InfoComm Extends Relationship with Columbia College

AV design course helps expose youngsters to industry, could be expanded to other schools in future.

InfoComm International has extended its relationship with Columbia College through 2019 on a class that teaches the basics of AV integration to students who might not otherwise have the opportunity to be exposed to such a career.

The partnership comes two years after InfoComm and Columbia College first started working together. InfoComm senior VP of member services Betsy Jaffe says the organization hopes to partner with several other colleges and universities on similar programs.

“It’s worked out really well,” says Jaffe. “It’s a major initiative for us and will help us to create a more educated workforce. It’s really an important part of our workforce development efforts.”

InfoComm has focused heavily on reaching out to young people to expose them to the AV industry, most recently by sponsoring and exhibiting at the USA Science and Engineering Festival. The event attracted more than 380,000 people to Washington, D.C., many of whom stopped by InfoComm’s booth to check out virtual reality, gaming and many more of the cooler aspects of the industry.

About 30 representatives from colleges and universities around the country will attend InfoComm 2016, says Jaffe, who’s also planning to meet with about 20 higher ed representatives in California around the time of InfoComm’s IoT Insights event next month.

Many of the schools InfoComm is talking to about adding an AV integration program have related classes, such as entertainment technology or live sound, while others are looking to launch the program from scratch. Jaffe notes it can take several years for any new program to get accreditation and be added to the school’s offerings.

The Columbia College program uses InfoComm content that’s delivered through McGraw-Hill books, says Jaffe. She’s hoping InfoComm can sign at least a handful of memoranda of understanding by the end of 2016.

Jeremy Caldera, lead AV design engineer at Zdi and part-time faculty member at Columbia College, teaches the class, which has become one of the most popular offerings at the school since it launched. Although it has a cap of 15 students per session, many more juniors and seniors have attempted to take it in the past two years, says Caldera.

Students in the class also get access to free InfoComm workshops and many of them attend InfoComm’s flagship event in June as part of the program. Caldera works to keep the class current in the ever-changing world of technology in an effort to make sure students have the best information.

The idea for the program came after Pantelis Vassilakis, chairman of Columbia’s audio arts and acoustics department, heard Caldera on an InfoComm webinar about three years ago on which he lamented the struggles of getting young people more involved with the AV industry and the fact Columbia, his alma mater, was among many colleges with programs primarily focused on audio with no lessons on video or control systems, for example.

Caldera, who has served as an instructor at many InfoComm events, had to adjust his syllabus so it met the needs of students, many of whom are getting their first exposure to the industry. Unlike in a trade show or regional event, where attendees are in the industry and spend a day or two immersed in the class, the college course is spread out over several weeks so there’s more time to talk about topics.

“We had to scale it back to a fundamental level to make sure they understand what we’re talking about,” says Caldera, who will split time with other instructors in future sessions. There’s also a chance of expanding the class into a basics course and a more advanced offering, he says.

Zdi has been able to hire several of the top students in Caldera’s classes since it launched, he says, although that’s not necessarily something that will happen every semester. Still, he’s excited about his involvement with the Columbia College class, the effect it can have on his industry and on exposing young people to what he knows is a cool industry.

“We’re not just talking about sound systems like they were when Columbia first started focusing on the industry in the 1990s,” says Caldera.