Professor follows in father’s footsteps from soccer field to field of work
Aside from spending time together due to simply being father and son, former and current BSC HVAC (Heating, ventilation and air conditioning) Assistant Professors Arlan and Ryan Okerson have been with each other on the soccer field as well as in the classroom.
It started with Ryan’s interest in soccer. He first played in the Bismarck Soccer League. They needed coaches, so Arlan stepped up. He went on to coach junior varsity at Century High School. He and Ryan coached there together for a time, and now Ryan is the head boys’ coach at Century.
It was Ryan’s skills with the students he coached on the field that showed his dad he could also work well with students in the classroom. Arlan spent 34 years teaching HVAC to students at BSC before retiring. Ryan, who is one of his former students, proved to be the right person to replace him. “I watched how he handled students at the coaching level. He’s doing the same thing there that he’d be doing in the classroom and the shop.”
Since Ryan spent 16 years working in the field, Arlan knew he had accumulated valuable experience that would benefit students. “With HVAC, there’s the sheet metal and the service side. Usually people specialize in one or the other. Ryan had experience in both of those. We both fit the position perfectly that way.”
Now in the role for four years, Ryan said he makes sure his students know the many aspects to the HVAC profession.
“There’s a misconception that we’re either service techs or sheet metal workers. There’s actually chiller system technology, radiant floor heating, sales representatives, computer controls, specialty metal and more.”
In order for BSC’s HVAC students to understand what goes into new construction, they team up with BSC’s Carpentry program on the house they build every year. Randy Mathern, Comfort Zone Heating & Air owner, helps design the system. “It’s fun," Mathern says, "I enjoy working with the new students.” Ryan said the project is great for his students. “With the house project, you get a lot of the install – service, wiring, testing and balance.”
Both father and son enjoy seeing what’s become of their former students. “After they get out and you see where they end up, it makes you feel pretty good. At one point in one company, everyone, including the owner, had all been students of mine,” said Arlan. Ryan echoed that sentiment. “I’ve got guys who are running jobs now.”
The demand for HVAC workers is so high that Ryan said the only reason a graduate of the program wouldn’t get a job afterward is because he or she didn’t want one. “I’ve got employers calling and emailing me.”
Mathern has been in the HVAC field for more than 40 years and is grateful for the program the Okersons have built. “All the trades need more young people to get involved. There’s such demand and not enough young people. BSC is so great about trying to fill that gap.”