Jene, 63, from Wisconsin, is an instructor at The Refrigeration School (RSI). Jene has been with RSI for a little over a year.
Thanks for sharing your story, Jene. Is this your first teaching job?
No, it’s not. I studied electronics at DeVry in the 1970s. After graduating, I was a telephone engineer for a couple of years. Then I came back to Phoenix and taught at DeVry for about four years from 1980 to 1984. I was teaching PC repair before they were putting PCs on desks!
How many years’ experience do you have in the field?
I spent 30 years in the telecommunications industry. I owned my own company in that field for about 12 years. I then went into residential wiring, working with maintenance companies. I was basically fixing residential wiring in all kinds of apartment complexes.
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You’re teaching Phase Two at the moment?
Yes, I like getting to students while they are fresh! I can set them off in a good direction to finish the program. I teach residential wiring now, but I am also fully HVAC-certified. I work on air conditioners, too.
As a boy, what did you want to do when you grew up?
A lawyer. I actually went to school for a while, but then decided I didn’t want to be a lawyer!
How did you come to this field then?
When I went to school, we had two children. We had our third while I was in school. I just didn’t have the resources to go through that education process to become a lawyer. When I got to DeVry, I found I had a great propensity for technical knowledge. I just excelled at it. So that’s why my direction changed. I found I had a talent for fixing things.
What made you come back to teaching?
That’s easy! I love to teach. It was my favorite part of my career. I couldn’t continue back then because I had five young children and we couldn’t manage on a teacher’s salary. So last year when I was getting ready to retire at 62, I saw an advert. I thought it would be kind of nice. I love it. I’s like being retired with something to do! I could not have hoped for a better ending to my career.
What do you enjoy most about teaching?
They say teaching is a trained craft. But I believe there are natural born teachers, and I am one. I love passing on my knowledge.
Let me give you an example. One of the greatest statements I got from a student was when, after just 20 days, he stood back to look at a room he’d wired in a house by himself. He looked at me and said, “I can’t believe I just did that!” When you see that light bulb come on, it’s a high! I tell my students that 40 years ago I was sitting in a chair at DeVry just like they are now. I found that an education made a huge improvement in my life. I intend to help them discover that.
Tell us something that most people don’t know about you.
I’m just an old farm boy with a big family. I’ve got 11 siblings! I grew up on a farm and was barefoot out in the fields most of my young life. This farm boy turned out to be a pretty darn good businessman!
If you weren’t a teacher and you could pick your job, what would you do?
I’m doing exactly what I want to do. We were ready to retire, but my wife loves her job and I’m happy to work here until they carry me out on a gurney!
If you could have dinner with anyone, alive or dead, who would it be?
The only one I ever have my dinners with is my wife Patricia. I cannot think of a better substitute. We were high school sweethearts and have five kids and one adopted daughter. We have 16 grandchildren and 8 great grandchildren. I’m proud of them all. My kids went through college and are out there kicking the world’s behind.
What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to prospective students who are considering RSI?
Stay the course. A lot of students come from my kind of background: coming from nothing and trying to make something of themselves. This school is the answer. Finish the program and move on. It’s going to make an incredible difference in your life. I just could not fathom myself still being a shoe salesman back in Wisconsin. My life took a departure thanks to my education. So stick with it and it will be worth it in the end.
Overcome obstacles and hang in there. This is the answer. Sometimes it’s hard to see that when you’re buried in it. One student’s girlfriend threw him out on the street because he didn’t have a job. He lived on the street and still finished the program. That’s the kind of fortitude that makes a winner.
What’s your favorite tool? What could you not do without?
A physical tool? My knife, I guess, for stripping wires and things like that. But my most important tool is my brain. I made my way thanks to my troubleshooting skills. My company was a phone company, but I was hired to fix the things that their techs couldn’t fix. That’s how I started out. I can fix anything you plug into a wall.
Thinking of your time in the field, what was your favorite part of the job?
I loved doing electrical repairs, but I loved doing air conditioners, too. My jobs were maintenance positions, so I was doing it all. Everything from electrical repair, air conditioning repair, plumbing…you name it, I can fix it. One of the reasons I went into business for myself was the customer contact. I thrived on that. I always did well with customers.
You get an unexpected afternoon off to yourself, what would you do with that time?
My wife and I would go fishing. I’d be out on my boat on a lake in a heartbeat!
If you were to tell someone “Thank You” for making you who you are today, who would it be and why?
It would be my wife Patricia. She’s my rock. High school sweethearts, we got married when I was 18, so that’s 45 years. We live to make each other laugh, so hopefully that will keep us going well into our 90s.
Why should someone choose RSI?
For this particular type of education, I don’t think there is an institution that does this better. They found their niche. There are a few places here in town that teach this subject matter, but they don’t cover it like this school. There isn’t an instructor here that I wouldn’t be proud to stand next to and work with. The course structure is fast-paced. Students move through it quickly, and they come out of here prepared.