Bob Clark became interested in the heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration field because of his stepfather, Pete.
"He was a stationary engineer in the Chicagoland area for 32 years, and I was always interested in his work stories and lessons," he said.
Clark earned an associate degree in Electrical and Electronic Automated Systems, Industrial Maintenance Technology and HVACR; a bachelor’s degree with a double major of Business and Communications; an MBA in Energy and Sustainability; and a doctorate in Career and Technical Education. He also holds multiple building automation certifications, including an electrical license and Chicago Stationary Engineers License; and numerous other certifications, including EPA Universal, HAZWOPER OSHA 40, Industrial Firefighting, NFPA 70E, Solar Energy, Sporlan Valve, VRF, and Bell & Gossett certifications in chilled water design, hydronic design and steam design. Clark is president of the Illinois Council of Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Educators (ICARE) and works with educators at state and national levels to improve HVACR education.
Before he became an instructor in the HVACR program at College of DuPage, Clark worked in industrial maintenance and industrial refrigeration and ran his own HVACR business. He said he was attracted to the HVACR industry because of the opportunities for learning and working available in the field.
“The multiple disciplines and limitless potential within the industry drew me in,” he said. “It was a technology that you could study the rest of your life and still not know all of it. HVACR encompasses process control, thermodynamics, electrical and electronics, automation, energy and building operations, and it is needed and used by every single person and organization.”
Describing teaching as “the most challenging job he ever held,” Clark found himself attracted to the challenge and took on a role as an adjunct faculty member at Joliet Junior College for approximately three years before coming to COD.
Clark has worked closely with his students to create an HVACR lab that comprises a broad array of state-of-the-art training equipment, including a chilled water system, two 8-foot by 24-foot cooler units, electronics trainers, hydronic boiler, hydronic mixing stations, residential training system, steam system, supermarket refrigeration rack system, vapor compression training systems, variable refrigerant volume systems and water care system.
“Our lab is our gallery and a portfolio for every students’ resume,” he said. “It was designed and built as a micro-sized version of major critical systems that exist in a building and allows students the opportunity to break down multiple complex systems.”
Creating this lab was inspired by the needs of the students as well as the needs of both the HVACR industry and HVACR education.
“I wanted to develop another way to approach teaching for HVACR educators,” he said. “In business academics, systems thinking is taught by using HVACR systems as a common plane for knowledge. This ‘systems’ approach is grounded in fundamentals and our students have to embrace fundamentals before they can understand the complexities that exist in HVACR systems. There is no training system on the market that would provide this type of HVACR education, which is why we had to build a training system.”
He said the art of teaching complex technical education, and an element that he particularly enjoys, lies in “developing a pedagogical approach that communicates information and skills in a common language and narrative.”
In 2019, Clark was named Postsecondary Career and Technical Educator of the Year by the Illinois Association for Career and Technical Education (IACTE) and then Region III Postsecondary Career and Technical Educator of the Year by the Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE). As a regional winner, Clark was a candidate for the National ACTE Postsecondary Teacher of the Year.
The IACTE awards promote excellence in career and technical education by recognizing individuals who have made extraordinary contributions to the field, programs that exemplify the highest standard and organizations that have conducted activities to promote and expand career and technical education programs. The ACTE Excellence Awards recognize postsecondary career and technical educators who have demonstrated innovation in the classroom, commitment to students and dedication to the improvement of career and technical education in their institutions and communities.
“It feels great that the success of our school and our program is being recognized by career and technical education in Illinois.”
He said the development of the program will become increasingly important as employers struggle to find qualified technicians.
“The HVACR Workforce Development Foundation is forecasting a 42 percent workforce gap,” he said. “If you are a consumer and have any type of HVACR system, this should scare you. Just think about what can happen when you can’t find a qualified technician when your heating system goes out on a day with subzero temperatures.
“I am looking to minimize a gap that exists between workforce and education in the Chicagoland area. We also are going to start helping our community partners at Habitat for Humanity and we’re considering becoming a National Science Foundation National Center to help develop educators and get them the skills and equipment they need to run a successful program.”