Young AV: What I Did for AV Week

High school students participate in the AVlympics during AV Week.

Last Friday morning, I got up and drove to George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. A few others had the same idea. You see, the morning I headed to George Mason for the AVlympics, the culmination of AV Week for many of us here at InfoComm, President Obama was headed there, too. And as one volunteer after another tried to direct me to the right parking lot, or turn me away from the wrong lot (as Secret Service watched me crawl by), I said, “No. I’m not here to see the President of the United States. I’m looking for the Mason Inn, site of the 2012 AVlympics. Can you direct me to that lot?”(Got a parking spot right behind the Inn, which was great, because, as you can imagine, there turned out to be a few other cars there, too, which caused some competitors to be tardy. But I digress.)

The real competition wasn’t until the afternoon–pitting seasoned professionals from Swank Audio Visuals against one another and against a plucky InfoComm squad. But the morning session held a ton of promise. Students from two area public schools–West Potomac Academy and Fairfax Academy for Communications and the Arts–got an overview of careers in the AV industry and then took their own crack at the AVlympic events.

Whether they excelled at the Cable Wrap and Toss event (they did) or the Tripod Relay Challenge (it was odd to think they might never have laid eyes on a folding, tripod projection screen before) was beside the point, they were clearly enthusiastic and represented one of our industry’s most fertile grounds of young AV talent–if cultivated correctly.

West Potomac Academy and Fairfax Academy are two of five career and technical education centers in Fairfax County, Va., where InfoComm is based. They are also the only two schools in the entire county to offer professional television production programs, which is as close to pro AV as they get. I was talking to the heads of both programs, Nancy Mantelli and Dave Ruby, respectively. Their passion for what they taught was contagious. They explained that kids come from different high schools throughout the county to attend their TV production courses, which means padding their regular high school schedules so they can get there and back. Between the two programs, there are about 100 students, most of whom hear about the classes through word of mouth or school electives fairs. Mantelli wishes enrollment were double what it is, but admittedly, TV production class doesn’t get the respect it deserves.

West Potomac Academy’s Nancy Mantelli and Fairfax Academy’s Dave Ruby take a crack at the Cable Wrap and Toss challenge.

“It’s not like AP courses,” Mantelli told me. “People don’t see how it helps you get into college. So we emphasize that it’s about math and it’s about science. 95 percent of our field is not about entertainment. We’re giving them a 21st-century skillset.”

Ruby nodded. “We’re preparing kids to get a career.”

Exactly. Though there are two challenges with that. First, Mantelli said, is that the students themselves mainly associate their studies with getting on (or involved with) TV. They don’t necessarily consider the pro AV careers they might pursue with their considerable skills. Second, Ruby said, their parents don’t see their studies as leading to serious careers. So when we started talking about InfoComm, and AV systems integration, and CTS certification, and ANSI standards, they could see the arguments building.

But who’s going to tell students and parents these things? The pro AV industry itself has only recently found itself on an equal professional services footing with IT and other technical industries. Clearly, thanks in part to AV Week, InfoComm was able to make the case to a roomful of high school students. And AV companies around the country took part in AV Week activities. We talk about how to entice younger people to enter the industry. Part of that has to include reaching them at an even younger age, before they get to college and decide to hang up their love of AV or TV production in the interest of more “serious” pursuits. No one has to tell anyone reading this blog that pro AV is serious business.

Nancy Mantelli called it “a crime” that of Fairfax County’s 180,000 high school students, only 100 were enrolled in professional TV production. Dave Ruby, who, like Mantelli, teaches his course solo, said he loves it when people from the industry visit their studios to see what the kids are learning and share what they know.

Take teachers like Dave Ruby and Nancy Mantelli up on their offers to be involved. Find out what your local high schools have to offer. And share your experiences here.


About Brad Grimes

Brad Grimes is the Director of Communications for InfoComm International and the former editor of Pro AV magazine. He has been writing about technology for more than 25 years.

2 Responses to “Young AV: What I Did for AV Week”

  1. These schools want mentors from our industry, so we’ll be asking AV pros in Fairfax County to step up. This is what AV Week is all about!

  2. George V Fournier Jr., CTS Reply October 23, 2012 at 8:59 am

    It is a great opportunity that the AV Industry is definitely missing by not cultivating our future work force from our area high schools more aggressively.

    Television production courses in high schools have been around for quite awhile but it is sad to see how utterly under utilized they really are. I graduated from Clifton Senior High School in 1985 in New Jersey, after completing their Communications Arts and Sciences Training (CAST) courses. Many of the graduates have gone on to careers in broadcast journalism and movie production. I myself went into Rentals & Staging, eventually into AV Sales and now Drafting/Engineering.

    I know that if there were more industry support when I was in school the opportunities would have been limitless.

    Great job InfoComm keep up the great outreach