As we start to see more daily reminders of the critical importance of junior and community colleges in American job creation and equity –as the recession slogs on without promised new jobs, as the White House actively supports 2-year education–it will be interesting to see how explicitly (or not) industries associate themselves with this type of education…long treated by many sectors of American culture as marginal to “real” higher ed, and certainly as remote from tech-sector R&D. Take a look at an interesting artifact of the 2010 American economy: An ad produced by Duracell that celebrates, in as slick a marketing effort as you’ll see anywhere, a community college program for training wind-turbine technicians.
This has to be one of the only times a community college has appeared in a mass-media marketing campaign, let alone hit our screens in such an unremittingly positive light. (Surely we don’t count the NBC sit-com “Community”as boosterism, as funny and sympathetic as its misfit characters might be? With every ethnicity, gender and age group given its own embarassing under-achiever? Its own diagnosable-if-warm-hearted representative in the world of 2-year education?) The Wind Energy and Turbine Technology program of Iowa Lakes Community College, in Duracell’s hands, comes across as exciting and cutting edge. The turbine is magnificent, standing tall against the sun-drenched countryside, as uniformed student/workers in hardhats and coveralls high atop the structure test its voltage.
Not surprisingly, we are told that the students do this by using Duracell-battery powered voltage meters. And the ad is hardly breaking new visual ground: it looks and sounds a bit like recent fast-cut, emotionally uplifting military recruiting ads. But using those images and techniques, the ad makes it clear that this technical work is both physically challenging and intellectually rewarding, not to mention of vital national interest, as a child driving by stares up in wonder at the spinning turbine. If this ad draws more students to training in sustainable technologies, that alone would count as a contribution by Duracell. If it draws away some of the stigma of community colleges among university-educated Americans, even better.
I have a couple of concerns about the ad: I think I spotted one or two female students standing in a group shot (see above); hard to tell, though, and why were none visible among the confering meter-wielders, or intrepid turbine-climbing technicians, that make up most of the video? Finally, Duracell fudges more than a few environmental issues to associate itself here with the values of sustainability. Do we really want to promote wind energy as a way to expand our already excessive use of energy? The child in the ad cools herself with a battery-powered miniature fan, as she sits inside a moving car! Why not just open a window to the turbine-powering breezes obviously blowing outside? But for the moment, confining ourselves to the image of community colleges, let’s think about what Duracell’s addition of a culturally marginalized institution to the glossy, green television landscape might well do to help chip away at that marginality.