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Atlanta – When Atlanta was named host city for the 1996 Olympic Games, recent Morris Brown College graduate LaDon Love dreamed about being a part of the event. That dream will come true next month when the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games (ACOG) will pay LaDon $160 per day to keep track of cameras during the broadcasts of the Olympics.


“This will be something special that I can reflect on in later years. I’ll be a part of and get to see history in the making,” Love said. Kelly, a senior at Clark Atlanta University who asked that her last name not be used, also received a contract from ACOG to work as an audio assistant during the Olympic Games for $200 a day. But she threw her contract in the trash.


“I was not properly trained for the job I was offered … so I see it as a set-up for failure,” said Kelly. “This program has been frustrating … I wouldn’t do it over again.” Both the Clark Atlanta senior and Love participated in the Olympic Host Broadcast Training Program (OHBTP) conducted by Clark Atlanta University’s Mass Media Arts Department. During the two years. of its existence, views on the program have ranged from high praise to scathing criticism.


Mixed Reviews


In the spring of 1994, Clark Atlanta received a $300,000 grant from Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games’ Atlanta Olympic Broadcasting (AOB), to train students for various technical positions that would open up when it came time to prepare for broadcasting the Olympics around the world. More than 20 instructors were also provided by AOB and, in addition, Olympic officials arranged for the Panasonic Corporation to donate over $1 million in digital editing equipment to the school. The university also purchased the additional equipment needed to provide both in-studio and on-location training. The program attracted hundreds of students from around the country.


According to university officials, of the 900 students initially enrolled, 700 completed the program, last semester, and most have received offers to perform various technical jobs for AOB, the Canadian Broadcasting Network and the European Broadcasting Sports Network during the Games.


Now that the training program is over, however, those who participated are now giving it mixed reviews. Like Love, a 21-year-old Clark Atlanta junior accounting major, Elizabeth Lampkin said she was blessed to be in the program and is excited about the $1,000 she will receive to work as assistant operator for sports commentary during the Games.


“I was pleased with the program. It was a good opportunity to network and now I feel like I have another major that I can do on the side,” Lampkin said. But other students were not so enthusiastic and, like Kelly, some are even turning down ACOG’s job offers.


Target of Criticism


Clark Atlanta graduating senior Mignon Parker, who won’t work this summer, said, “I only finished the program to get my degree … there was just too much being crammed into too little time and too much confusion.”


Although the program’s concept was praised by many, OHBTP has been the target of criticism from some faculty and students from its inception. During the grant-funded renovation of the mass media arts department, for example, complaints were heard regarding the construction work that took place for over a semester while classes were being held.

 Hanging wires and strong paint fumes, it was said, distracted faculty and students who had to often maneuver around workers in the hallways of the communications building.


Because classroom space was a problem, some students said their class locations were often switched. Kelly said the final exam for one of her classes turned into a take-home exam because students could not get in the church where the class was held. in addition, some faculty members in the main communications program complained of being left out of the OHBTP process.


Clark Atlanta’s undergraduate dean Dr. Gloria James, said she worked closely with the mass media arts department’s dean and felt that, “They understood our priority. They knew that after the Games they would get first priority. They loved the better equipment.”


James said 30 percent of the equipment used in the OHBTP came from Panasonic and many saw having it after the Games as a major plus for future instruction. However, James said, “Panasonic may not let us keep the’ equipment. We’re asking them to let us keep it.”


Equipment Problems


Most students said they were impressed with the digital editing equipment they used. So impressed, in fact, that some students from other schools wanted to stay at Clark Atlanta. But James said these students were made to sign contracts stating that they would not transfer.


However, some of the equipment, including the remote van, did not come in until near the end of the program another source of dissatisfaction. “I would, have joined the program I earlier had I seen the equipment earlier, said Love. Ron Claxton, AOB’s program training manager said the Panasonic equipment “was on time, but theirs [Clark Atlanta’s] was not. It was expensive and some was not in the original budget, but they made it happen.” “It was a problem, in terms of getting equipment, due to costs. Not too many private schools can raise this [money],” said James.


Revisions and Changes


But that rationale did not make some students any less forgiving of the equipment’s late delivery or other shortcomings they saw in the program. A main concern of many students, even those who liked the program, was that communication — of all things — was a major problem.p Because neither the Olympics nor Clark Atlanta had ever done training like this before, the program was revised a lot and course requirements changed often. Those changes were not always communicated to the students in a timely manner, many said. “We were guinea pigs … I got told different things all four semesters I was there,” said Parker.


Even Love, who said he learned a lot about operating a camera and digital editing in the program, complained that the constant changes were a factor in his hesitancy to sign up for OHBTP. Love was then attending Morris Brown on a five-year athletic scholarship and did not want the program changes to cause him to need additional courses after his scholarship ran out.


“Other students said things changed a lot and my first priority was to graduate …. My mom was my only support, so I had to think about my scholarship,” he said. Lampkin defended the program and said she got what she wanted from OHBTP by being aggressive.


“I heard students complaining, but I didn’t want to hear it. I hung in and constantly asked questions about what I needed to do. I took the initiative and didn’t wait for them to tell me what to do,” Lampkin said. Dean James admits changes took place through the middle of the program, but she blames the newness of the program and the tight schedule they worked under for OHBTP’s “plan as you go” structure. She also said some changes were made by the new trainers brought into the program who were not there when the requirements were initially set.


“When new experts said we need A, B or C, we massaged the program to accommodate the minor changes,” James said. AOB’s Claxton expressed a different viewpoint. “We were able to make adjustments on our end quickly but educational institutions take longer, so we adjusted to them. Educational institutions don’t move with the speed of light.”


According to James, “There was a little tension. Our job was to maintain academic integrity … they [AOB] were not used to dealing with academic requirements because they’d just done training in the past … a couple of their technical people did not see the value of academics, but we worked it out together.”


While the fine-tuning was taking place, some students said they bore the brunt of the adjustments. Kelly and Parker (who said she could have graduated earlier) said they took courses they did not need and were often frustrated over the conflicts between the Olympic program requirements that they had to fulfill in order to be placed in a job and the department’s academic requirements.


“They told me I needed lighting and directing and advanced TV production, but I didn’t. I went to summer school to take the prerequisites for these courses when I didn’t have to,” Parker said.


`Confusion and Drama’


Because the students were on a tight schedule in terms of when they had to complete all of their courses, they were allowed to take advanced courses and the prerequisites for the advanced class at the same time. “There was a lot of controversy over this. Different people said different things. The department said you couldn’t [take courses out of sequence], the program (OHBTP) said you could … They worked it out so you could, but it was a lot of confusion and drama,” Parker said.


Dean James said they tried to keep this practice to a minimum, but, “We knew to get students through the program, some exceptions were needed … we cleared it with the chair of the department,” she said. Although James said students weren’t allowed to take courses such as the beginners and advanced television classes at the same time, students such as Kelly, said they did. “If they did, they slipped through,” James said.


Parker, who is now taking an advanced television course in the regular communications program at Clark Atlanta said she feels “lost.” Said Parker: “I’m behind. We were trained to function for the Olympics only and not industry wide … we didn’t do budgets, treatments and writing,” Parker said. “We were focused strictly on production … I felt there was so much more I needed to know.”


Success In Obtaining jobs


Officials from nearby schools such as Georgia State University (GSU), which had 60 students in the program, said although the training was difficult at times, all of their students have secured jobs during the Games. Carol Winkler, GSU Communications Department Chair, said GSU students took 90 percent of their courses at GSU and went to Clark Atlanta for training on the digital equipment. She felt earlier planning would have made the program better but said, “it was an immense undertaking, dealing with all the different schools and their policies, and the fact that they pulled it off is a feather in their cap.”


Because some students did not get as much hands-on experience as expected because of late-arriving equipment, Dean James said free labs are being offered to give the students additional training. She is also busy trying to find positions for those students not given AOB contracts. Some students are upset over this because they thought all participants were guaranteed a job during the Olympics.


AOB’s Claxton said they never made such a promise and selected only the “…best of the best. That upset some but we took those who were enthusiastic and on time for remotes.” James said now that Clark Atlanta’s role with the Olympics is basically over, the university plans to focus on finding ways to work with other institutions on special training projects. Officials are even considering having Clark Atlanta’s remote van travel to other schools to cover events such as football games.


 In terms of OHBTP, if she had to do it over, James would have preferred training fewer students. But looking back at the program, she felt, “It was worthwhile for the students … the training gave them opportunities they never would have had.”


Many students agree that the program provided unique experiences, but some faculty and students also felt that OHBTP’s potential was never fully realized and that it could have been managed better. Many shared graduating senior Kelly’s thoughts when she said that even though she’s proud of Clark Atlanta, she feels the problems experienced with the OHBTP program are systemic.


“We need a higher standard of management, not just on this [OHBTP], but on registration, financial aid, housing, etc. There’s no reason why these programs aren’t run properly.”


COPYRIGHT 1996 Cox, Matthews & Associates

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