Faculty Spotlight: Dean Richards
HVAC Instructor’s 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 by 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 “BREAD.” He then turns to the class.
“I say, ‘I know you’re all here because you want to make bread,’” Dean said, acknowledging the fact his students all want to earn a better living in their careers. He then erases the B, leaving behind the word “READ.”
“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 said. “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.
And, reading is central to ensuring his students remain passionate, curious and able to grow within the profession.
“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.”
Inspired to Learn, Inspired to Teach
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.”
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