Joe Randazzo has only lived in the area for two years, but he has already made a sizeable impact in the community. His decades of service and hands-on work experience coupled with a love of teaching have enabled him to shape the futures of many students and set the city up for a productive workforce.
Joe was born in New York and grew up in New Jersey. After moving to Pennsylvania, he joined the Coast Guard, which he considered his civic duty. He started out as a third-class petty officer and soon worked his way up to machinery technician. Although he was an active reservist, he noted that they were required to be able to do the exact same things as their active duty counterparts, including extensive cross-training with the FBI. He also spent time in many places including Quantico and Camp Lejeune.
“My primary duty was to keep the engines and mechanical spaces operational,” said Joe. “The boat drivers have to stay at the boat because they have to drive, and one crewman has to stay with the boat, so that leaves the boat engineer to be the boarding officer.”
Although he definitely found himself in some less than ideal situations, Joe said he was fortunate he never had to use force against anyone—only ever in self-defense. He also became quite the expert in all things engineering, including electrical and HVAC work.
“As an engineer aboard boats, they don’t have HVAC mechanics,” he explained. “Anything than ran needed a mechanic, so there you are. Anything onboard there was a mechanical space: steering, hydraulics.”
During that time, he also worked at EMCOR Government Services, which is a mechanical contractor based out of Washington, D.C. that meets the routine and mission-critical needs of federal, state and other government agencies. He did that until they needed to fill an opening for an electric instructor.
Having previously worked as an engineer for a utility company, plus his experience with the Coast Guard, Joe was the perfect person to fill the position. He taught electric and HVAC courses for students at a union hall and discovered that he thoroughly enjoyed being a teacher and was able to connect and form natural bonds with the students.
Joe retired as a chief machinery technician after 24 years in the Coast Guard. And, although he does not identify as a politician in any way, he served on his Town Council for six years and was president for three of those years.
He moved to New Bern in 2018. He had gotten familiar with Eastern North Carolina while in the Coast Guard, helping to keep vessels running during Desert Storm, and had grown to love the area—more specifically, the residents, sweet tea, hush puppies and banana pudding.
“I moved here because I enjoy the people, the environment and the food,” he said with a laugh.
Upon moving here, he began working at Academy Sports on a part-time basis. Academy Sports is a sponsor of National Night Out, a community-police awareness-raising event held the first Tuesday in August each year. As part of their commitment to boosting community and police relationships, they presented the New Bern Police Department a generous amount to be used for their summer camps. At the same time, police officers selected 36 area youth who had participated in the police department summer camps to receive a $100 Academy Sports gift card to encourage healthy habits.
Joe volunteered to help with the event, and he got to know several police officers and enjoyed meeting the children in the process. He continued to work there for a while before coming across a job listing that piqued his interest.
“I love to teach, and I saw an ad that the college was looking for an electrical instructor. I said, ‘well, gee whiz!’ So I submitted my resume.”
He has now been an instructor at Craven Community College for a year and a half. He teaches levels 1-4 of the Electrical program at the Volt Center, which is the college’s workforce development training facility dedicated to trades programs. The position was well suited for Joe, and he was thrilled to be in the classroom again.
He devoted a lot of his personal time developing the program’s curriculum, making sure to incorporate all his know-how into teachable lessons. He also immediately took to the students, and his fondness was reciprocated.
“They’re all my adopted kids,” he said. “That’s one of my problems—I get attached to them. I didn’t learn, even up where I used to teach with the union hall for 14 years, you get attached.”
Joe has enjoyed being able to pass on his knowledge, especially through hands-on training. He admitted that it can be a difficult program, but he always makes sure that his students grasp every concept before moving on. He routinely comes in early to demonstrate and explain concepts to those who are struggling.
“If I see someone kind of lagging behind, I’ll come in early and tell that student to be there, take that individual aside and ask them what they’re missing,” he said. “It’s what works.”
He also makes the extra effort to really get to know each student and understand the challenges they may be facing. He knows that having everyone on the same page is much more conducive to a positive learning environment, and he believes the most important aspect in his role as a teacher is that moment when students finally grasp something he’s teaching them and that lightbulb goes on. He also emphasized that he didn’t make it to 72 years of age working in electricity by doing anything stupid, and he makes sure each one of his students practices the utmost caution as well.
“I will not pass anybody if I don’t feel that they’re in control of what they’re doing, because I don’t want to read somewhere where somebody either burned down a house or, God forbid, got killed,” said Joe. “So yeah, when I see that they’re gonna move on, that’s a happy day for me.”
He is proud and relieved that he has only had to fail six out of about 400 students throughout his entire teaching career. For the ones that do pass and are looking for work, he has gone the extra mile to ensure that they have the brightest possible futures by writing personalized letters for specific students that state their class average and give them credit for their hard work.
“I want to see them prosper and give them the tools to be successful,” said Joe. “The main thing is that they are able to get out, make a decent living and enjoy life.”
Joe recalled a former student who had confessed his disdain for math, which is actually a large part of the Electric program.
“He passed the course and comes back and says, ‘I got a surprise for you: I went to the community college and signed into the math program,’” Joe recounted. “I told him I thought he hated math, and he said, ‘you taught me not to be afraid of it.’ That’s better than a ‘thank you!’”
In just a year and a half, Joe proved to be an expert in his field and an indispensable part of the team. His hard work was apparent to many people, and he was recently the recipient of the college’s annual Excellence Award for Adjunct Faculty, an impressive feat in such a short time. He said that he loves coming to work and couldn’t ask for better coworkers.
“I enjoy working for the college,” he said. “I couldn’t work with a better group of individuals. We’re like a little family. I enjoy what I do and who I do it with and for.”
While the Volt Center already works closely with Habitat for Humanity to help train volunteers in carpentry, one project that Joe has high hopes for is starting a partnership in which they help train volunteers in other trades required to build a fully functional house.
“I said, “they need electricians, they need plumbers—put a team together and let’s go to work!’” said Joe. “And the state needs it because after two hurricanes, they really realized that there was nobody in the trades. So the opportunity is there.”
With several skilled professionals already on hand, as well as volunteers and students who are eager to learn, Joe hopes his idea will take off. As soon as he’s given the green light from all parties, he is ready to begin planning and recruiting the help of other instructors and students. He knows it would benefit not only Habitat for Humanity and students, but also people throughout the community who want to be prepared the next time a natural disaster strikes.
Even though Joe moved here just in time to experience Hurricanes Florence and Dorian and now a pandemic, the father of two and grandfather of six wouldn’t change a thing. He’s contented with his work and his adopted family of students and colleagues, and he is optimistic about facilitating the start of another effort to ensure the community’s preparedness and resiliency for years to come.
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Published with permission by the New Bern Sun Journal. This article was originally published June 29, 2020. Read it here.