March 20, 2017

CARTERVILLE — As a college instructor, Jason Stutes’ lessons run hot and cold.

Of course, as the instructor of heating and air conditioning at John A. Logan College, it’s Stutes' job to teach both extremes.

As experienced in the classroom, lessons on BTUs (British Thermal Units) or ACHs (Air Changes Per Hour) are just a normal part of the day. But Stutes isn’t comfortable ending his work there, it’s going above and beyond his classroom lessons that has elevated Stutes to be honored as John A. Logan College’s 2017 “Full-time Faculty of the Year.”

You might call it service after the sale.

For Stutes, traditional classroom instruction is not enough. Through community involvement, he gives his students hands-on, real-life experience in the trade. And when they’ve graduated his program, he makes sure there is a job waiting for them.

“It’s important to me that my students get the best experience I can possibly give them,” Stutes said. Which is the reason why Stutes has networked with Habitat for Humanity in three Southern Illinois counties to have his students install heating and air conditioning systems in homes constructed by the charitable organization.

“My students do everything from start to finish,” Stutes said. “Not only are they giving back to our Southern Illinois communities, they’re learning by doing. This is the kind of experience that does not go unnoticed by employers when they graduate and are ready to go to work.”

The fact is, because of the reputation of those who have graduated from Stutes’ program, heating and air conditioning contractors are contacting him about hiring students before graduation day.

“There are some contractors in Southern Illinois who hire my students exclusively,” Stutes said. “They know that we have students that can come right to work after graduation and immediately do a good job.”

Why is this so important to Stutes? “I want the industry to respect me through my students,” he said. “There’s nothing like that follow up phone call from a contractor who hires one of my students and then says, ‘you sent me a good one.’”

But the relationship between Stutes and the contractors in not a one-way street. Contractors many times turn around and donate equipment to John A. Logan College to be used in the classroom. In a time of state budget restraints, the donations are priceless.

“We’ve had over $300,000 worth of equipment donated from contractors,” Stutes explained. “This equipment allows the classroom instruction to be able to go to the next level, the highest level possible.”

Stutes, 35, is a 1999 graduate of Pinckneyville High School. After graduating from high school, Stutes enrolled in John A. Logan College’s criminal justice program. Stutes said he almost had his criminal justice degree when he got a job with a heating and air conditioning contractor in Pinckneyville. “I enjoyed the job so much that I changed my major,” Stutes said. In 2003, he graduated from the College’s heating and air conditioning program. In 2004, he started working in the program as term faculty. In 2007, he was hired full-time.

Seven years after being hired as full-time faculty and with a two-week-old baby girl at home, Stutes was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer that had overtaken his bone marrow.

“My job as an instructor is to not only teach my students lessons that will make them successful in the classroom, but lessons that will make them successful outside the classroom,” Stutes said. “I teach them to have a good work ethic, to believe in themselves, and to not give up no matter how difficult the lesson. This is how I approached the cancer. I worked hard to overcome it and I believed no matter how difficult it becomes, I wasn’t going to sit there and feel sorry for myself. I was going to live. I never allowed death to enter my mind.”

Throughout his treatments at the Siteman Cancer Center in St. Louis, Mo., Stutes continued to find ways to be involved with his classroom. He continued his relationships with contractors and continued to make sure students who graduated his program were ready to succeed in real-world work.

“My students’ success is what drives me,” Stutes said. “I wasn’t going to let the cancer change me. I didn’t want it to affect the success we were seeing in the classroom. That’s why I kept working and tried to keep everything normal.”

Normal? Or might he have said, “extraordinary?”