He's spent decades helping others and never regretted a day. Now, surrounded by an entire community of boosters, this SkillsUSA advisor couldn't ask for more.
“I guess as you get older, you do things the best you can do and you call that ‘good,’” Darryl Jirinec says in his typical self-effacing way. But the word hardly describes his distinguished career as an instructor in heavy equipment repair and operation. And it takes a lot more than “good” to earn SkillsUSA’s Advisor of the Year award, as he did at the 2006 national conference.
Fresh out of college in 1963, Jirinec honed his engineering and diesel technology skills in the U.S. Army Reserve (from which he retired in 1997 with multiple honors). There, the seeds were planted for his future career. “In the Army, people always called me ‘teacher’ or ‘teach,’” he says. “That’s because I always thought that education was the prime target.”
In 1973, Jirinec embraced this calling as he began teaching at Cayuga-Onondaga Area Occupational Center in Auburn, N.Y. Three years later, he joined SkillsUSA and took his first student to the national competition.
Seeing what the program accomplished touched Jirinec deeply. “That was my epiphany moment,” he says. “I’ve devoted my life to SkillsUSA since then, and I’ve never regretted a day, because I know that when I go into work, there’s going to be a kid there that’s going to be smiling because we’ve done something for them.”
Today, a lot of those kids are now adults adults who are more than happy to do something for Jirinec.
“They come out of the woodwork,” he says, a mixture of pride and surprise in his voice. “They’re all over the place. I can go to businesses now, and usually it’s a student who took my course back in the ’70s who owns the business or is the foreman, so I can walk in on a first name basis and say, ‘OK, I need this,’ and it’s, ‘You got it.’?”
One of the myriad reasons for Jirinec’s success over the years is his ability to create a sense of involvement with everyone who has the potential to affect his program. For example, he pioneered the creation of a parents group dubbed “Friends of SkillsUSA” that supports his students and their activities.
“It’s like a PTA group,” the advisor explains. “I report to them about what the kids are doing, and it lets the parents have a lot of input in the chapter. They’re really into it.”
Jirinec also stresses the importance of administrative buy-in for a successful SkillsUSA chapter. “Our superintendent likes answers,” he says, “so I invited him to the state competition to see what was going on. You could just see him going, ‘Oh, man, this is really something.’ When he went back, he took that excitement back to the principal, the district superintendent, etc.”
Jirinec points out, however, that SkillsUSA is “all about the students. I think it’s probably one of the greatest things that could happen to a student, I really do. We try to get everyone involved.”
Much of that student involvement comes through the many community service projects Jirinec’s chapter participates in each year, from adopting needy families during the holidays to restoring local woodland areas.
“The community is well aware of what we do,” he says. “It lets them know we’re not just another club. We’re out there for the people, too.”
Asking Jirinec’s peers to describe him yields comments like “difference maker” ... “excellent role model”...“admired by his peers” and “superb.” Notice the complete absence of the word “good” the word truly doesn’t measure up.
The superlatives will no doubt only multiply as Jirinec begins his fourth decade as an advisor. From managing state contests to serving on national committees in Diesel Equipment Technology, from mentoring new teachers to leading graduating students to national competition, Jirinec’s devotion to SkillsUSA and his students is as strong as ever.
SkillsUSA Champions | Fall 2006 | Volume 41, No. 1