For Jerry Koenig, Power Equipment and Diesel Technology instructor at Cuyahoga Valley Career Center in Brecksville, OH, being named the March 2022 candidate in the Instructor of the Year Program is more than simple recognition of a thirty-year career, it’s a full-circle return to where that career started.
Koenig says the one thing he has strived for since his graduation from CVCC nearly 40 years ago has been to make a difference in people’s lives. His students, his colleagues and his community agree that his efforts have been worthwhile.
The Instructor of the Year program, sponsored by B’laster and Tomorrow’s Technician, tells stories of excellence in education through nominations made to the website, tomorrowstechnician.com. CVCC’s Jerry Koenig, says he was actually a student at the career center, in the marine mechanics program in the early eighties. “The school was probably only 20 years old then, so I entered and completed the program, got a job in industry working for a local marine dealership and worked my way up through there. Then, I had a chance to also go out into the United States Navy, join the service, and serve my country.”
In the Navy, Koening became an aircraft engine mechanic as well as a shop supervisor. After leaving the service, he then returned to the marine dealership as service manager. Unfortunately, he says the level of skill he noticed in new technicians was less than ideal.
“I saw that the students that we were hiring were lacking something, and I really wanted to be a part of their education. I had taken the opportunity to teach adult education night classes in basic marine maintenance at CVCC, so my interest was starting to grow.”
The teacher Koenig had when he was a student had decided to make a career change and, though he didn’t know if he was ready to teach high school students, Koenig knew he wanted to help make some differences in those students’ lives. “I thought maybe I could bring something to the table,” he says, “and, lo and behold, I was hired in 1993 as the instructor for the program. Almost 30 years later, I’m still here.”
One of the changes Koenig was able to implement was to transition from marine mechanics to power sports and power equipment service.
“I was teaching it for about seven years, when we noticed that the numbers were starting to drop. The biggest reason was that there wasn’t a lot of job opportunities with high wages in our area. The students saw that and understood that maybe that wasn’t the choice for them. So I wrote the curriculum for what we’re doing now, and incorporated diesel. The diesel instructor was getting ready to retire, so I kind of melded two programs into one. So I moved that lab into this lab and made one. And so what you see today is what has been probably a good 20 years of hard work and trying to get to where it’s at.”
Koenig says he is continually inspired by his students. “Many times throughout the years, you don’t know if you’re reaching that student, if you’re making an impact on their life. And a couple times I’ve come back into my area and a kid has slid a note underneath my door. It’s all handwritten, and when you read what these students have said, about how much of an impact you really do make, it really inspires you and drives you to want to do more.”
He points with satisfaction to students who come back to speak to his classes about their success in the industry, or in some cases, in totally different industries. He says he’s just proud to encourage students to believe in themselves. “The first you must do is build up their self-esteem and their ability to have confidence in themselves and what they’re doing.”
Koenig’s overriding emphasis, he says, is professionalism, trying to instill upon them that professional behavior, that professional look. Holding multiple ASE certifications in medium and heavy duty diesel as well as automotive specialities, as well as multiple other power equipment certifications, Koenig also recognizes the importance of appearances. “As you looked and saw my students today, they’re all in uniforms, their shirts have to be tucked in, they’re wearing safety glasses. They have to personify professionalism. And I think that itself is carried into the districts, especially helping for recruitment, the students take pride in wearing that uniform, the Board of Education sees it, and realistically, even my fellow instructors in the building, they can actually see that and they feed off that as well.
“I think it inspires them, but it also enlightens them as to the possibilities and jobs, the opportunities and the pay that’s out there. This is a very satisfying career. The sense of accomplishment is what we’re trying to teach them – it’s not just about taking parts off and replacing something, it’s more about the sense of accomplishment in doing that type of work.”
Cuyahoga Valley Career Center serves 8 unique and distinct school districts in Northeastern Ohio, and Koenig says recruitment for future students begins with 8th grade students. But it’s the 10th grade visitation that really helps raise the bar.
“The 10th grade hands-on is probably one of the best projects that we do,” Koenig says. “Students who have a real interest in one particular program will spend an hour and a half with my students. I take it to a whole other level – I empower my seniors, to show off their skillsetsby setting up stations, with the younger students rotating through the different sessions.”
His students become the teachers, in essence, giving them a chance to be an mentor and share their passion with the next generation. This helps encourage them even more, Koenig says.
“You should see them light up when they do it. And I just get blown away to watch them blossom.”
Koenig credits his local advisory committee, made up of many industry professionals in the area with helping his program to thrive. Ohio Caterpillar, B’laster and other companies donate tools, equipment and supplies to help him do his job more completely and confidently. Still, he says, kids are kids.
“Hands down, you have to be flexible; you have to be understanding. There are circumstances and things that happen outside the school and we have to wear many different hats. We often wear the parent hat, we sometimes wear the counseling hat, wear the teacher hat, wear the mentor hat. The fact that I have the students for full two years, and get to be a part of their lives and help them make the decisions that are going to impact them in the rest of their lives is a big deal “
Koenig says being named a finalist in the The B’laster Instructor of the Year program is humbling, as well as satisfying.
“I look at it as trying to make an impact in the student’s lives, but also, it’s a way for me to look back at what I’ve accomplished over the years and say, ‘wow, I guess somebody is noticing and it’s making a difference.’ And I feel that it’s just an honorable thing and it’s a very humble thing for me to get this,” Koenig says.
Koenig believes his program is unique in the State of Ohio and possibly in the nation, and he’s proud of the impact it makes with young people. “I get excited when a graduate comes in the door and wants to come back and share their experiences with my current students. Like I said, I’ve had some come back and they’ve been engineers and even doctors.
“I’ve had parents at parent conferences, say, ‘What did you do to my student? How did you get to the point where now they want to go to college?’ I just presented the opportunities, plain and simple. And they said, ‘Well, whatever you did, keep on doing it.’ That’s probably the best part of this whole job.”