Q&A: HVAC instructor stays cool under pressure

Bonnie Masten shows a student how to work on an air conditioning unit. Photo by Rory Moore/The Et Cetera

Bonnie Masten shows a student how to work on an air conditioning unit. Photo by Rory Moore/The Et Cetera

Grayson Lesley-Milburn, Contributor

Eastfield heating, ventilation and air conditioning program professor Bonnie Masten sat down with Et Cetera reporter Grayson Lesley-Milburn to discuss what it takes to be a woman in a male-dominated field and the importance of teaching the next generation to follow their dreams.

How did you get into your field?

I was actually an engineer at Texas Instruments for a long time. I taught high school math. My husband has his doctorate in electrical engineering. I’m mechanical. We called in one day, had someone come in and work on our air conditioner. Long story short, we got ripped off.

My husband and I were floored thinking, “Oh my gosh, we should be able to know how to do this.” So, I took classes so I could learn how to work on the unit at home.

So, that’s kind of how it all started. I hate not knowing and I hate having no clue and feeling ignorant about something.

What made you want to get back into teaching?

I taught high school math for three years in two different districts. You have so many students, just over 100 split between classes. But luckily Texas Instruments was really good to me, so I was able to retire.

Then I get asked to teach at Eastfield, but I’m not gonna do it. I’ve done that whole teaching thing. Then one of the guys I went to college with was the lead partner, he got a job. So, I went in as an adjunct and I just fell in love with it because it’s different.

Your students, they want to be there and they want to learn, and it’s nice to see that you’re helping them find a career path that they can have an actual career in.

Can you break down your education? Where did you learn to do this?

I went to California Polytechnic State University. I have my IT Engineering Technology degree in mechanical engineering from there.

Then I went back to college at University of Texas at El Paso and I got my actual straight mechanical engineering degree. So two engineering degrees. Then I started work at Texas Instruments and never fully finished my masters. All of the course work is done, but I was hired before I could present my thesis, so I just jumped straight into the field.

HVAC is predominantly male. How do you navigate that?

I’m used to that. I have a mechanical engineering degree. There were no females when we were in [the program]. So I was the only female in my class.

Also in graduate school, I was the only female. I know that as soon as I go to present, I’m going to have to prove that I know my stuff.

Did that ever make you hesitant about the career itself?

I guess I just got used to it from back in school. I got used to knowing I was just gonna have to prove it, and it just became part of it. I do find it funny when the guys have a stereotype and I walk in and they’re messing up, and they’re all scared. I walk over and fix it and they’re always like “Whoa!” you know? It’s not my first rodeo.

Outside of HVAC and teaching, what are your hobbies?

I golf, I play tennis. And I do rescue animals.

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

Probably a vet.

What made you want to be a vet?

I loved animals and wanted to help them. Unfortunately, I don’t like the sight of blood.

If you could have any superpower, what would it be?

This is going to sound stupid, but I want to save all the animals. But that’s really not a superpower, is it? I guess to fly.

Do you have a favorite animal?

I pretty much love all animals. I have a lot of cats, so I probably would say cats. But I love dogs too.

What exactly does your animal rescue/volunteer work entail?

I have fostered numerous cats/ kittens with ringworm. Right now I am not fostering any kittens.

The last group, when I had six of them, was this past summer. They have all found their forever homes now.

However, right now, I clean the cat cages at a PetSmart next to my home. They are cats that have been rescued by a rescue group and are at PetSmart.

PetSmart is nice enough to let the rescue house the cats there so they are visible and hopefully they will get adopted. The volunteers clean the cages and feed the cats, and of course love on them.

Do you have any advice for women wanting to get into HVAC?

I’m old-school. Men are men. For example, we had some old-school men
at Texas Instruments in Lubbock and all of a sudden I came in and I was the person in charge. And a lot of them had a hard time dealing with that. But kill them with kindness.

If something offends you, I think if you deal with it straight up and say, “You know what? I didn’t appreciate that comment. It made me feel uncomfortable,” it helps.

I don’t immediately run to HR. I’d have a conversation and go from there.

We all have things that are unique that we bring to the table. Find your thing and use it.

Editor’s note: This interview has been edited
for brevity and clarity.