Kevin Couch instructs students at the R.G. Drage Career Center in Massillon, Ohio.
MASSILLON, Ohio - After spending time working in the field, Kevin Couch is living a dream as an HVAC instructor at R.G. Drage Career Center in Massillon, Ohio.

"I loved working in the field and having the time to work with my dad for several years before he passed on," Couch said.

"But looking at my father, he had a chance to try something else when he was younger, but he didn't do it. When my chance came to me, I jumped on it and have not looked back. There are days when I miss working in the field, but I love to see the students learning new tasks in the lab."

In his eighth year as an instructor, Couch earned an honorable mention in the 2004 Instructor of the Year contest sponsored by The News and ARI.

Couch's teaching career has had many highlights, but nothing brings him as much satisfaction as seeing his students succeed in the professional world. He points to a 1999 graduate who received his state license in HVAC and recently started a new company.

"The bottom line with the students that attend our school is that I'm trying to prepare them with the strongest fundamentals of the vocation that I can," Couch said. "I have finished seven years of teaching and graduated six classes. The most satisfying thing that I experience is when a graduate comes back and says thanks for teaching them and shares his success with me, professionally and personally."

All students that finish with a C average receive a certificate of completion. Students that take the higher-level academics and pass receive a Tech Prep Certificate, which can also help with scholarships at the local college. Students are encouraged to continue their education for two years at Stark State, a college of technology in Canton, Ohio. Students can receive an associate's degree in HVAC from Stark.

Couch's seniors also have the opportunity to install the heating system in a local Habitat for Humanity home.

"We average three houses a year that we do the rough-in and finish on. The students will fabricate all sheet metal, lay out the houses, and make a list of material that we do in the related classroom," Couch said.

The instructor makes sure each student receives plenty of hands-on experience.

"One of the greatest parts of the job is when you see a student actually learn and succeed with a task and be able to demonstrate it with confidence," Couch said. "I like to teach with the thought of making the students figure out how something is to be done. The students will learn the most when they make a ‘safe' mistake and then learn the correct way to do a task."

Couch has been steadily building the HVAC program at the school. Last year he went to all the schools in the area to talk about tech prep and promote the HVAC program at the career center. Because of that work, attendance at the career center is up this year.

Couch has also worked hard to make sure there is a solid relationship between the program and area HVAC professionals.

"Area contractors have laid out the necessary criteria that the program should teach in our area," Couch said. "I have been lucky to have area businesses and wholesalers supporting us on our advisory committee and donations of new and older equipment."

Publication date: 11/08/2004