Competing Integrators Work Together to Teach Future AV Pros

Quick Bio

Jeremy Caldera

Jeremy Caldera

Name: Jeremy Caldera, CTS-D, CTS-I

Position: CEO

Company: IAS Technology





Chris Kusek

Chris Kusek

Name: Chris Kusek, CTS-D, CTS-I

Position: Director of Engineering

Company: All Pro Integrated Systems





SCN: Tell us how the AV program at Columbia College in Chicago got started.

CHRIS KUSEK: System Installation is a longstanding degree concentration at Columbia. The program had been audio-centric since its inception, and the college realized several years ago the need to broaden the program to include aspects of video, control, and networking. That initiative, which started with the creation of the AV System Design course, has expanded with the creation of a new degree program in AV Integration. The college has been extremely receptive to additions to the curriculum that reflect the actual work that students are doing once they enter the workforce.

JEREMY CALDERA: I’m proud say that Chris and I, along with AVIXA’s Chuck Espinoza, CTS-D, CTS-I, were part of the academic advisory board that helped modernize the program.

SCN: What classes do you teach and how long have you been a professor there?

JC: I started working with Columbia more than six years ago and helped bring Chris on. I took a short break, but am happy to report that I am teaching again this semester. I co-teach Topics in AV: System Design Projects with Chris, and I also teach AV System Design.

CK: I’ve been teaching at Columbia for about three years now. I teach Sound System Design, AV System Design, and Topics in AV: System Design Projects.

SCN: How did you make the decision to work together on this class despite working for competing companies?

JC: Chris and I literally grew up next door to each other. We went to the same schools—including Columbia—learned the same things, and worked together for years. Even though we are now competitors, we remain friends, with the same drive and passion to inspire the next generation of AV professionals. This is a small industry and we all need to come together for the greater good.

CK: Jeremy and I knew each other long before we joined the industry. We’ve been neighbors, roommates, friends, co-workers and, now, competitors. This industry is too small for people not to partner up—especially when it comes to industry education.

Jeremy Caldera and Chris Kusek teaching at Columbia College

Jeremy Caldera and Chris  Kusek teaching at Columbia College. (Image credit: Jeremy Caldera)

SCN: Why is it important to you to educate the next generation about the pro AV industry?

JC: Simply put, the industry is in desperate need of new blood. An enormous number of professionals are retiring and integration firms are struggling to hire skilled workers. I want to do my part to ensure we have a skilled workforce for generations to come.

CK: If we don’t, who will? This is a great and rapidly growing industry. It’s incumbent on all of us to grow awareness of the industry and build up the next generation of AV professionals.

SCN: Post-graduation, do your students end up in the pro AV industry? What roles do they typically take on?

JC: Most of our students end up in pro AV in some way, shape, or form. I have had several students work for me as installers, design engineers, and control system programmers. It is beyond rewarding to see them out in the field after graduation, or to run into them at industry events and see how successful they have become and how much they enjoy their career. I’m proud to have played just a small part in that!

[NSCA's Ignite is on Fire]

CK: When students come into our class, they typically have plans to enter the recording or live sound industries. While that’s great and I support them in those decisions, it’s exciting to see how many students get excited about AV integration once they learn more about the career opportunities. I’ve followed many students as they’ve become installers, designers, programmers, and sales professionals in our industry.

SCN: What is your favorite part about the job?

JC: My favorite part about teaching at Columbia is helping the kids find their passion. Watching them figure out what it is they want to do with their lives, especially when so many of them are so uncertain, is very satisfying.

CK: I love the look on peoples’ faces when concepts start to click. That gives me the biggest sense of satisfaction.

SCN: Why are you passionate about teaching pro AV to college students?

JC: Having attended Columbia College myself, I saw firsthand that there was no university with a degree program teaching what we do. Combine that with the lack of younger people in our industry, the aging workforce, and you can see that this is going to become a huge problem.

The industry is poised to see tremendous growth in the coming decades. I want to make sure kids know that there are great jobs with great pay available to them. You can teach AV, but you can’t teach work ethic. The earlier we get involved, the easier it is to instill that work ethic and prepare them for the real world of pro AV.

CK: It’s such a desperate need in our industry. There are so few programs that teach AV integration, let alone have degree programs dedicated to it. If we all don’t take up the mantle of educating the next generation, our industry is in trouble!

SCN: Anything else you’d like to add?

CK: If you don’t currently do anything for AV education, I’d encourage you to get involved. Speak at your local high school, reach out to the community college or nearby university, build in-house training and internship programs, reach out to AVIXA.… Every little bit helps.

Megan A. Dutta

Megan A. Dutta is a pro AV industry journalist, and the former content director for Systems Contractor News (SCN) and Digital Signage Magazine, both Future U.S. publications. Dutta previously served as the marketing communications manager at Peerless-AV, where she led the company’s marketing and communications department. Dutta is the recipient of AVIXA's 2017 Young AV Professional Award and Women in Consumer Technology's 2018 Woman to Watch Award. Dutta is co-founder of Women of Digital Signage, an organization designed to provide a pathway to promote networking, mentoring, and personal growth.