The industry boosts its supply of media pros, and the students achieve their potential
With the sports-production industry facing a shrinking workforce, many broadcasters are exploring new avenues to recruit the next generation of talent while also diversifying its ranks. Meanwhile, Exceptional Minds, a California non-profit preparing young adults on the autism spectrum for creative careers in the entertainment industry, is looking to create job opportunities for its graduates beyond Hollywood.
These two paths have converged at CBS Sports, where a pair of Exceptional Minds graduates — Adam Schuering and Michael Cicerelli — are working and thriving in the media-management department under VP, Post-Production and Media Operations, Ed Coleman.
“I have a son who is on the on the spectrum,” says Coleman. “He’s very creative and really into animation, so I was just searching the internet for online courses in that field for kids on the spectrum. I came across Exceptional Minds. As I started to look at their organization and the type of work that they do, I realized very quickly that this could apply to a lot of the work we do at CBS Sports and, hopefully, give these young people some great opportunities.”
Exceptional Minds provides critical technical and work-readiness training customized to help its students achieve their full artistic and professional potential, creating a new pipeline of talented media professionals and fostering inclusive hiring practices. Exceptional Minds and its partners are building a future where neurodiverse perspectives are vital to advancing a more empowered and inclusive society.
After discovering Exceptional Minds, Coleman contacted the organization’s career-development and placement department and soon received a list of graduates and their concentrations and majors. He picked out a group of candidates who had an interest in editing, archive, and digital-media workflows and, having conducted a handful of interviews, narrowed the group to Schuering and Cicerelli.
Once they were aboard, Coleman assigned each a senior MAM-focused employee to help them get started and oversee their development.
“We took more of a tailored approach — almost a mentorship type of model, where we paired each of them with one of our senior people,” says Coleman. “We found that we didn’t have to slow down the pace much because both these guys jumped in and took to it pretty quickly. In addition to giving both of them some great experience, it was great to see people on my own team step up and show leadership, show empathy, and really embrace working with these two young people. It was unbelievable to see the organization come together and help these guys out.”
Schuering now works with CBS Sports Network’s media-asset–management team — scheduling records, restoring content from the archive, assisting in edits, and handling other day-to-day operations. Cicerelli works with CBS Sports’ digital-archives team, digitizing tapes for the MAM and archive systems and helping with the day-to-day support of MAM and live workflows.
“The people that come through Exceptional Minds — or anyone on the autism spectrum, for that matter — may have some difficulties in communicating,” says Coleman, “but they also have a valuable skillset and dedicated work ethic — just like anyone else can have if they have the right mindset. I would recommend to any sports organization to give people that are on the spectrum an opportunity and provide the resources that they need to be properly integrated with your team. I think you’ll find that these young men and women will flourish and step up not only their game but also the game of the existing employees.”
Coleman credits CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus, President David Berson, and EVP, Operations and Engineering, Patty Power for providing him with the resources and freedom to accommodate the partnership with Exceptional Minds.
“I absolutely would [make another hire through Exceptional Minds],” says Coleman. “I would also recommend to other divisions within sports to look into this. I’m focused on the postproduction and asset-management side, but many of the students that go through the program are very focused on graphics and animation work, so there is much potential there. Other students are just looking for a chance to show what they can do in production management and things like that but just need the opportunity.”
Exceptional Minds works continuously to find mentorships, internships, and jobs for its students, who can often be overlooked in recruiting. Sports-media companies can work with the Exceptional Minds’ placement team to find candidates; employees can mentor or volunteer for such roles as doing mock interviews or can speak to students about what types of roles the company offers.
Exceptional Minds works with its students on career-readiness so that they are prepared to work as part of a team and adapt to different job settings. The organization also offers its partners employer education to prepare a team for success in a neurodiverse society.
“Our culture and industry are focused on DEI [Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion] for very good reason: different perspectives better business overall, and autism is a perfect example of that,” says Morgan Chess, head of marketing, Exceptional Minds. “One in 44 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with autism, so having employees on the spectrum allows media companies to cater to a larger audience in an effective way.”
Exceptional Minds is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, and what started with niche training has expanded to most creative-services skills. From social-content editing and video ads to videogame environments, these students are headed out into industries with honed skills and are prepared to take on their careers. Cicerelli and Schuering were the first Exceptional Minds graduates to obtain positions in sports media and are opening doors for others on the spectrum.
“They are a great example for our current students of how to use their skills outside of animation and postproduction,” says Chess. “Our students and grads are skilled in the digital arts, which transfers to many industries, but our students bring qualities that elevate teams of all kinds. Their perspectives and work ethic, combined with their training, creates employees who are top-notch.”