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Multimedia = multi-opportunities

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by Gary Allen

After years of waiting tables, Sharon Lassen began looking for a profession that didn’t include the question "soup or salad?" She’d already done the college "thing" once, earning a bachelor’s degree in anthropology, but it was a degree that, unless the 38-year-old waitress earned a couple of initials after it, wouldn’t land her a job.

Last year the sirens of gigabyte and RAM lured Lassen and she enrolled in a computer information systems class at Portland Community College. However, another discipline soon pulled her way from the benign life of Computer Information Systems ‘ the PCC Multimedia program (For more information about it, call 503-978-5672).

And that has made all the difference.

"This is a lot more fun … so much more than programming," she said. "It allows you to be creative."

The Multimedia program was borne out of necessity and quickly became a partnership between the college and the industry. Its beginnings were a PCC faculty task force formed in 1996 after a multimedia conference in Portland. An advisory committee to the task force was then formed, composed of representatives from a variety of Portland companies starved for graduates versed in the emerging technologies of the burgeoning multimedia market.

By fall 1998 a complete multimedia certification program had been created. If Lassen doesn’t land a high-paying job first, come a sunny day next fall she could be one of the program’s first graduates.

Multimedia Central

Students hoping to bask in the same light of a two-year certificate, gather this Saturday morning in the northeast corner of Terrell Hall on PCC’s Cascade Campus. More than two dozen students sit amid a sea of technology: powerful graphics computers loaded with the latest production software, jaz and zip drives, digital video and still cameras and other devices used to create Web pages, video graphics, Internet content and more.

The Chairman

Michael Cleghorn, a bespectacled 40ish man fashionably dressed in a chocolate brown blazer and polo shirt, chairs the fast-growing Multimedia program and teaches a lab in the program’s introductory class ‘ Introduction to Multimedia.

"For the past year or more it seems that most classes fill within a week or two of the initial registration start time," Cleghorn said. "The good news for students is that we offer our beginning classes, the 100-level, nearly every term, and many of the advanced

200-level classes are offered several times a year."

Cleghorn’s passion for the course, which he helped develop, is obvious yet his demeanor relaxed.

"We have a very homey atmosphere," he says. "We’re going to have a group hug

later."

Cleghorn is one of five instructors in the program; the other four work in Portland’s multimedia industry.

The Students

The students are anything but traditional, varying in age and life experience from teens in high school to a mid-20s dental hygienist and a 50-something former social service worker. The college and members of the industry have also partnered with students from several high schools. Students from Beaverton Arts and Communication, PCC’s alternative high school and Jefferson High School represent 15 percent of those enrolled in the program. Many of the older students, like Lassen, are lured to the program by the creative aspects of multimedia. Some are technical writers. Some are corporate trainers looking to sharpen their technological acumen. Some are graphic artists looking to jump on the Web bandwagon.

Nearly all of the students in Cleghorn’s Multimedia class have several things in common: They are acutely aware of the salaries multimedia workers can pull in; and they’ve all, at one time or another, logged on the Internet or turned on MTV and wondered, "How’d they do that?"

However, there is no such thing as a typical multimedia student.

"The only common link I can think of with our ‘typical’ multimedia student is their addiction and dedication to the work," Cleghorn said. "I have over 23 years of college classroom teaching experience, and my multimedia students are the first that I have ever seen that more often than not, shun breaks, lunches, and never seem ready to leave at the end of a class."

The Industry

David Thorsrud, a part-time instructor in the program, directs interactive development for Cenquest Inc., a Portland company that helps colleges and universities take their graduate programs online.

"They’ve got a great foundation because that lab is really nice," he

said. "They definitely have a head start on anyone else."

Thorsrud says the multimedia industry is "portfolio based" when it comes to hiring students out of college. In response, he is instructing his students on how to develop and review their portfolio of work.

As an aside, Thorsrud said Cenquest has hired three people as entry-level Web page designers out of the PCC program in the last 12 months. The reason for their hires were clear.

"There are some (students) that have a great ability and a passion above everybody else," he said.

Lassen, the anthropologist posing as a waitress, said ideally her future will go one of two ways. Either she’ll freelance as a Web designer, filling in with the odd graphic design jobs, or she will go to work at Web design company or a company that employs a Web designer.

Regardless, her grounding in the PCC Multimedia program has been a valuable and pleasurable learning experience.

"I absolutely love it," she concluded. "It’s laid back and casual … it’s not like its not tons of work, but the atmosphere makes it fun."

This spring is the first time the college has offered cooperative education work experience (internships), and advanced multimedia project development classes, which have served as a showcase for student work. The Multimedia Web site’s student gallery (http://spot.pcc.edu/multimedia/cascade) also offers a glimpse into the creative work these students produce.

About James Hill

James G. Hill, an award-winning journalist and public relations writer, has been the Communications Specialist for the Office of Public Affairs at Portland Community College since November of 1999. A graduate of Portland State University, J... more »

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