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AVNation ICONS: James King

Building a community for AV professionals in Higher Ed and finding the next generation of AV

As the Assistant Director of AV Services for the Kirk Kerkorian School of Medicine at UNLV, James King has one of the more high-profile jobs in AV, overseeing the state-of-the-art AV systems in the 135,000-square-foot building. But he’s better known for building a thriving community for AV professionals in HigherEd. The secret? Giving back and helping others.

And social media.

James started his career in IT at Stockton University, but his success with the campus emergency phones, building out its security camera systems, and other projects led to his selection for the university’s AV team. The work was satisfying, but his coworkers in IT didn’t have an AV Focus. James says, “I felt like I was on an island and needed to branch out. That’s how I found what’s now called X and the group that follows AVinTheAM. And I got connected with them!”

“From there,” King adds, “I connected with other Higher Ed folks like Joe Way and BC Hatchett, the founders of the Higher Education Technology Managers Alliance (HETMA), Scott Tiner, and Erin Maher-Moran. I started building this smaller Higher Ed community within the AV community on X.”

Giving Back To The Community
Those relationships, which began on X, led to Way asking King to write the ITinAV column for Higher Ed AV Media, looking at the world of AV from an IT mindset, and becoming a regular on the AV Life podcast. AVinTheAM also introduced James to Steve Greenblatt. A conversation the two had after a virtual HETMA panel led to them deciding that “there wasn’t a voice for the programmers in our industry.” They subsequently launched Ask The Programmer, a podcast focused on “AV programming, programmers, and those who work with audiovisual control systems.”

All this, says James, “led to my Slack group.” He goes on:

In March 2019, we were given a piece of gear that wasn’t working. I knew if I put it out there in the ether going, “Hey, we’re having this problem with this product,” I might get a bunch of salespeople to go well, that’s junk. Buy our product. I did not need that.

So I reached out to my contacts in Higher Ed and said, look, I’m starting this Slack group. I started it and posed the question to them. They gave me honest feedback, we solved the issue and made the product really work for our university. The initial members started telling other Higher Ed people, and the group grew and grew.

I have one rule with the “Higher Ed AV/IT” Slack group. You have to be in Higher Ed to be on it. If you leave higher Ed, you actually get booted from the group. You can’t get in.

When campuses started closing during COVID, the group became central for many AV and IT professionals trying to move instruction online. In June 2020, HETMA awarded the Higher Ed AV/IT slack group its “In This Together” award in recognition of its contributions to its membership. In 2021, when HETMA was formalized, King was elected as a 3-year At-Large member of its Executive Board.

Going To Medical School
The following year, James joined the staff at Kirk Kerkorian School of Medicine at UNLV as the Assistant Director of AV Services, where his team maintains all the AV systems for the kinds of classrooms, learning spaces, and meeting rooms you might find on any campus. But the five-story building his team supports, the state-of-the-art Kirk Kerkorian Medical Education Building (MEB) , also includes a simulation suite where students might practice delivering a baby or performing surgery, virtual anatomy labs, and the Clinical Simulation Center, a dozen-plus patient rooms where students are recorded as they role play healthcare scenarios with trained laypeople and actors, also known as ‘standardized patients.’ Along with the AV technology in the simulations, the rooms also allow for recording the experience so students and faculty can review it.

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It’s a big job. King notes, “My team and I make sure all the physical AV gear is working in there, but any of the mannequins and any of that stuff is run and supported by a simulation team that we work hand in hand with.” His team also supports events where reliability and ease of use are paramount. If a world-class heart surgeon is coming in for a single day to teach a session on heart surgery, it’s critical they’re not wasting time with microphone or video issues!

Finding The Next Generation
Like many folks in the industry, James didn’t start out aiming to work in AV. “Everyone I know just stumbled into it, but it’s a great feeling if you talk to everyone in this field. They all love it. They don’t wanna leave it.” adding, ” “I feel the AV industry does a horrible job at marketing itself as a valid career.”

James admires what George Chacko and Rich Miller have accomplished with their employer, Pace University. The AV staffers, also known as The Bald AV Guys from their podcast, have built out an audiovisual minor under Pace’s Media, Communications, and Visual Arts (MCVA) department. They chose MCVA over a more ‘tech’ department because of how hands-on the MCVA programs are, emphasizing hands-on, experiential learning.

James knows it’s critical to get the word out about AV before people start college, but notes that earlier is better: “You’ve got to start hitting them in high school or even younger. I thought young women start picking their career path in the sixth grade, then read a study and learned it was actually as early as a third grade!”

James has a clear vision of what AV needs to secure the next generation: “We need to do a better job of marketing what we do. This is AV, and it’s a valid career. And we need to be shouting it from the rooftop!”

And he sees a host of opportunities to make that happen:

We need to show people what we do in AV. The World Cup is coming up soon. I put a challenge out to manufacturers: this is our time to show the world what AV is doing behind the scenes. I’m sure projector, display, and control manufacturers are involved with the World Cup. Give tours! Show people what you’re doing!

From an AV professional that felt isolated and searched out for peers on social media, James not only found a community, he became an influencer, leaned in hard on giving back to his peers, and in 2023, King was selected to Commercial Integrator’s 40 Influencers Under 40 in recognition. We can’t wait to see what comes next!

 

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