Learning from experience – A.K. Smith students help install HVAC system for Chamber of Commerce

By KELLEY SMITH – Staff Writer/The News-Dispatch – December 5, 2019
Photos provided / Michigan City Area Chamber of Commerce

Four Michigan City High School students in the Construction Trades program at the A.K. Smith Area Career Center got some real-world work experience when they installed a new furnace and air conditioner for the Michigan City Chamber of Commerce late last month.

As a means of showcasing career options in the HVAC industry, Michiana Mechanical partnered with La Porte County Career & Technical Education on the project; and Lennox, the supplier for Michiana Mechanical, even reduced the cost of the equipment and labor to help make it happen.

“We have a shortage of technicians in our country, and it’s predicted to get worse over the next 10-20 years as people retire,” said Tom Llewelyn, president of Michiana Mechanical. “I feel like we have an obligation to reach out to youth, to let them know about the career opportunities that exist in this field.”

MCHS senior Bailey Jordan said he is grateful for the experience, which showed him he may like to pursue a career in HVAC after serving in the U.S. Navy, in which he is currently enlisted and will “ship out” in July.

“I’m glad I had the opportunity to do that work,” Jordan said. “I learned a lot of things I didn’t know about, and I really enjoyed it. People will always need heating and cooling, so that’s a field I could see myself going into.” Loeta McKinley, also a senior at MCHS and the only girl in the morning class for the Construction Trades program, appreciated the experience as well, noting it helped to prepare her as she pursues a career in construction.        

“We learned how to take out a furnace, and how to take apart an outside air conditioner and put it back together,” she said. “I learned a lot and am really happy that I did it. The thing I liked the most was the outside work, like working with the electric box. It was different than the kind of work I’m used to doing inside; and even though it was really cold, it was still my favorite part.

Dick Bucher, instructor of the Construction Trades program at A.K. Smith, said the four students selected for the HVAC job represent the best of what his program has to offer.

And because the construction industry consists of many different specialized trades, he said it’s important to him to get his students hands-on experience in the areas he doesn’t get to cover deeply from the career center, like HVAC.

“The interest and work ethic levels of the four that went out there set the bar for all my students,” Bucher said. “They want to be here and they enjoy it, and that makes it unbelievably fun for me to teach this program. I get up in the morning, and can’t wait to get to work and to teach something I have a passion for; and those four have really responded to that.”

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