His Passion for Learning has Never Cooled
Whenever Florida Career College instructor Dean Richards welcomes a new class into the Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning HVAC Program at the Pembroke Pines campus, he begins his first lesson my paying homage to the instructor who most inspired him as a young HVAC student.
On a board at the front of the class, in large letters, he writes the word “READ.” He then turns to the class.
“That was the first impression I received from my instructor, Abdullah, when I was taking journeyman classes in New York City, and it always stuck with me,” Dean added. “No one was encouraging reading to attract students. Everyone talked about hands-on training, but [Abdullah] focused on reading. He didn’t beat around the bush trying to sugar coat anything. He said that in order to be successful, we’d have to read.”
It’s a message Dean has continually relayed to his students since he began teaching at FCC back in 2013. After all, technology, processes and expectations never stop changing in the HVAC world, so he feels it’s his job to not only help students learn the trade, but to also develop them into lifelong learners.
Dean’s dedication to his student’s long-term development and success of his students was recently recognized by the Florida Association of Postsecondary Schools and Colleges (FAPSC), which honored him with its 2021 Educator of the Year Award during the annual FAPSC conference on Friday, Aug. 6.
FAPSC Educator of the Year
FCC is a member of FAPSC, which serves as an advocate for high-quality career schools and colleges in the state. Established in 1956, FAPSC recognizes excellence in the educational sector with awards during its annual conference.
The FAPSC awards committee chose Richards as its Educator of the Year based on his exceptional commitment to mentoring and teaching excellence, dedication to scholarship and self-development, and outstanding service to the institution and community.
“I was totally surprised,” Dean said of hearing he’d won the award. “It took me off-guard. I had no idea it was coming my way.”
Dean, however, has long been a highly respected instructor at FCC, something he attributes to his dedication to his students and his desire to continually go beyond what he feels is expected of him. He says this comes engrained within his personal belief system.
“I do what the scripture says: whatever you’re doing, do your best … do your all,” he said. “If someone asks you to go a mile with them, go two miles.”
At FCC, the two people he says who drive him to go that extra mile are FCC Pembroke Pines Executive Director Gregory Falcon and Kenyon Evans, Director of Education.
“Those two gentleman would be at the top of my list right now,” Dean said. “Their style, their way of communicating, is very encouraging and make you want to do more.”
He says the students themselves also continually provide him with the motivation to perform his best as an instructor.
“Seeing older students graduated and newer students come in, and they learn something new … and when you get a phone call from a student who’s now out there working … those things help you keep going,” Dean said. “I can see the value of what I’m doing, and that keeps me going. Let’s face it – if I didn’t see any results, I would have stopped [teaching] a long time ago, to be sure.”
Inspired to Learn, Inspired to Teach
“I tell my students I’m not here to teach them. I’m here to guide them,” he said. “Some students come in and think they’re going to learn through osmosis – as if just coming to class is going to make them successful. It doesn’t work that way. The day they see themselves as knowing it all, that’s when they’re going to start to see problems.”
Born and raised in Jamaica, Dean recalls the exact moment when he became interested in the HVAC trade. His older brother was an automotive mechanic, and Dean said one day he asked him if he needed to refill the Freon in his car. His brother told him no, the Freon should never have to be refilled.
“It didn’t make sense to me, and that’s when I got hooked,” Dean said. “It got me curious because I know that the Freon is responsible for making the car or the house cold. But, I just didn’t understand the physics behind it. The light bulb went off in my head, and I thought that’s what I need to do – to learn more about this crazy thing that keeps circulating and never runs out.”
He started taking HVAC classes at a Jamaican trade school, then moved to New York City in 1993 where he continued his education. That’s when he met the instructor – an electrical instructor by the name of Abdullah – who would so inspire the way he teaches today.
According to Dean, whenever Abdullah taught students a new processes or procedures, he’d do so in a specific and coordinated way. First, he’d fully describe and explain the procedure. He’d then demonstrate it by himself as the students looked on. Finally, he’d sit back and watch as the students each tried it themselves.
Dean said he continues to teach this way as it respects and addresses all the various learning styles of his students.
“Some students, all you have to do is explain something to them and they get it,” he said. “Some, you have to show it to them, and once they see it, they get it. And still others have to do it themselves before they can fully learn something. The fact Abdullah always took the time to go through all three different ways … it really got my attention.”
Kenyon Jermaine Evans, Director of Education at the FCC Pembroke Pines campus, has seen Dean’s teaching style positively effecting students.
“Mr. Richards is always pulling his students to strive for greatness,” Kenyon said. “His passion, determination and obsession with his students’ success is evident in and out of the classroom. His favorite quote is, ‘Regardless of how my students are feeling when they come to class, one thing I promise them all is that they will leave my classroom knowing something new.’”
Relating to Students, Changing Their Lives
As an instructor, Dean said he feels it’s important to be able to relate to his students. As someone with a background in the HVAC field, both as an employee and as a business owner, he said he can better connect with his students as well as respect their motivations for pursuing an HVAC career.
After working HVAC in New York for a few years, Dean moved to Florida in 2004 to work for an air conditioning company. Three years later he started his own business, but he always felt drawn toward teaching. It was something he considered early in his career, but later dismissed.
“Somehow, I’d forgotten about the passion for teaching that Mr. Abdullah had lit inside me, but, once I got back into the classroom and started applying the style of teaching I learned from my instructor, my love for teaching rekindled.”
Plus, he found he could relate to his student’s personal journeys as well as their professional ones.
“When I moved [to the U.S.], I felt totally lost,” Dean said. “I was in a position where I had no way out, and I didn’t want to live in the streets. So, I felt I had to do something with myself. Some of these students are not far away from this in their own circumstances. If I can bring awareness to them, I can help them.”
According to Gregory Falcon, Executive Director of FCC’s Pembroke Pines campus, Dean’s connections with his students definitely lead them toward success.
“The HVAC students see Dean Richards as more than just an instructor,” he said. “Given his lengthy tenure in the industry and his caring communication style, many students see him as a father figure. I have witnessed Mr. Richards providing students with guidance on their careers and in life.”
Dean said his greatest reward from teaching is seeing his former students not only succeed, but enjoying what they do in their careers. He tells a story about one student who, while Dean was out on a job (he kept his HVAC business going part-time for a few years while teaching), pulled up next to his work vehicle.
“I still remember his words to me. He pulled up next to me and he said, ‘Mr. Richards, you need to keep your work van clean,’” Dean laughed. “It took a second, but I realized he was one of my past students. I got such a good feeling knowing he was out there working as a lead technician and doing what he loved.”