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Tops in Training

Originally published: 01.01.07 by Tonya Vinas

The award-winning College of HVACR at Ferris State University is doing its part to provide highly skilled, enthusiastic employees

There’s an hvacr playground at the Grand Rapids, Mich., campus of Ferris State University. It’s called the College of Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration (HVACR), and last April it won the Air Conditioning Contractors of America’s (ACCA) Jeff Forker Award for Excellence in Training.

“While most hvacr programs house their equipment in one room, Ferris has nne: basic refrigeration, air conditioning, commercial refrigeration, electrical, fabrication, controls, gas heating, oil heating, and systems, says Mike Feutz, chairman of the HVACR Department at Ferris. “We also have four study carrels that double as environmental chambers. Each is supplied by two separate hvacr systems; one used by faculty to impose a load, the other controlled by students to counter the load.”

As impressive as that sounds, it’s just the beginning. ACCA chose the Ferris College of HVACR also for the professional and collaborative skills of its teachers, its involvement in the industry, the volunteer efforts of faculty and staff, and the creativity of its educational methods and environment.

All of this is good news for the hvacr industry, which is in perpetual need of highly skilled, enthusiastic employees.

“It is not a challenge for our graduates to find high-paying jobs upon graduation,” Feutz says. “The challenge for us is to find enough students to fill our programs in the first place. . . I’ve been telling employers for years that the best way to get a Ferris grad to work for them, particularly if they are out-of-state, is to find a way to help sponsor their education at Ferris. Education is an investment in the future, and employers that help a student obtain an education will likely create a highly qualified and loyal employee for the future.”

Phil Forner, senior vice chairman of ACCA and owner of Allendale Heating Co., Allendale, Mich., is a Ferris graduate and continues to benefit from the program when hiring for his business.

“Ferris has a great lab and teaching system that gives students a broad base for what they are going to experience in the real world,” Forner says. “If you get a student out of Ferris, you know he’s been exposed to things he’s going to need to know how to do.”

Experienced staff, size makes a difference 

“Without a doubt, the top element [that makes us stand apart] is our faculty and staff,” Feutz says. “We have a faculty team that is passionate about teaching and preparing students for success.”

Eight full-time professors with more than 100 years of combined industry experience staff the program. Their professional backgrounds include fabrication, installation, maintenance, service, commissioning, design, sales, engineering, management, controls, contracting, and energy auditing. Two of them own heating and cooling businesses. One is a leading expert in commercial refrigeration and a co-author of an hvacr textbook. Another was in charge of the entire physical plant on a university campus. One spent four years as a top corporate trainer for a major controls manufacturer and also owned a business that conducted energy audits and found ways to improve the energy efficiency of facilities. One spent more than 20 years as a sales engineer for a major manufacturer. Another taught a sheet-metal apprenticeship program for nine years before coming to Ferris. One worked on steam propulsion systems on ships in the Navy.

Also, because of the program’s size and longevity (it has been around since 1945), it enjoys tremendous industry support.

“Because we are large and well-established, we are well known nationally,” Feutz says. “We are very fortunate to have an industry that understands our missions and helps us out with generous donations of systems and equipment. Virtually everything in our facility has been donated, including some of the mechanical equipment that actually heats, cools and ventilates the building.”

Two degrees and online training

The College of HVACR offers both an associate and bachelor’s degree — one of only two institutions nationwide to offer a four-year degree in hvacr, and the only one to offer it both online and on campus. “The associate degree is unique because our focus goes beyond the residential/light commercial sector of the industry,” Feutz says. “Students certainly learn to systematically troubleshoot smaller unitary equipment but learn networking and direct digital controls as well.”

The Associate of Science in HVACR Technology is a two-year degree (freshman and sophomore years) and is offered only on campus. It teaches fundamental and advanced hvacr concepts, systematic troubleshooting, and design of residential and light commercial systems. Graduates typically find jobs in the residential or industrial contracting and service sectors.

The Bachelor of Science in HVACR Engineering Technology is a four-year degree that builds on the associate degree as students continue with the junior and senior years. Students can transfer from other institutions with their associate degree. (Transfer guides with other hvacr programs are at 

Essentially, the bachelor’s degree focuses on a narrow sector of the mechanical-engineering industry, Feutz says.

“Ferris faculty studied the job of the mechanical engineer working in the hvacr industry, broke the job into tasks, and turned each task into a class,” Feutz says. “Instead of studying general engineering principals typically found in mechanical engineering programs, our students study hvacr systems, load calculations, energy codes, primary equipment selection, controls, commissioning, and energy auditing.”

The college’s online program has expanded its ability to serve students interested in earning their bachelor’s degree.

“Historically, nearly 40% of our bachelor’s degree students have come from other states,” Feutz says. “But we could only serve those that could move to campus for their junior and senior years. There are many people working in the industry with an associate degree that are ready to move on to the next level, but have families and bills and cannot afford to quit their jobs in order to return to school. The online program provides the opportunity for them to earn their bachelor’s degree while continuing to work at their present job and live with their families.”

The college has online students from across the country, Puerto Rico and Hawaii. “Ultimately, we will be able to serve students from any place in the world. For now, those within the English-speaking counties and a couple of time-zones away are keeping us busy.” 

Hands-on Learning Environment

The Granger Center at Ferris State University is a new 77,000 square-foot-facility that was designed and built to provide an environment in which students can learn from the building itself. The mechanical room is two stories tall, behind glass, and located center stage, right off the student commons to provide easy access for students to observe and study. All mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems are exposed and painted with 27 different colors to highlight them and make it easy to trace them throughout the building. With guages located in strategic places, students can trace energy from system to system and validate engineering calculations with actual operating conditions.

“The experience that students gain while learning in this facility is invaluable,” says Mike Feutz, chairman of the HVACR Department at Ferris State University. “When they begin their first job, they have already seen and worked with diverse mechanical systems and equipment.”

During the program, students spend 435 hours in the classroom, learning everything from the chemistry of combustion to the thermodynamics of refrigeration, from basic electricity to advanced direct digital control, from basic heat transfer to complex heat load calculations. And they spend extensive time in labs. By the time they graduate, students have spent 570 hours learning by working directly with systems and equipment in labs:

• 90 hours in the basic refrigerating and air conditioning lab
• 90 hours in the basic and advanced electrical lab
• 165 hours in the gas and oil heating labs
• 90 hours in the air conditioning lab
• 90 hours in the commercial refrigeration lab
• 45 hours in the computer lab for design

Want To Hire a Ferris Graduate?

“We have potential employers call or e-mail us from across the country and sometimes from out of the country,” says Mike Feutz, chairman of the HVACR Department at Ferris State University. “It seems we’re pretty widely known, as is our reputation for well-prepared graduates.”

Anyone looking for a graduate should e-mail or call Feutz at or 1-800-433-7747, x2608.


About Tonya Vinas

Tonya Vinas

Tonya Vinas is a former editor of HVACR Business.

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