Seneca College

A Launch Pad for Professional Careers

When Jed DeCory became chair of the School of Communication Arts at Toronto's Seneca College in 1999, he was asked to help make its newly-opened York campus one of the college's 'technical jewels.' One of his first challenges was dealing with 20-year-old technology in the Broadcasting - Television program.

It was an opportunity to really upgrade the equipment, says DeCory, the former director of media and technical production at the Banff Centre for the Arts. When I got here, they were teaching nonlinear editing with low-end packages. Since it was my mandate to

make the program first-rate, I rapidly moved to Avid systems. I didn't see the need for using slimmed-down programs when we could use professional programs like Avid. With the aggressive educational pricing Avid offers, there was no reason not to take advantage of the systems. I tell the students who come here that their professional careers begin when they walk in the doors at Seneca, not when they walk out.

 Avid has fantastic academic pricing. For colleges and universities, it's a great way to give students hands-on experience with industry-standard products.
- Blair Richardson, Program Coordinator

Employability is Key

As the largest college in Canada, Seneca College serves 90,000 part-time and 17,000 full-time students on several campuses spread throughout Toronto. It offers diploma, post-diploma, and graduate certificate programs in a variety of disciplines from accounting to visual effects, and bachelor degrees in both applied business and applied technology.

Graduates of Seneca's two-year Broadcasting - Television program, one of the 15 undergraduate and post-graduate programs in the School of Communication Arts, earn an Ontario College Diploma. According to program coordinator and Avid Certified Instructor (ACI) Blair Richardson, this

credential allows graduates to work in every sector in the film and television industry, including editing for broadcast organizations, post houses, and advertising agencies.

Our graduates are working in the major markets in Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver, says Richardson. Over the past five years, nearly 85 percent of them have found full-time employment within 12 months of graduation. It's all about employability. That's why our programs are so popular.

With space for 165 students in the two-year program, competition for the coveted spots is fierce. We receive as many as 2,000 applications each year, but only accept 60 students in September and 20 in May, says Richardson.

Most of Seneca's Broadcasting - Television students come from Canada, although some come from the United States, and a few from China, where Seneca runs a joint program with Shanghai University. The college also has a joint program with Toronto-based York University, enabling students to earn a Seneca diploma in Broadcasting - Television and a York University bachelor's of arts degree.  

 I tell the students who come here that their professional careers begin when they walk in the doors at Seneca, not when they walk out.
- Jed DeCory, Chair, School of Communication Arts, Seneca College

Collaborative Workflow, No Downtime

First-year students in the Broadcasting - Television program work on 22 workstations with Avid Xpress Pro editing software running on Macintosh and Windows platforms. Second-year

students have access to five suites, each equipped with Windows-based Media Composer Adrenaline editing systems and Avid DNxcel cards for HD editing. These systems are connected via Fibre Channel to an Avid Unity LANshare EX system with 8 TB of shared storage.

We just recently doubled the storage capacity from four terabytes to eight, says Adrian Klymenko, a Seneca technologist who maintains the program's video editing systems and all of the associated storage and video servers. It's a technology we're willing to invest in.

Reliability is also essential for the setup, which is used nearly around the clock by as many as 100 students per semester. The [Avid] Unity LANshare system is incredibly stable and easy to maintain. We haven't had any downtime since we installed Avid Unity nearly three years ago, says Klymenko. For a collaborative workflow, it really helps. Students can work in any of the suites and don't have to worry about transferring their work from room to room.

The systems' affordable price is also a key factor. Avid has fantastic academic pricing, says Richardson. For colleges and universities, it's a great way to give students hands-on experience with industry-standard products in a cost-effective manner.

Seamless Integration

The setup at Seneca College includes a complete picture and audio editing workflow with interoperable systems that enable students to easily share projects and media as they move through various post- production processes.

We use DVCPRO 25 for shooting and Mini DV for behind-the scenes stuff, says Richardson. For offline, we use Avid Xpress Pro. For online, we use [the] Media Composer Adrenaline [system]. From there, we move to Digidesign Pro Tools LE, which students use to do everything from Foley sound through final 5.1 surround sound mixing. Our Pro Tools suites are extremely high end; not many colleges can do surround sound. The key thing for us is that we do everything exactly the same way it's done in the industry.
He adds, The level of production dictates our workflow. We have two main mastering formats: DVCPRO for our SD mastering, and DVCPRO HD for HD. We use a Panasonic AJHD1700 high-end mastering deck.

Klymenko adds, There's complete integration between [Avid] Xpress Pro, Media Composer, and Pro Tools. There's no drifting when students go from post-production video to post-production audio. It's seamless.

Partnering for the Future

Seneca's Broadcasting - Television students are required to take the skills they learn in the classrooms and editing suites out into the world to gain hands-on experience in the industry. Students in the TV program have to work 100 hours in a professional setting during their last two semesters, says DeCory. They must find their own internships and get them approved by the coordinator. It's important that they learn how to open doors and talk their way into a job.

Currently, some second-year students are participating in a partnership project with TV Ontario, a public television station that is covering the Citizens Coalition investigation into electoral reform. Using multi-camera airpacks, the students shoot educational seminars at a nearby law school. The content is streamed live to the Web and

then edited on Avid systems for future dissemination to the public via podcasts and other electronic distribution methods.

It's an educational process, says DeCory. All the editing is being done on our [Media Composer] Adrenaline [systems]. The students are working on a real project and being mentored by professionals as well as Seneca faculty - and they are being paid for their time.

To upgrade the school's technology and promote further interaction with the professional community, DeCory and his staff are considering adding a 20-seat Avid Media Composer Academic lab and expanding the storage capacity of their Avid Unity setup. If we could put it together, it would allow us to give more professional training, notes DeCory. To have the Media Composer lab would enable us to have a facility where we could do training for both industry professionals and other college faculty in Ontario.

It's one of the options we're considering, adds Richardson. It would also give us more capacity and enable us to teach a slightly different workflow. The more we can teach our students, the better prepared they'll be.

This progressive attitude underlies Seneca College's strategy to provide its students with the essential job skills needed in a constantly changing market. If we don't keep up, if we are

lagging behind the industry in hardware or software, by the time our students graduate, they could be two to three years behind, says DeCory. It is our obligation to keep up with - if not be a little bit ahead of - the industry.

* CREDITS: Courtesy of Seneca College Broadcasting - Television, Seneca College