Lighting The Way: Students And ETC

ETC’s Fred Foster (now CEO), his brother Bill, and a few friends were students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison when they invented their own lighting control console and subsequently started their own company. That was 1975. Over the years ETC has integrated into their corporate philosophy the fostering of young talent in the entertainment- and architectural-lighting industry, mentoring students who will themselves be leaders in the field one day. The company is now proud to count several generations of such “ETC alumni.”

ETC has developed many initiatives to inspire and support students—foremost among them, its now popular LDI Student Sponsorship program. Each year for the last eight years, ETC has chosen six deserving students to attend the LDI tradeshow, all expenses paid. The sponsorship gives the students a unique 360º view of entertainment technology: from inside—the manufacturer’s perspective—and outside, as show spectators and lighting professionals-to-be. Says Laurence Zoll, a 2006 group alumnus, “ETC's sponsorship provided an unparalleled LDI experience—a rare opportunity allowing me to both explore and interact with the hottest products on the market, and more importantly, to meet and connect with some of the industry's top professionals."

Graduates of the LDI sponsorship have gone on to accomplish great things.Christina Munich (ETC LDI “class of 2001”) is a freelance lighting designer in Southern California and also teaches lighting design at the Orange County High School of the Arts. Kristie Roldan (ETC LDI class of 2003), one of Entertainment Design’s 2005 Young Designers to Watch, has worked for Disney® Imagineering in Disneyland. Christopher Ham (ETC LDI class of 2005) is the resident lighting and sound designer for The Wayside Theatre in Middletown, VA, and also teaches younger design students for The Wayside’s Young Performers Workshop and an internship program.

International students are also invited to apply for the LDI sponsorship and have benefited from the experience. Trent (Tae Hyun) Kim (ETC LDI class of 2005) from South Korea, went on to earn an MA in lighting design from the Queen Margaret University College in Scotland and has interned at London’s Royal Opera House. He is currently working toward a PhD at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow.

In another student-centered initiative, ETC works together with the Wisconsin Center for Academically Talented Youth (WCATY) to offer internship programs to high schoolers in Wisconsin’s Dane County. The interns work at ETC for eight weeks during the summer and are mentored by ETC employees. Students are required to identify and research specific corporate goals and come up with business plans to present to ETC’s executive board. Projects for 2007 include an enhanced initiative for energy consumption and recycling, a process for data storage and conversion to ‘paperless’ offices, and wireless mobility solutions. Many of the students who have benefited from ETC’s educational support have gone on to work for ETC in various capacities. Some have followed career paths that have led to full-time jobs at ETC.

ETC’s dedication to education also translates into regular technology training for students. The ETC Education Roadshow is an opportunity for schools across the country to receive personalized training on ETC equipment. ETC Roadshow instructors travel to schools, going beyond demos to provide in-depth instruction, helping students learn terminology and lighting basics hands-on. Schools can choose to learn about console programming and networking basics, tricks of lighting design and the fundamentals of photometrics. The Roadshow is also a helpful alternative for schools unable to attend tradeshows.

ETC also stays connected to students through the popular sessions it hosts at the USITT and LDI tradeshows. Students are invited to get a behind-the-scenes peek at the most recent products ETC offers. Session attendees enjoy product demonstrations, hands-on experience with the new technology, student-only swag, and a chance to ask questions. Often, the sessions take place in ETC’s booth after show hours, so the students are privilege to private viewings of ETC’s equipment without the press of the tradeshow crowd.

ETC has also been a major benefactor of the Gilbert V. Hemsley Jr. Internship in Lighting, a program designed for young lighting designers to gain experience working with the Lincoln Center Festival, the New York City Opera and the New York City Ballet. The scholarship is named for the late Gilbert Hemsley, a prominent Broadway lighting designer and revered University of Wisconsin-Madison professor. ETC’s contribution to the scholarship is fitting homage to Hemsley, who mentored Fred Foster when the future ETC leader was a student himself back in the 70s.

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