Yaniv Aronson wears many different hats. He’s the mayor of Conshohocken, a film and video teacher, and he just defended his dissertation as a higher education doctoral student at IU. What unites these roles is his emphasis on accessible pathways, both for the street traffic in his town and for his students as they pursue a college education. Whether as mayor or an educator, he wants to help everyone get where they want to go, smoothly and safely.
After working for Spike TV, Travel Channel and Sundance TV and earning his MFA in film, Aronson decided to try teaching cinematography and video production at Northeast High School, the largest high school in Philadelphia and one of the most diverse in the state.
Northeast gives students in-depth training in video production, graphic design and web design, and during his seven years there, Aronson ensured that his students also developed strong writing skills to complement their technical skills.
“You have to be a writer to be successful in the film industry,” he says. “So a lot of my class was about writing, planning and being organized. There are a lot of films with big budgets that have been beautifully shot, but are unsuccessful because of poor writing.”
Although his students graduate with extensive technical expertise, many have trouble taking the next step to college. Colleges often do not accept their training in the form of credits that can be applied toward a degree. Additionally, many Northeast students come from lower-income backgrounds and can’t afford to spend four years in college. They are anxious to start working and earn an income.
Because he knows a college education leads to higher income potential, Aronson encouraged his students to consider earning a professional certificate or associate degree.
With this in mind, Aronson chose a project for the practicum IU required for the completion of his Ed.D.—working on an articulation agreement with Montgomery County Community College (MCCC), where he taught as an adjunct and is now a full-time instructor, to accept credits from communications technology classes at Northeast High School.
The Pennsylvania Department of Education recently approved the articulation agreement, so Northeast’s students can now receive three mass media studies college credits at MCCC for passing one of Northeast’s technology classes, saving them a few hundred dollars and getting them one step closer to a certificate or an associate degree.
Throughout the complex process of working on this agreement, Aronson received support from IU’s higher education program faculty. “I’ve always been impressed with the caliber of teachers we get in the program, including former presidents of universities and other high-level administrators,” he says. “They are working higher education professionals who have done this before, have seen it all and are there to pass along their experiences.”
He also appreciates his cohort of classmates, “a group of passionate professionals to lean on and talk to,” he says. Even now that they no longer attend classes together, Aronson says the group still communicates regularly.
Aronson’s desire to advocate for education led him to run for public office. His position as mayor offers him more access to government officials. He recently spoke with a U.S. senator about the importance of career and technical education, the broad field under which Aronson’s high school video and film classes are categorized. The senator promised to support the Perkins legislation, a bill promoting the vocational field, keeping his word as Congress reauthorized it in July 2018.
“Making sure I bring up education whenever I can has been one of my main focuses as mayor,” Aronson says.
He also uses his position to advocate with the city council for traffic safety measures, including more crosswalks, better speed limit enforcement and methods for calming traffic. He noticed that drivers were illegally using a one-lane road to bypass slowdowns on the main street in Conshohocken. Public Works staff narrowed and repainted the one-lane road, and drivers have slowed down significantly, Aronson says.
Aronson is also an advocate for the success of female students in STEM programs, and he conducted his dissertation research on the barriers and incentives related to women’s persistence in STEM college programs.
He noticed that female students in his video classes at Northeast were unlikely to pursue technical areas of study in college. The literature Aronson saw on this subject indicated that a variety of factors can discourage women from pursuing STEM degrees. These obstacles include male-dominated classes and faculty, gender stereotypes about typical careers, and future family planning decisions made difficult in STEM fields.
However, the demand for workers with STEM degrees is high, so “it is critical that female students persist through STEM college programming so they can fill these open job positions,” he says.
Speaking from his experience as a former high school teacher, Aronson says, “We have to help students realize how valuable a college education is.” On the flip side, he adds, “colleges need to offer programs that are relevant to students and their desire to find good jobs, something I hope to continue to advocate for at MCCC.” He plans to use his doctoral expertise to help more high school students earn college degrees and certificates by creating more pathways between secondary and higher education.
“I work in education because I am passionate about my students’ success. Anytime they succeed, I feel like I have as well,” he says.