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AVNation ICONS: Mike Gunderson

How To Excel As A One-Person AV Department

Michael Gunderson, CTS needs to keep a good handle on all things audio-visual at Highland Community College in Freeport, Ill, for one simple reason. He doesn’t have a team ready to act when something glitches, just an occasional student helping out.

“I am the department,” Gunderson says.

What does that entail? As the college’s in-house AV integrator, he’s responsible for over 51 classrooms, several conference rooms, and all the digital signage. But there’s also a “whatever-need-arises” element to his job description. He has been known to crawl into the ceilings to pull cable. He was tasked with redesigning floor plans for the cafeteria and a few other locations on campus. He even acts as the college’s furniture buyer.

As Gunderson sees it, he doesn’t wear many hats. It’s just one cap with a propeller spinning round and round and providing plenty to keep him busy.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, the demands on his time grew. Microphones and cameras needed to be installed in classrooms to accommodate remote learning. Gundersons’s work didn’t stop with that.

A Trusted Integrator For Larger Projects
“Nobody envisioned two years of remote learning, but that two years gave me free rein of the campus,” he says.

In other words, he could upgrade equipment in classrooms and conference rooms that would have been more difficult with students on campus. That’s unusual for Higher Ed, where AV work tends to take place only during summer or winter breaks.

Gunderson regularly partners with CTI, a leading audio-visual systems integration provider, for large projects he needs on. “I rely on them heavily,” he says, “The quality of [CTI’s] installs has been phenomenal,” Gunderson says. “I really appreciate that I don’t have to micromanage their work on campus.”

Examples include remodeling several science labs and assisting with creating a $500,000 three-room hospital simulation for the college’s nursing program. The nursing students work with mannequins that mimic human body functions, such as pulses, lung sounds, and heart sounds. Each room has AV gear that records the simulations so students and instructors can review them later. The recording system also allows students to upload videos for instructor feedback.

The Resident Techie
Gunderson’s interest in technology started early, when he was a boy in Minooka, Illinois, and Cody, Wyoming. He recalls buying an old radio that no longer worked and tinkering with its circuits, trying to bring it back to life. In high school, he worked behind the scenes in theater, as a photographer for the newspaper and yearbook, and helped friends install stereos in their cars. His reputation grew as the resident techie.

“My parents indulged me in my exploits,” he says. “They let me be me.”

After high school, he enrolled in a junior college where he focused on computer science but soon grew bored. The classes weren’t challenging him. When offered a job at a vending company, he took it.

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Later, when working as an assistant manager at RadioShack, he had a moment that set him on a new career path. A customer asked what cable he needed to hook up some professional video equipment. Gunderson had experience with the equipment the customer planned to use and started working with the man. Over time, he bought the business and, for the next 15 years, operated it as MRG Video Productions.

The Memory Maker
MRG recorded events, like weddings and bar mitzvahs, and created promotional videos for churches. Mike’s attention to detail during a wedding led to one of his most memorable moments. He chose to stray from his usual fly-on-the-wall, blend shooting style.

The bride’s grandmother was in a wheelchair, seated near the dance floor and tapping her feet along with the beat of the music. The dancers were about to form a conga line. Inspired, Gunderson sidled up to the bride and suggested she put her grandmother and the wheelchair at the front of the conga line.

This idea delighted the bride, the grandmother, and everyone else at the wedding as the grandmother led the conga line, lifting her arms and feet in the air and soaking in the moment.

Two weeks later, the grandmother died, but because Gunderson seized that opportunity, the family had a cherished memory on video.

The Next Project Awaits
Gunderson isn’t as tech-obsessed at home as he is in the office. Rural living limits his Internet speed. He’s OK with that. He loves his work but enjoys other aspects of life away from the office.

He does appreciate his ability to fix technical things that go awry at home, acting as his own IT department.

At the college, of course, there’s always the next project. Most recently, procuring and setting up hundreds of separate tables and chairs for students across ten classrooms. They replaced old-style tablet armchairs that had been around for roughly 25 years.

“They were awful,” Gunderson says. “Nobody liked them. It was time they got replaced. It’s an amazing transformed space. Students, I think, when they come back in the fall, are going to be stunned at how nice that is going to be.”

The little things, the attention to detail, make the difference!

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