Name: Columbus Jones
Position: EEST Instructor
Company: Lincoln Technical Institute
To learn about how to get involved with the program at Lincoln Tech, contact Columbus Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SCN: How did you become involved in the AV industry?
COLUMBUS JONES: I developed an interest in AV at the age of 5. My family had a Zenith TV remote that changed the channels by sound. It gave off a clanking noise and turned the channels of the TV. I was watching TV one day and my father came into the room and tossed his keys next to the TV, and the TV changed channels. I grabbed the keys and shook them to make it happen again, then I rushed my family into the room to show what I could do. Nearly 16 years later, I stumbled onto an opening for a stock boy at Professional Audio Consultants (PAC) in Millburn, NJ. My path was decided.
SCN: How did you come to be an instructor at Lincoln Tech?
CJ: I vowed that if I had an opportunity to give back, I would advise the next generation that [the AV industry offers] thriving careers. In 2008, I had an opportunity. I was given the chance to speak to a group of students about my career—little did I know that the talk was my interview for an instructor’s position. The students gravitated to what I was sharing with them. I knew this was my professional calling. I continued in the industry for several years, in design and installation, until I became a full-time instructor in the past year.
SCN: What types of classes do you teach, and how were they developed?
CJ: I am fortunate to teach what I love. At Lincoln Tech, I provide AV instruction for both residential and commercial. My particular teaching style is extremely hands-on, which helps students transition into real employment. I also teach Ohm’s law and intrusion systems: burglar systems, CCTV systems, and access control systems. All of the classes are modules with the nationally recognized NCCER [National Center for Construction Education and Research] curricula.
In December 2018, Lincoln Tech became part of control system giant Crestron’s A+ Partnership Program. In January 2019, I created a Saturday class for Lincoln Tech students to study Crestron programming. The class has 15 to 20 students every Saturday. In March 2019, four students became the first from Lincoln Tech to receive their certification directly from Crestron. By the end of May 2019, we will have at least seven students who will attend Crestron’s Certification Program. My goal is for the majority of my students to be Level 2 Certified Programmers by graduation. My job is to nurture and encourage them along the way.
SCN: Why is it important to teach these courses?
CJ: It’s important for students to understand the foundation of the industry. With a strong foundation, they can withstand anything that comes their way. I was fortunate to be trained by the best in the business, from PAC to Lyric Hi-Fi in White Plains, NY, and Manhattan, NY.
SCN: What degrees or certifications do students receive, and how long does it take?
CJ: Students complete their coursework with an EEST (Electrical Electronic System Technician) Certification, which indicates their knowledge of the high- and low-voltage studies. It is a one-year course if they attend full-time during the day. An evening option extends the schedule by a couple of months. We have about 200 students per year who graduate from the program.
SCN: When your students graduate, do they land jobs—and in what fields?
CJ: Our students are landing jobs as Audio Visual Tier 1 Techs. Students are landing electrical apprentice jobs as well. The employment opportunities are out there. It’s simply up to the individual to go get it.
SCN: What backgrounds do students have? Were they already techy, or does it matter?
CJ: Diversity is common at Lincoln Tech. We have both male and female students from various ethnic groups and nationalities, ranging in age from 18 to 40 years old. The only technical background most have is that they are computer savvy, which is normal for this generation and helpful in the AV world.
SCN: How do you get students to want to study this as a career path?
CJ: Field trips! You can give the best motivational speech in the world, but nothing beats going out into the field to see successful people doing this every day.
I have a very close friend who is a member of Earth Wind & Fire; in 2018, a select group of my students attended one of their shows. They were shown the behind-the-scenes electrical responsibilities, video displays, programming of those displays, and sound engineering. The special treat was to stay for the soundcheck and then the show.
Another friend who is a multi-platinum music producer called in to speak with the class. This was an opportunity for students to gain rare insights into the production side of the music industry—from one of the industry’s most creative experts.
One of my favorite moments was during an October 2018 trip to Verrex, the global AV integration company in Mountainside, NJ. The trip was facilitated through a connection made at AVIXA’s Diversity Council where Verrex’s CEO, Thomas Berry, is a member. Berry hosted the students at a meet-and-greet with all the department heads. This was followed by a complete tour of the facilities and demonstrations within each department.
Both trips resulted in significant improvements in their classroom performance—and provided clarity about what they do once they graduate.
SCN: Do outside companies and organizations support your efforts?
CJ: PAC provided a guest speaker who also shared employment opportunities. Crestron has been remarkable with its A+ Program. Nortek Control has sponsored new security systems, speaker systems, and other accessories to keep the classroom up-to-date with the latest technology. Johnson Controls has been a huge inspiration to the students, and has hired Lincoln Tech grads. Honeywell has been a longtime supporter as well. The list goes on, and the door is always open for more partners.
SCN: What’s the most fulfilling aspect of what you do?
CJ: I see the results of encouraging students and investing in their potential. I get emails saying, “Thank you, Mr. Jones. I got the job!”
SCN: What else has shaped your calling?
CJ: My love for music is what has kept me going. [Growing up], I was exposed to all types of music: Earth Wind & Fire, Elton John, The Beatles, Prince, Stevie Wonder, Fleetwood Mac, James Taylor, and Ashford & Simpson, to name a few.
At age 5, I was the one who controlled the family’s first stereo system. My mother was very supportive of my career. She allowed me to buy my first stereo system, and my brother bought me an equalizer. Little did they know I would eventually blow them out of the house every Friday and Saturday night.
After many years, the secret will now be out: In the early ’80s, my sister Cathy had the family’s only cable box and VCR in her room. Every summer, I installed it in my room during the day. My mother would say, “You’d better put that stuff back in Cathy’s room before she gets home.”
I need to thank Oprah Winfrey for teaching me how to install a cable box and a VCR in a timely manner. So thank you, Oprah!