Inside a College Class on AV Integration

We explore a rare college course focused on AV integration, co-created and taught by integration firm Zdi’s Jeremy Caldera.

Never let it be said that speaking up can’t make a difference.

A couple of years ago, Jeremy Caldera, lead AV design engineer for Normal, Ill.-based Zdi, was a panelist on an InfoComm webcast and discussing the industry’s workforce development challenges.

“I was speaking as a somewhat younger person in the industry and my experience having gone to Columbia College Chicago, which is one of the few that has a curriculum related to the industry,” he says.

“I was discussing what I wish I had learned and kind of ragging on the curriculum on the webinar, not knowing that some of the faculty was listening. I got a call from the department chair and ended up with a teaching job.”

It was Pantelis Vassilakis, Ph.D., chair, audio arts and acoustics at Columbia College Chicago, who reached out to Caldera. “It was a coincidence that around that same time we were reaching out to employers who hire our graduates and asking them was is missing. AV kept coming up,” says Vassilakis.

Related: Sneak Peek at NSCA’s Plan to Reach High School Students and Ignite Fire on Recruitment

Caldera was involved from the beginning developing the class for Columbia College which also leaned on InfoComm. “The AV curriculum from InfoComm was a guiding light for us, because we can align our curriculum to the needs of the industry,” Vassilakis says.

The class is very hands on and project based. “The grade majority is based on a semester long project and a module they build during the semester,” Caldera says. “At the end you turn in a complete engineering plan including designs, Gant charts and scope or work.”

Technical and product category topics include projection brightness, throw calculations, formulas for acceptable viewing angles, control system design, display technology, video switching, matrix switching, fiber transmission, HDBaseT, signal flow, connectivity, power quality and power distribution.

Caldera also focuses on the business and project management side emphasizing job reports, processes, regularity impact, closing out projects, commissioning projects and the types of projects that integrators typically take.

During his first semester Caldera had about 15 students in his class and in the midst of his second semester he says he has 10.

It’s early, so “it’s hard to tell if this group is more employable than others,” Vassilakis says, adding “I have every reason to believe the investment of students taking the class will be very positive.”

College

Caldera had about 15 students in his class during its first semester and has about 10 now, he says.

For Caldera, taking time out of his schedule to teach a class on AV integration helps him to address a need that’s obvious to him. “I think the industry has a big problem with recruiting,” he says. “How do we inspire the younger generation of people to get into this industry? It’s a question that I don’t think anybody had the answer to. I know InfoComm is very focused on it.” 

As for why more colleges don’t launch AV-centric classes, Vassilakis says he can only give an opinion built from having worked at four higher learning institutions. “There is still an aversion of higher education toward vocational training. [People think] that for vocational training you shouldn’t have to spend four years in college.”

The reality, of course, is that AV integration is far more than a vocation. The industry provides a launching pad for a sprawling, rewarding and limitless career. It’s also a career, Vassilakis points out, unlike many, in that well-trained young professionals are likely to start working quickly and paying off whatever student loans they have.

Related: Meet InfoComm ICIF Grant Intern Stanton Helms