Faculty Appreciation Month – Meet Greg Virden

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Greg, 67, from Chandler, Arizona, is an electrical instructor at The Refrigeration School. Greg joined RSI as an instructor about three months ago.  

Thanks for your time, Greg; tell us about your career. How long have you been in the field? 

I actually went to RSI and graduated from what today would be the Refrigeration Technologies program in 1991. So, that makes it a little over 32 years. I spent the first 10 years in the field as an HVAC service technician. Then I did about 10 years as a service manager/lead tech – lower-level management, doing sales and estimating. As your experience level goes up, they allow you to quote bigger jobs like replacement systems. Then for the last 12 years I was in upper-level management/general manager/consultancy roles. I actually worked for a consulting company for a while; we coached different HVAC companies around the country.

So, what did you do before attending RSI as a student? You were about 34 when you enrolled.

I was just kind of bouncing around. I worked in the cable TV industry for quite a while, telecommunications that broke out in the 1980s. I was a cable guy!

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What are you teaching right now?

I am teaching Emerging Electrical Applications right now. Instead of just the simple wiring that they get in the base classes, we handle some of the more advanced stuff like telecommunications and the installation of various cabling systems. We get into some more of the advanced construction techniques and like I said, telecommunications and home automation rather than just lights and switches. But I also want to cross-train into teaching HVAC too. That’s where most of my experience is. I could probably walk into any of those HVHC classes and teach them, but the school requires that I sit through a cycle of the class to be able to teach it. I look forward to doing that soon.

What made you go into teaching?

We moved to Virginia in 2020. I went in as a partial owner with people who took over an HVAC/plumbing company to help them set up the business. We expanded, going from $800,000 to $5 million in the two years I was there. Unfortunately, Covid hit three weeks after we got there. My poor wife was stuck in the apartment for almost two years. Nothing was going on. We finally got homesick and decided we wanted to come back here and be closer to the kids and grandkids. So, I left the company, they paid me out, and we came back to Arizona. I was looking for something to do in retirement because I sure as heck don’t want to sit around the house all day. This seemed like a good way to keep me busy and out of trouble at home! 

Sounds like a plan! When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I actually wanted to be a policeman; it was kind of a dream of mine to be in law enforcement, probably just from watching Adam 12 when I was a kid; that’s an old TV police show. If you’re under about 60 years of age, you’ve probably never heard of it. 

What do you like most about teaching?

Honestly, helping the new students. They don’t know what they’re getting into. It’s a great industry, all these industries are in high demand. It’s fun to talk with them, to see where they want to go, or where they think they want to go. Because I’ve been around for so long, I can give them some of my experiences, and share with them what I’ve seen out there, what’s been successful, what hasn’t, and what’s rewarding, just that kind of stuff. So, I enjoy being kind of an informal guide for them. Certainly not in placement terms like Career Services, but I can certainly answer their questions about what’s it like out there.

Tell us something most people don’t know about you?

We do like taking short two, three-day trips regionally, so we like to travel a little bit, take the grandkids out camping and do water sports.

You mentioned the family a couple of times. Tell us more.

Mary and I have been married since 2005 and between us we’ve got five kids and five grandkids. This is my second marriage. All the family is here in Arizona.

If you could have dinner with anyone, alive or dead, who would it be?

Well, that’s an interesting thought. I’ve always been interested in politics, so I would say JFK – President Kennedy. I think he had some really unique insights into the political system, as far as where we are today. His predecessor was President Eisenhower who warned him about the military industrial complex. I think he understood that and talked about it quite a bit. You see a lot of that influencing our lives today in ways we don’t even know about.

What’s the best piece of advice you can give for students to be successful at RSI?

The one piece of advice I offer, and I gave this advice to my kids too, and it paid off because they kind of listened, is this: In whatever you do, show up every day, do what’s asked of you, and you’ll rise to the top. 

Good advice. Why do you say that in particular?

Because humans have a tendency to self-destruct. If you’re the person that shows up, does what the boss asks you to do every day with a smile on your face, good things will happen, and you’ll rise in your career. There’s a lot of opportunity in this world and it’s yours for the grabbing! 80% of success in life is just showing up. It really is…because so many people don’t. If you’re the one that shows up all the time and you’re there when they need you, good things are going to happen. It’s 100% true in school too.

If you got an unexpected afternoon to yourself, what would you do with that time?

I’m probably going to take a drive somewhere and go have a nice lunch with my wife. 

What did you enjoy most about your time working in the field?

I liked diagnosing, not only the machines, but the entire system of the house. I did a lot of energy audits, so we would go to peoples’ homes and show them places where there were great opportunities for saving energy and making their house more comfortable. It was just educating the customers, then letting them make their own choices. Some people call that sales; I just consider it education. You give people the right information and let them decide what they want to do with it.

If you were to tell someone “Thank you” for making you the person you are today, who would it be?

I guess in my professional life, it would be a boss I had in Spokane when I was in about my second to third year in the field. His name was Dave Cotner, and he was a hard ass. He did not put up with any guff or any excuses, nothing. He was almost military-like in the way he ran his company, but I learned a lot about personal responsibility from him. You didn’t want to get yelled at, so you just did your job!

Thank you, Greg, for all you do to impact the RSI community.