Grad Connections – Meet Jacki Chouanard

Jacki Chouanard Jacki, aged 48, graduated from the Electro-Mechanical Technologies program in October 2015. Jacki’s schedule was better suited to the 14 month evening class rather than the nine month morning or afternoon classes. She enrolled in the EMT program in August 2014.

Thanks for your time Jacki. Did you have prior experience in the HVAC field?

No, I’d never worked in the HVAC field. My experience was in electro-mechanical assembly. It was all assembling computers or generators.

So what brought you to RSI?

In June 2014 I got laid off from the company I’d worked for the previous six years. I assembled ruggedized computers for the military. No matter what job I’d had, it was always some kind of assembly role. It was getting to the point where I was tired of it. I wanted something different. I wanted more of a challenge. In my last job I did some troubleshooting and I fixed computers that customers sent back, and I really enjoyed that. I’d thought about going to school a few years earlier, but it never happened.

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You thought about going to school before, for anything in particular?

At first I wanted to be a park ranger, but that was going to take four years of college, and I didn’t have the time for that. Then I decided on small motor repair. I went online and refrigeration schools came up, so I looked into the options.

What made you choose RSI?

RSI interested me because it was close to home and they had night classes. I knew I’d have to go to school at night. Being close to home meant it wouldn’t be a long drive. When I met with Admissions, I took a tour of the school, and it really looked interesting. It was something new. I wanted to get into something where I could learn how things functioned, so I could fix them instead of just assembling them. It was kind of right up my alley, and it looked really fun actually!

So did you enroll at RSI to get a career working on motors?

I was still thinking motors, because I knew AC units, ice machines and chillers all have small motors. So, it kind of fit with my thinking. I also knew that wherever I go in the country, or the world for that matter, there will be some kind of AC units, chillers or ice machines that need to be repaired. I knew it would give me the opportunity for a career rather than just a job.

What was your favorite part of the RSI program and why?

I enjoyed the troubleshooting. It took me a little while to get it figured out, but I had a great teacher who walked me through it step by step until I caught on. I really enjoyed the problem solving aspect, trying to figure out what was going on. That was interesting to me. I also liked the Refrigeration phase of the program too because it was all low temp smaller machines.

You did the night classes. Were you working during the day?

Yes, two weeks after I started school I got hired on to the job I’m still working now. I actually build laser machines, so I’m still assembling. Unfortunately, I’m not in the HVAC business yet, but I’m still trying.

What kind of HVAC job are you looking for?

When I started I was trying to get into refrigeration, the low temp machines like walk-in coolers, ice machines, things like that. Basically somewhere like a grocery store, keeping their coolers and freezers working. I’ve not had any offers yet, so now I’m just trying to get a foot in the door. I’ll take residential, commercial, refrigeration, anything to get me in. I want to keep up with what I learned and put it to use.

You graduated three months ago. Are you still getting help from the school?

Yep, they’ve been very helpful. Ericka in Career Services has been great. She’s sent me job leads before they come up on the job boards, and we’ve changed up my resume a few times. I really don’t think they could do any more for me. I’ve had four interviews but no offers yet. I’m struggling a little with it, but all I can do is keep sending apps. Some day it will happen. I just need a chance to prove myself basically.

So would refrigeration be your dream job, Jacki?

Yes, I’d like to end up in refrigeration. Whether that’s owning my own business or working for somebody. As long as I enjoy what I’m doing, it’s a good company, and I feel like I’m helping people.

Did you leave RSI feeling like you were on your way to becoming a specialist?

I left knowing that I could do the job. I felt very comfortable when I got done. I just need a foot in the door. I’m glad I did it. It was big step in my life to decide to even go to school. So yes, I felt I learned quite a lot from RSI.

Working in HVAC can be quite hard physical work. Did you think about that beforehand?

It did cross my mind, and it’s one of the reasons for wanting to go into refrigeration. Being a residential service technician out in 100+ heat, or working on chillers in a grocery store are two very different jobs. For me it was kind of easy to decide on refrigeration.

What’s your favorite aspect of the HVAC field?

It can be a very rewarding career, but it can also be challenging. That’s the good thing about RSI. Whatever program you take, there are always different career avenues to explore. Students on the EMT program go through residential and commercial wiring, so they could be an electrician. Or they could go into solar, although granted that’s out in the sun and up on the roof too, but you have choices. It’s not a one dimensional career opportunity. There are many different roads you can take.

What’s the most satisfying thing for you?

Fixing something; making it work. To me that feels like I’ve accomplished something because the customer is satisfied and happy. That’s a big thing for me because customers come first. I’ll always want to be honest with customers, to be friendly, build a rapport. The more you can explain what you’re doing, the better they’ll understand why it needs to be done. Technicians don’t set the prices, but they can make the customer trust that the repair needs to be done. And if they like you, then the next time there’s a problem, they’ll call your company back.

Did you make some good connections at the school?

Four of us went from Phase one all the way through. I still keep in contact with a couple of the guys. I’m actually real good friends with one of them. He’s led me in certain directions. I’ve asked his advice on a couple of apps I’ve sent out. Nobody’s sent me to a job yet, but I’m sure something will come along soon.

What advice would you give to prospective students considering attending RSI?

If it’s something you really want to do, definitely check into it. The teachers are very good. Pay attention in class. They teach you a lot in a small amount of time, but it’s really good information. Everybody in the whole school is willing to help no matter who it is. Teachers, staff members – somebody is always there to help you.

What do you do for fun Jacki?

I like to go camping and hiking, and I enjoy spending time with my two boys – two Miniature Pinschers called Cochise and Duke. I also do leather craft; I carve in leather. I make wallets, belts, I’m actually doing a bible cover for a co-worker of mine right now.

If you were a millionaire for a day, what would you do?

Let’s see – I’d definitely get myself out of debt. Then I’d go buy a log cabin up in the mountains. Then I’d help out my family. If I had any left I’d donate it to my two favorite charities – the ASPCA and the National Wildlife Federation.