Chris, 55, originally from the Bay Area, CA, is an HVAC instructor at The Refrigeration School (RSI). Chris joined RSI in November 2018 and has 29 years of experience in the HVAC and electromechanical fields. He is currently teaching phase six of the Electro-Mechanical Technologies program, Comfort Heating & Cooling.
Thanks for your time, Chris. Tell us how you came to join RSI.
I moved to Arizona last year. Prior to that, I worked for Samsung and Freescale in Austin, Texas. I was in the HVAC Operations and Engineering department for Samsung. We controlled the environment for the whole Samsung site in Austin, which was interesting. My electro-mechanical experience was in the semi-conductor field with Freescale.
Having both HVAC and semi-conductors gave me a broad range of experience. I knew I would never go without a job. I have nine years of experience in the HVAC field specifically, but in the broader electro-mechanical field, it’s 29 years.
Why did you decide to become an instructor?
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The idea came to me out in Austin. There was a non-profit organization that reached out to me. They gave young people a hand up, kids from broken homes who had hit a wall in life. The director asked me if I wanted teach a class. Unfortunately, they had several things on their plate. The HVAC class was the one they needed the least, so it didn’t happen. But that’s what gave me the idea of wanting to teach.
What brought you back to Arizona?
It was actually a personal reason. My dad had passed away in 2017, and I’ve got my family out here. I was just looking to come back.
What do you enjoy most about teaching?
Teaching for me, in a nutshell, is a way of paying it forward. Most of these folks are in a transition, and I’ve been through many transitions myself. Most of these guys have probably never worked on a piece of equipment, but when they actually get it, it feels really good. It is really great to meet these folks right at their transition and be able to make a difference in peoples’ lives.
HVAC has a number of branches. Go into any building and there will be some form of HVAC, whether it’s low-temp, comfort cooling, chillers or boilers. It is all the same. This is a great career path.
As a new instructor, what’s the biggest challenge?
I’m just getting through my very first phase, so time will tell. But I think the biggest challenge right now is that everyone has different styles of learning. My class is 27 students, and some are kinesthetic learners, some are visual and some are auditory, so I have to kind of mix it up. If you’re paying attention to your audience, you can recognize the cues. I’m learning when I need to go back over something or work with a student in a different way. Everything gets easier with practice, and RSI provides some really good CEE training for instructors.
As a boy, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I had a number of things I wanted to be, but actually an engineer. I’ve worked with plenty of engineers and been on plenty of teams where I’ve had projects to do for engineers, and it’s been great. No complaints. I’ve worked for some world-class companies and had valuable training, so I’m pretty satisfied with how it all turned out.
Tell me something that most people don’t know about you.
I like to think I’m an open book, but I do like continuous improvement. Things are always changing, and the more dynamic I am about approaching new situations in mind, body and spirit, the better. Having a good spirit about you is very important.
If you weren’t a teacher what would you do?
If I had a million dollars I’d create a non-profit that gives underprivileged kids an opportunity to change their lives. I’d like to teach them leadership skills, teach them a trade and give them a good path.
If you could have dinner with anyone, alive or dead, who would it be?
I’d love to have a conversation with Martin Luther King or John F. Kennedy. They both had such an impact on the changes that happened in the 60s, and that was my era. I was born in the 60s.
What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to new students considering RSI?
It seems like everyone who comes to RSI is going through a transition, but to be successful, the real transition needs to happen in your mind. Whatever bad habits you have up to this point, you need to change them and get your mind right. You need to create a plan, a vision, for where you are now and where you want to be. Then break that plan down into small attainable steps, add a timeline to it and then drive it.
If you want to make a real transition, it has to occur in your head first. It’s hard. People don’t like change, but sometimes change is a big part of success. There was something I read recently that said, “Go with the decision that scares you the most because it’s going to grow you the most.”
What’s your favorite tool in the field? What could you not do without?
Basically, my attitude. I take a little time in the morning to clear my head and think about things I’m grateful for. I usually work out, too, just to get my head right for the day. Whether you’re working residential or on industrial equipment, you’re going to be around individuals who may not be in the best of moods. You have to know how to deal with that, and that has a lot to do with the attitude you have.
What was your favorite part of your time in the field?
Being the guy who knew how to fix it! If it’s comfort cooling, you show up to a house or business and everything is just hot inside, especially in Arizona. People have their bathing suits on and are sweating, and it’s just you and a van full of parts. To be able to go in there and fix it within five or ten minutes, evaluate their system and make recommendations, you feel like a rock star!
You get an unexpected day to yourself. What would you do with that time?
I stay pretty busy, and I’m very active. I’d probably see if a friend wanted to go on a hike with me, then afterward I’d go to breakfast. I’d try to knock a couple of items off my to-do list, then plan a dinner with my family or a good friend and end it with a bottle of wine.
If you were to tell someone “thank you” for making you the man you are today, who would it be?
I would say my grandparents on my mom’s side. They were always encouraging me. They were always there for birthdays and holidays. My grandparents were awesome.