Pomona College is a private liberal arts college in California with a student enrollment of 1,600 and a passion for innovative technology. The college has developed best practices across the board evinced by the fact that it is always ranked in Top 10 lists; it’s often named the top liberal arts college in the country. We asked Joseph Brennan, director of media and classroom services at Pomona College, how he stays current with smart classroom technologies. We also wanted to know how AV over IP is playing out at Pomona.
What is the state of AV/IT convergence at your facility?
I won’t say that the convergence totally snuck up on us, but the number of devices “on the network” that we’re responsible for has quadrupled in the last four years. Ten years ago, our IT concerns were limited to getting the correct IP on our video conferencing units and presentation laptops, now we have projectors, control systems, cameras, speaker management controls, wireless microphones, Dante devices, video and audio streaming appliances, and IP conference phones to worry about. I feel lucky to have AV technicians who seamlessly straddle both the AV and the IT world.
What AV/IT problems have you solved recently?
We recently converted 42 older classrooms over to 16:10, and converted to HDBaseT. We are very enamored with running just one shielded cat5e for both rs232 control and video in our classrooms. For years we’ve had to oversize conduit for VGA heads and install longer than needed prefab cables. Now we can use smaller conduit, use cables that are cut to length and easily terminate a cat 5 fitting.
Does the IoT (Internet of Things) have any influence in your organization and or facility?
Pomona is a residential liberal arts college and students, who are always pushing the limits, bring their smart TVs, Apple TVs, gaming devices, Echo, and Sonos systems. We also have vending machines, research refrigeration and equipment, nest cameras, HVAC and energy management displays now providing data monitoring for research. It’s been challenging finding the balance between allowing these devices on the network and network security.
What AV/IT do you hope to buy in the near future? Why?
We just started purchasing laser projectors for our larger, higher profile presentations spaces including our theatre to support projection design classes and productions. Pomona has over 180 presentation spaces and we currently have six laser projectors in the field. The next large round of refresh projector purchases will all be laser with HDBaseT connections.
How do you procure/purchase your AV for in-house installs? Distributor, manufacturer direct, in bulk, other? Please explain.
For in-house installations, we work with two to three local distributors when possible. It’s important for me to support local when purchasing equipment. Some of the big NY electronics houses may have things a few dollars cheaper, but I rather give my business to those whom I have strong relationships with, know their name, and know they will go to bat for me if something fails prematurely. We also use smaller, local integrators for wire pulls, new installations and things that require seismic reinforcement.
Where do you think are technology manufacturers getting it wrong or missing opportunities?
Many manufacturers miss opportunities in providing special educational pricing. Colleges and Universities love to see a special pricing sheet that has pricing just for them. I think it also important to build strong relationships between manufacturers reps and the AV managers by visiting at least once per year, having demo products sent out without tons of paperwork being filled out and without a credit card deposit.
What is the biggest obstacle to collaboration? What are your collaboration strategies?
One of biggest obstacles to collaboration, at least in the IT world, is getting the many teams within the department to break down silo walls. I think this is a common problem within IT groups. Those who have engine room tasks sometimes don’t regularly interact with staff who are out and about on campus all day.
One of our strategies for collaboration during the summer of 2017 was to have planned meet-ups. We called these get-togethers “Summer Surprises.” During the summer, while we are all crazy working on projects, doing classroom upgrades, server upgrades, implementing new services, we took the time to get together over food. Our gatherings included a couple of breakfasts, buffet lunches, and ice cream socials.
We also organize monthly meetings of the service groups with presentations on a topic. Sometimes it’s a staff talk on an instructional software package, sometimes it’s a completed project debrief presentation, and sometimes we bring guests in.
Margot Douaihy is a writer, instructor, and the content director of AV Technology.