also believes that the internship prompts the students to learn more. He explains that when they come back from the internship and begin a new semester, the students realize they still have a lot to learn.
"When they come back in the second year, they approach the course like it is a job. I've never seen anything like it," said Peters.
According to Peters, the experience not only spurs students to continue learning, it also gives them more confidence in their abilities and more determination to tackle equipment problems.
The internship program has also helped to form industry contacts. Peters said that many of the students, upon graduation, will accept jobs from the same companies with which they interned. While the internship program poses obvious benefits for the students, it has also been a valuable resource for contractors looking for qualified technicians.
Coincidentally, this chapter was formed by Peters. Every student that enrolls in the Linn State HVACR program becomes a member of the RSES chapter. This gives them the opportunity to take RSES exams and provides them with training tools.
Peters stresses certification, including the Industry Competency Exam (ICE) and the RSES CM and CMS exams.
"The goal was to get the students as many industry certifications as they could," Peters said. "This helps give them credibility."
He explained that a number of different certifications on a resume will help these students when they are looking to become gainfully employed.
When the students are active members of the local RSES chapter, they are also welcome to all chapter events.
"We wanted the students to be able to go out and meet other industry people," said Peters. "We want them to be around HVAC people right away. This also helps the local contractors get to know the students."
The Lab ExperienceOver the years, with the help of other Linn State instructors and those in the local industry, Peters has been able to create an impressive lab. The HVACR shop is equipped with split system central air and gas heat, air-source heat pumps, water-source heat pumps, a number of fuel oil furnaces, rooftop commercial units, a sheet metal area, domestic refrigeration and commercial refrigeration areas, and a residential wiring lab.
The lab benefited from a fund-raising program spearheaded by Peters. The school was eligible for a state grant that would contribute matching funds. Most grants will match the amount a school can raise; this particular grant provided three times the amount raised.
With the help of Peters' advisory board and other local contractors, Linn State was able to raise $25,000. With the state grant, the program had $100,000 to use toward new lab equipment and tools.
There is enough equipment in the lab for each student to have his or her own unit to work on.
"I provide each student with individual work stations so the students can work at their own pace and do their own work," said Peters. "This will give the students the confidence that they can do the work by themselves."
He also encourages the students to work together. For example, students will put a bug in their trainer and then challenge another student to diagnose the problem.
"This gets the students very interested in finding the problem and makes them very competitive in the shop," said Peters. "And, they have a lot of fun doing it."
Linn State's remarkable lab space and its attention to the curriculum are two of the reasons why it was the first HVACR program in the country to earn accreditation through the Partnership for Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Accreditation (PAHRA). The program also boasts a number of other national accreditations.
Over the last 30 years, Peters has seen his students learn and move on to careers in the field. "Every time I see one of my students out in the field and succeeding, that is my reward," he said. "That is my little pat on the back."
Publication date: 10/27/2003