The Taste Challenge – Introducing Audiovisual Careers to Students

Take a sip, and close your eyes. Listen closely, and pay attention to your taste buds.

It might sound like a weird sci-fi experiment, but I’ve had this theory for sometime about how audio impacts our sense of taste. I recently had the chance to test my idea out on a few hundred students at a New Jersey career fair, dually introducing them to the idea of audiovisual job opportunities.

I’ve been on a soap box for sometime now about how the AV industry needs to educate more young people about the business. Naturally, I jumped at the chance to expose students to AV when I was invited to participate in Junior Achievement of New Jersey’s Inspire Trenton Career Day.

The Junior Achievement (JA) event brought over 700 eighth grade students to The College of New Jersey for hands-on experiences about career opportunities. One of the things I love about my work in AV is creating something for people to see and hear, so when it came time to decide how to present the idea of AV as a career to these students, I knew it had to be like a show and tell.

Initially, I had thought of just setting up a bunch of equipment and talking to kids about AV, but with the format of the event, we only had about 3 minutes with groups of 4-8 kids. As I was thinking more about how to speak to the students about AV, I was also thinking about my theory that sound affects taste, which stems from the amount of work I do with restaurant acoustics. I’m really interested in how noise and loud sounds in restaurants alter how diners perceive taste. I recognized that I would have a sizable, captive audience at the JA Inspire event, so why not combine these two interests?

The result was a really interactive experience for eighth graders to understand that AV is not a bunch of geeks with carts and projectors. There’s acoustics and designing sound, loudspeakers, components and so many other things. There are all these different aspects to the AV business that exists.

So we put together this experiment where we had students take a sip of gatorade. Then, we gave them headphones to put on with a fun playlist queued up; we had them take another sip and asked them if it tasted different. The result? Only about 5 kids out of several hundred said they couldn’t taste a difference. Even some of the adults around skeptically gave it a try, and you could see the lightbulbs go off in their heads. It was really fun!

Of course, we also took the opportunity to measure the sound levels in the headphones to show kids how they might be damaging their hearing by listening to music with the volume too high. We really packed a lot into the experience by also presenting various media on loudspeakers, an amplifier and a projection system that we displayed. In my elevator pitch, I explained how when you go eat at a restaurant or you go shopping, and you hear music or see visuals, that that’s someone’s job. Those things don’t just happen by accident.

I also made it clear to them that I love what I do, and it’s possible to make a good living by doing something that you love. I worry sometimes that in the push for career development, kids either want to be an entertainer, some kind of celebrity, or they just want to make money. My main message to kids was that regardless of the career path that they choose, they should choose wisely.

While most of the students certainly came along with preconceived notions of what they think they want to be, I hope that through the Taste Challenge, we were able to give them a new idea to consider as they go into High School. I’d like to think that someday, some of those kids might remember the Taste Challenge and think, ‘Oh yea, THAT’S what I want to do.’

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