For a moment last month, Central New Mexico Community College board member Tom Swisstack thought he was going to fall.
His apartment building’s floor began to crack before Swisstack’s eyes as the former mayor struggled to hear the words of his nearby students: “step forward.” Swisstack did, smiled and exhaled as he took his virtual reality headset off.
“It was so real it was unbelievable,” Swisstack said. “If you’re afraid of heights, trying to move forward even when everyone’s telling you that you could do it, you’re looking down and you’re thinking, ‘I’m going to fall.'”
Virtual reality headsets, green screens and programming computers were on display during a CNM open house event last month, celebrating the beginning of the Sandoval County CNM Digital Media Lab – a new partnership program between CNM Rio Rancho and the Sandoval County Office of Business Development.
The digital media lab, according to Sandoval County business development director Dianne Maes, will help teach students media production skills, including digital editing and computer programming. The program’s high school and college students will also then work alongside small businesses or community projects within the county to create websites, videos, web designs and logos as part of a real-world project.
“We have student project forms for businesses to fill out and then they try to match them with students, based on their interests,” Maes said. “We really are trying to help businesses and hoping to help businesses grow.”
The Sandoval County CNM Digital Media Lab began shortly after the county ended its Innovation Lab program last year, that was then in partnership with Intel. Maes said the county was able to utilize funding from the previous program to kick-start their new partnership with CNM.
Swisstack said the program’s initiative to connect digital-savvy students with businesses provides a unique résumé-building opportunity for Rio Rancho-area students.
“What I hope you can start to see is our students getting good paying jobs because they’ll have some good solid practical experience that will help them move right into the workforce,” Swisstack said.
During CNM’s open house, professor Marla Peters and her students filmed volunteer event attendees in front of a green screen backdrop. Following a few different takes, including a shot or two with Swisstack, Peters taught passersby how to use basic green screen technology through an Adobe video-editing program.
“With green screen, I can do anything – I can put you in New York, I can put you in the middle of an explosion,” she said.
Peters, who previously taught at Independence High School and had students there producing anti-DWI public service announcements that were aired on TV, teaches computer information systems in CNM’s digital media department. She said she hopes the program will encourage creative students to stay in New Mexico and seek job opportunities in the area.
“We have very, very talented people in New Mexico but they leave because they can’t find jobs in this field,” Peters said. “We’re trying to really help them realize that there are pockets of places where they could utilize their talents, connect them to small businesses.”