“Apprenticeship” Model Gives Student Workers Chance To Learn on the Job

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When Caitlin McCleery enrolled at Rensselaer, she never expected she’d end up learning so much about smoke machines and LED lights. Since February, the junior biomedical engineering student has been working with the stage technologies team at the Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC) and, as anyone who has been attending EMPAC shows this fall knows, stage fog and colored strobe lights have been a ubiquitous part of the fall season.

McCleery knew the basics of stage lighting from her experience in high school theater, and has spent much of her college years working with UPAC Lights, the Student Union-run lighting club. Last winter, a graduating senior in UPAC suggested that she apply for a student job at EMPAC. After a couple of emails with the EMPAC master electrician, Dan Swalec, she found herself hanging lights for Extra Shapes, an EMPAC-commissioned dance performance by choreographer DD Dorvillier, which premiered in March.

“I thought it was cool you didn’t need to know what you were doing at first,” McCleery said. “They really let you learn on the job.”

McCleery is one of about 10 students who work behind the scenes on all EMPAC productions, aiding the lighting, video, audio, and stage teams with all aspects of the projects’ development and performance. “I like the ones I get to work on the whole way through,” she said, listing the season-opening MashUP! student dance party and the ongoing Charles Atlas 3-D movie shoot as personal favorites. “It’s great practice working with people and troubleshooting problems as they come up. The more time I spend with the team, the more I learn. And then I get to help teach new students who join.”

Read the full story at Inside Rensselaer.

December 2, 2015