Carson Column: Picture this - Boot camp for photographers

On Monday morning, Sean Franzen will get into his old Subaru and take on a new challenge.

Sean, a 22-year-old engineering student, won't be returning to class at Western Nevada Community College. He'll be headed to the other side of the country for photography boot camp.

Thanks to a national program designed to reward, encourage and identify the cream of America's craftspeople, Sean is going to the Hallmark Institute in Turners Falls, Mass., to delve deeply into what had only been a hobby a few months ago.

"They only accept 150 students," he said. "In one 10-month semester there is about 1,400 hours of class time. They call it photography boot camp."

Sean's life changed in June when he won the state SkillsUSA/VICA gold medal in photography for post-secondary students.

"They took us to a location, handed us a roll of film and a theme and we had to shoot it," he said. "It was all very professional. The judges are local professional photographers. Ron Hildebrand was one of the judges in Reno."

All the first place winners from Nevada, including Sean, went on to the nationals in Kansas City in June.

Mike Raponi, state director of the Nevada Association of SkillsUSA/VICA, said the convention is the biggest that Kansas City hosts each year with nearly 10,000 students, teachers and judges flooding the city.

"At 10,000 people, we're the biggest convention in Kansas City," he said. "There are more than 4,000 student competitors, and they all qualify in their own states."

The organization was founded in 1967 as the Vocational Industrial Clubs of America, or VICA.

"They will eventually drop the VICA, but it has been known under that acronym for 30 years," he said.

Raponi said 66 students went to the convention from Nevada, all first place winners. The state prize carried with it a $3,000 scholarship for Sean.

Sean won the silver medal in Kansas City, which earned him the $10,000 scholarship to the Hallmark Institute.

The award recognizes skill training of our young adults," Raponi said. "Coordinating these events to industry standards really demonstrates the skills they have acquired in their high school and college programs. Students who perform well at competition are usually offered jobs or scholarships."

While no stranger to a camera - his father owns Gerald Lee Franzen Photography in Carson City - it was not Sean's intention to become a photographer.

"I've had a camera in my hand since I was 10 years old," he said. "But I really wasn't interested in doing it for a living until I went to this competition and I actually saw all these photographers working and got the scholarship," he said. "I was an engineering major at WNCC. That was kind of my career path. But, I'd much rather go take a picture than sit behind a desk, especially if you can make a living out of it."

In addition to learning about picture-taking, the institute teaches its students about the business of taking pictures.

"After 10 months, I'll have a professionally put-together portfolio," he said. "Hopefully, I'll be working for a big studio or even start one of my own."

Sean's mom, Diane, said she was very proud of her son, but said the program deserves a lot of the credit.

"The guy who started it pointed out that all the money and accolades went to students who were in athletics or academics," she said. "This was a way to begin to train kids to do the best in their fields."

According to Raponi, there are 240,000 high school and college students in the national organization.

"We have about 2,500 members in Nevada representing about 30 high schools and colleges," he said.

The students compete in 70 different categories.

For more information about SkillsUSA/VICA, check out their Web page at

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Speaking of the Web, I took a cue from Gov. Kenny Guinn and registered my pickup online. I filled out the form on Aug. 19 and received my sticker on Thursday. It was during the previous week that the governor said anyone who says they have to stand in line at the DMV is admitting they can't pick up a phone or use the Internet. The Web site is

Not bad for government work.

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Members of the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program were foot soldiers in the battle to get Nevadans counted.

Janice Ayres, executive director of the organization, sent me a copy of the wood and glass plaque awarded to the organization by the U.S. Bureau of the Census.

"RSVP worked very hard on this in all 15 counties," Janice said. "Volunteers helped to see that people, especially older persons, responded."

A lot of work went into the Census and the count is due on the president's desk by Dec. 31, 2000.

Kurt Hildebrand is assistant managing editor at the Nevada Appeal. Reach him at 881-1215 or


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