You only notice that you need them when something goes wrong. No sound. Glitches. Share screen won’t work. Mike Stokes and his team are on standby for moments like this and so much more.
“Everything you see and hear on campus is us. Without us, chapel would be silent, and professors’ PowerPoints would be black,” said Isaac Clausen ’18, alum and audiovisual technician, who works with Stokes daily.
Stokes is the director of AV and has been at Northwestern for 20 years. Prior to NW, Stokes worked at Gateway, a computer company in Sioux City, as a program manager. At that time, the vice president of academic affairs called Stokes, asking him if he would be interested in working with the computing services department.
“As a student at Northwestern, I worked in the AV department for four years supporting classrooms, campus events and chapel sound,” Stokes said. “Because of my previous experience in the AV department and my computer support experience, this transition was a natural one for me.”
The audiovisual department may be an overlooked facet on campus, but without Stokes and his team, campus would be a dark and silent place, especially now when faculty and students are heavily reliant on technology.
“We work in the background to make people presenting look and sound good,” Stokes said.
On a daily basis, Stokes and his team support classrooms to ensure the projections and audio systems are working. They also set up and support events and edit video and audios for NW to use during chapel, Raider Days, Ngage, faculty meetings, student activities and NEDTalks.
For Stokes, someone who jumpstarted his expertise in technology and his spiritual journey was Matt Floding, who served as the campus chaplain during Stokes’ time as a student. When Stokes attended NW, chapel happened four times a week, and Stokes often ran the sound, allowing him to listen to the message multiple times.
“I guess you can say seeds were planted in my life,” Stokes said. “I worked with Chaplain Floding so often I was able to develop a strong relationship with him, and he officiated Valerie and my wedding.”
As one can expect, COVID-19 has made the need for the AV department increase exponentially. It was a busy summer for the AV department, as rooms that were not originally intended to be used as classrooms, such as the Vogel Room, dance studio and Theora England Willcox Proscenium Theatre, were turned into classroom spaces. It became a necessity that every classroom be equipped to serve students both in person and remotely.
Chapel this year also impacted AV, as it started in the Rowenhorst Student Center before transitioning back to Christ Chapel.
“With the transition back to chapel, we had to add additional spaces on campus to allow for additional seating to support the distancing requirement,” Stokes said.
While Stokes thinks AV goes unnoticed, there are many students on campus, especially those who work closest with Stokes, that know the difference.
For Clausen, Stokes is a role model.
“My time as a student in the AV department with Mike made it clear that I wanted to do something related to AV,” Clausen said. “He is always willing to give my wacky ideas a try and encourages me when we succeed.”
Samantha Blum, a senior biology health professions major, serves as the team leader for the AV department, and this is her fourth year on the team. She makes schedules, answers emails, clocks hours and fills out charges. Stokes has been her boss for each year.
“Stokes is a hard worker who is dedicated to making technology easier for others to use. He is a caring and kind boss who always asks how we are doing,” Blum said. “He embodies what it means to treat everyone with respect and care, while still doing his job with excellence.”
This is senior Ben Henker’s third year on the team, and Stokes’ “unnoticed” work on the AV department has taught Henker a lot.
“[Stokes] has showed me that you can make a big impact by doing the small things in life. AV is a job that nobody notices until you mess up, then everyone looks back and tries to figure out if you’re sleeping or trying to make things go wrong,” Henker said. “Without the AV department and the things that Mike does for this campus, there wouldn’t be a functioning college.”