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1981 spotlight: Career takes alumnus from NASA to think tank, then back to Missouri State

1981 spotlight: Career takes alumnus from NASA to think tank, then back to Missouri State

Written by Breea Schutt
Photo by Kevin White

When you enter the office of Calvin Avery, Missouri State’s distance learning engineer supervisor, you’ll see coffee mugs lining his desk. Each one displays the logo of a station with which Avery has worked — CNN, Fox News, NBC and Warner Brothers, to name a few.
His career in television and electronics has allowed him the chance to broadcast NASA launches and film political dignitaries.

None of this would’ve happened, Avery says, if not for his time at Missouri State.

From humble beginnings

Avery grew up in Ava, Missouri. He was a farm boy whose parents had passed away during his childhood.

“I really hadn’t considered college,” Avery said, “until the family I was staying with said, ‘Have you ever considered going to school?’ They convinced me to give MSU a try.”

At Missouri State, Avery worked spotlights for concerts at Hammons Student Center alongside Randy Blackwood, ’80, now the part-time staff events coordinator for MSU.

“Calvin was full of energy and enthusiasm for his student job,” Blackwood said. “He put professionalism first in support of all the events we staged and had a lot of pride in a show done well.”

Avery met many artists and was even a personal runner for Eric Clapton, both an exciting and embarrassing endeavor.

“I ran out during Eric Clapton’s show to bring him a cup of water,” Avery said, “and I tripped over the cables running through the amplifiers. I took a nose dive on stage — right in front of 10,000 people.”

Working for NASA, dignitaries

Avery graduated with a bachelor’s degree in electronic media. He worked for NASA in Houston.

“All the space shuttle television came through me,” he said. “From that moment it reached orbit until that bird landed, that television went through me or two other people in the world.”

Outside of mission times, Avery and his team filmed astronauts training in underwater or weightless environments. They watched the filming of movies such as “Armageddon,” “Apollo 13” and “Space Cowboys.”

After NASA, Avery worked as an audio/visual professional for former Secretary of State James Baker III at Rice University in Texas. At the Baker Institute, a nonpartisan public policy think tank, Avery filmed presidents and prime ministers.

“The most humbling man I’ve ever met was Nelson Mandela,” Avery said. “Despite all the dignitaries walking into the speech by rank, he stopped and let our receptionist go ahead of him, saying, ‘After you, young lady.’ You talk about a gracious man.”

The journey back to MSU

As exciting as Avery’s career had been, he became homesick for Missouri.

“I used to sit at my desk and listen to the songs of the whippoorwills and dream of home.”

He began working at MSU in 2007.

He is in distance learning, which provides ways for students to participate in the university’s educational opportunities without having to physically be on campus. Distance learning is primarily offered via television and Internet.

“What’s the chance of a farm boy who didn’t have running water in his house having the kind of experiences I did? Missouri State truly launched me into a career a poor boy from Ava never saw as a possibility.”

People whom Avery has met through work


  • Journey
  • ZZ Top
  • The Beach Boys
  • Eric Clapton
  • REO Speedwagon
  • Kenny Rogers
  • Genesis with Phil Collins

Political figures

  • James Baker
  • Former presidents Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton
  • Nelson Mandela
  • Vladimir Putin
  • King Abdullah and Queen Rania of Jordan


  • Ben Affleck
  • Clint Eastwood
  • Ron Howard
  • Bruce Willis


  • Wolf Blitzer
  • Tom Brokaw
  • Anderson Cooper
  • Peter Jennings
  • Judy Woodruff