The week before the fall 2017 semester began, Sean Sater received a call from the Trades and Industry Division Chair at North Idaho College (NIC), Doug Anderson. Anderson wondered if Sater would be willing to teach the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning technician (HVAC) class; if Sater said no, the program would be shut down.
Fortunately, Sater, who has 22 years of experience in the field, knew firsthand how much the Coeur d’Alene-Spokane area needed well-trained HVAC technicians. He’d also considered cutting back his hours at HollisterStier, where he worked as a consultant, so he agreed.
“I thought it was a great way to pay it forward and help the next generation change their stars,” said Sater.
Though his first year was a baptism by fire of sorts, Sater enjoyed teaching. So when Anderson, who also served on the board of Kootenai Technical Education Campus (KTEC), asked if Sater would be interested in teaching HVAC at the secondary level the following year, he again agreed.
“I was head over heels to get a hold of them early and get them trained up right,” said Sater. “When we first sat down, we didn’t want the HVAC program to be a huge expense, so we decided it would be best to let the KTEC students use the NIC lab. It’s within walking distance, and we didn’t have to bring in more equipment, which helped us strengthen the partnership between the secondary and postsecondary programs. It was a win-win-win for the students, the schools, and the taxpayers.”
Next, Sater had to strike a balance between offering enough dual credit to make the HVAC pathway appealing to secondary students but not reducing the course load so much that students wouldn’t be considered full-time students and not qualify for financial aid once they transferred to NIC. Sater settled on offering the three-credit HVAC 165 course for his KTEC students, making it easy for them to transition to the second semester’s coursework at NIC.
Sater’s unique position at KTEC and NIC means he can ensure his students have a seamless path from secondary to postsecondary to career. And because there is such a demand for HVAC technicians, employers are eager to speak to his classes and offer opportunities for his students to job shadow or do ride-alongs with their employees.
These interactions with employers mean most postsecondary students in their second and final semester know where they want to work and have a job lined up after graduation. The jobs Saters’ students walk into don’t exactly pay minimum wage, either.
“They’re paying $9,000 for books and tuition and can be making $52,000 a year to start, without the baggage of student debt,” said Sater. “That’s a pretty solid return on investment.”
At the end of the day, Sater loves knowing he’s setting future professionals up for success while helping to meet industry needs.
“I love the feeling of getting through to someone,” said Sater. “They might ride the struggle bus for a while, but when things come together, they learn it and burn it into their memory. It’s priceless to see the light come on.”