SPRINGFIELD, Vt. – Zach McNaughton, audio video production teacher at River Valley Technical Center (RVTC), has taught many talented students who have competed nationally and gone on to study in top colleges. This year that tradition of success continues with students Elijah Pianka and Tanner Bischofberger winning top honors in statewide and national video production contests.
The two students qualified to attend the SkillsUSA National Skills and Leadership Conference in Louisville, Ky., by competing in two separate contests: CareerSafe online safety video contest, and a television production contest.
For their CareerSafe contest they produced a video about safety in the workplace for teenagers, which was selected by judges as a finalist, then brought to a public vote. Despite Vermont’s being a small state, less likely to do well in a voting contest, they still placed third in the nation and won a $3,500 prize, $1,500 student scholarship and $1,500 for the AVP Program at RVTC.
The other contest was in television video production. For this contest they first had to compete at the Vermont SkillsUSA conference and produce a 60-second TV commercial about the SkillsUSA organization. They placed first for Vermont, which qualified them to represent Vermont at the national conference, where they competed against the top qualifying team from every state in the nation as well as U.S. territories (Guam, Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, and the Navaho Nation). At nationals they had to produce a 60-second commercial advertising the Kentucky Exposition Center for events and conferences. They placed fourth in the nation for that competition.
In order to attend the SkillsUSA conference, the students had to raise around $4,000 in order to pay for registration, travel, meals, and lodging for the week. Most of the money came from a PSA the two produced for the Vermont Highway Department with a grant from State Farm Insurance. The rest of the money was raised via crowd funding, direct donations, and some money provided by RVTC.
Reflecting on the challenges of the competition, McNaughton said, “The biggest challenge for these types of projects is overcoming the financial barriers that get in the way of students participating in state and national events. In order to attend nationals, we need to raise anywhere from $3,500-4,500 each time we qualify which is no easy task. Luckily, we have had several opportunities to raise money over the past few years fall into our laps when we need it most, but these projects are never a guarantee.”
McNaughton observed that SkillsUSA Medalists earn college scholarships which in some cases can be the difference between a student deciding to pursue a college education or not. These types of skills tournaments also give students confidence and help them to realize that they can make a successful career out of something that is enjoyable like video production.
“My students who compete at a national level often tell me that they have colleges contacting them regularly trying to recruit them, which for them is a good feeling,” he said. “I think that making it to nationals helps spread the word that students who are serious about learning technical skills can thrive in career and technical education.”
Proud of his students and his program, McNaughton offered some advice to those contemplating a course of study at RVTC. “I would tell students to ignore the stigmas and stereotypes about career and technical education that they are constantly fed from their sending schools, peers, and worst of all, guidance counselors. The AVP program has represented Vermont at the SkillsUSA Conference for four consecutive years now and we have alumni students in prestigious universities studying film and media communications all around the country. Those students most likely would not have gotten into those colleges if it weren’t for the Technical Center and the connections that we have with college and industry. The AVP Program at RVTC is a fast track to college. One of the things I hear most from alumni members who are in college is that they are so far ahead of their peers when it comes to their technical abilities and understandings of photography and filmmaking theory that they become leaders in their programs and end up working on more projects with their professors than their peers do. If you as a student are serious about a career in photography, filmmaking, video production, or audio engineering then the audio video production program at RVTC is where you should be!”