Faculty Appreciation Month – Monica Landry

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Monica, 57, from Houston, TX, is the lead HVAC/R instructor at Tulsa Welding School & Technology Center in Houston. Monica has been with the school for about 15 months but has been in the trade about 22 years. 

Thanks for your time, Monica; you came into HVAC as a second career. What did you do before?

I was actually in the medical field. I started off in medical as an operating room technician. But I had three kids and was a single parent, so I decided that I needed something different because being in the operating room held a lot of my time. When you’re in surgery, you’re not available for anything else.

That makes sense. You can’t just pick up the phone if the kids need you. So why HVAC? 

My dad was an HVAC contractor. I didn’t mimic him or want to be like him, but I knew he was in a career field that would suit me and allow me to raise my kids in the right way, if that makes sense? I wanted to be able to check on them, see about them, make my own schedule. When you’re in an operating room, you do not control your schedule.

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Did you go to work with your dad?

So, here’s the funny part. I told my father that I didn’t want to do medical anymore, and I wanted to get into air conditioning. He said, “No you can’t. Air conditioning is a man’s field, you can’t do it.” 

Wow, thanks, dad! So, you told him where to go, right?

I did, and so did my mom! But I think that really gave me the motivation to show him that I could actually do the work. I had to show him I could do it because there was more on the line for my parents than me just being an operating room tech, they wanted me to become a doctor. My dad, of course, didn’t want to help me, so I had to go to HVAC school and everything on my own. Then I had to show him, once I finished school, that I could get a job and I pushed forward from there. I wanted to succeed despite him, so that’s what I did, and I fell in love with it. I was in my mid 30s when I started out in residential HVAC in 2002.

Good for you! As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

When I was younger, I wanted to sing! I loved singing, I still love singing! I went to state competitions with my singing. It was something that I thought I was going to really get into. But, of course, life changes! 

So, tell us more about your HVAC career?

I started in residential, and then did light commercial before I went over to commercial. But at that point, the community college I graduated from asked me back to teach. So, that’s when I started teaching – that was in 2007, about five years after I’d first gone into the field. I was teaching part-time at night while working in the field in the mornings. 

I stayed with the college up until 2011, but I let my HVAC morning job go because I found another teaching job. I discovered I love teaching. I found out that the passion I had for HVAC wasn’t just doing the work, it was also passing on my knowledge. So, I actually started teaching for another school. It got to the point where people found out that I was a woman doing air conditioning and I started receiving phone calls; I kind of followed the money trail to be honest with you. I tell my students that’s not something you want to do! But I was just going where the money led me, because I was a single parent trying to make sure my kids had what they needed. I started teaching full-time in 2011. I still do field work on the side; it keeps me sharp. I have a lot of customers that I really took care of and so I still work with them, but what comes first with me is always the teaching.

Tell us about your family, Monica.

I have four beautiful kids: two girls, two boys, of course they’re older. I also have seven beautiful grandkids ranging in age from seven months to 18 years. They’re all still living here in Houston.

You’ve been teaching longer than you were in the field. What do you like best about teaching?

I enjoy the fact that I’m giving someone the knowledge they need to make things better for themselves. I enjoy getting feedback from the students, knowing that with what I’ve taught them they’re able to go and get a good job and use the knowledge they’ve gained. So, I get enjoyment from them. I give them my cell phone number, so when they leave and get a job, if they run into anything they don’t understand, I can assist them. Just comments like, “Ms. Landry, it actually worked, I fixed it!” “Ms. Landry, I’m working for this great company…” That’s what I really enjoy to be honest with you, that feedback that I helped.

Tell me something most people don’t know about you.

Being a female in a man’s field, you kind of have to walk around tough, be a little stronger than normal. But I think what people don’t know about me is that I have a really, really soft heart. I can’t say that I’m a woman who cries at the drop of a dime, but I do have a really big heart. They would never guess I have that because of the way that I have to be in this field. 

If you could choose to have dinner with anyone, alive or dead, who would that be.

I’m going to say Whitney Houston. Whitney came out back in the 1980s and that was around the time I really loved singing. I can’t say I idolized her, but I think she was more of a mentor to me than she’d ever know. Of course, I never met her, but her voice was just beautiful and that was something that I wished I could have had over the years.

You get an unexpected day off, what would you do?

I work all three shifts at the moment – morning, afternoon, and night – so if I was to get a day off, I might just want to go fishing! But I’m still mom and grandma and I love my family time as well. I love getting all of my grandkids together, all my kids together, and cooking a big dinner, or baking a cake. We do that on a Sunday. I’m still that kind of mom and grandmother, so if I had to choose between the two and they were available, I’d spend it with my family! If they were busy, I’d go fishing! 

Having said all that, my ‘me time’ is turning the music up loud and dancing around the house if you want the truth! I love Country & Western, so I’d get Morgan Wallen playing, have a glass of wine, and just sing and dance around the house. That’s my ‘me time!’

What was your favorite part of the industry when you worked in the field before teaching?

I loved being a service technician, only because of how many homeowners called me their angel! First, they’d be shocked because I’m a woman working air conditioning. But then when I get them back up and running, I’d hear “Oh my goodness, you are my angel! God sent you, and now my air conditioner is working!” Being a service technician, you also get to meet so many different people from so many different cultures. 

What advice do you have for new students just starting out at TWS? 

If you’re going to start something, make sure you finish it. Don’t give up because it is going to get hard, and don’t give up because there is a bright light at the end of the tunnel. HVAC/R is a wonderful field to get into, with so many different career opportunities, so many different career levels. Not job levels, but career levels that you can reach if you see it through. Just don’t give up when the going gets tough. 

If you could tell anyone “Thank you” for helping you become who you are today, who would that be?

I would have to say my dad. My dad has a way of doing things. I think what he was trying to do back in the day, when he said what he said, was to let me know how hard it was going to be. He just didn’t know how to say it. But what he didn’t know was that he had created a very strong individual. I didn’t think there was much in this world that I couldn’t do. I was the first woman to graduate from my school in the field of air conditioning, I even made the newspaper for that! I discovered how proud my father was of me because when he found out I was in the newspaper, he started stealing them all. But he didn’t let me know that, of course; my mom was the one that pulled all these newspapers out and showed me one day! 

Eventually it got to the point where he became a mentor to me, even after telling me he didn’t want me to do it at first. When he saw how hard I’d worked, and he saw I was actually out there doing the work, he put forth the effort to be that mentor. He started showing me, telling me, and teaching me. Even today, he’s 78 years old, he’s still doing some air conditioning work. Sometimes though, he gets kind of confused. So, guess who he calls now? His daughter! That’s as close as we’ll ever get to working together.

Thank you, Monica for your contributions to TWS!