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Student Achievements

Packaging and Design Students Win Gold at National Competition

With their focus on highlighting the joy and interactivity of unboxing a product, three interdisciplinary Cal Poly teams received first place, honorable mention, and shout-out awards at the Paperboard Packaging Alliance (PPA) 2019 Student Design Challenge.

The PPA event is considered perhaps the most rigorous packaging design competition in the nation. The challenge is open to universities throughout North America and seeks to foster awareness and appreciation of paperboard packaging with university educators and the next generation of packaging design decision-makers. This year more than 50 student teams from 13 universities—including Fashion Institute of Technology, Indiana State, Rochester Institute of Technology, Rutgers, Ryerson University, San Jose State, University of Florida, University of Wisconsin Stout, and Virginia Tech—submitted entries.

Cal Poly students developed their entries as Learn-by-Doing projects during one of the recurring collaborations between packaging and design courses taught earlier this year. Students were challenged to design packaging for a gaming platform that enhances the unboxing experience and can be used while playing the system. Winners were chosen by a panel of paperboard packaging industry professionals, which rated submissions based on their response to the competition scenario, innovative structural and graphic design, functionality, and the quality of the finished product.

The university’s top entry earned first place with “Party Box,” an innovative portable packaging system for a gaming console that becomes a projector and gameboard. The design was created by a student team consisting of Sam Baber (art and design, graphic design), Morgan McKean (graphic communication, packaging minor), Vance Perkins (industrial technology and packaging), and Samantha Phan (business administration, consumer packaging concentration, and packaging minor). The team presented its project to executives from top North American paperboard packaging manufacturers at the Paperboard Packaging Council’s annual fall meeting in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on October 24.

A second Cal Poly team designed the entry “Pokémon Battle Arena” and earned one of the two honorable mention awards. The project was the work of Amber Huang (graphic communication, packaging minor), Briana Jackson (art and design, graphic design), Marilyn Nguyen (industrial technology and packaging), and Evan Williams (industrial technology and packaging).

“The PPA Student Design Challenge provides students an invaluable, real-world product-development experience that results in a tangible package to add to their professional portfolio.” — American Forest & Paper Association President and CEO Heidi Brock.


Another Cal Poly team also received one of the judge’s four “shout-out” honors. “Oblivion Impact” was created by Hailey Firstman (art and design, graphic design), Lani Masamoto (art and design, graphic design), Sophia Tamrazian (industrial technology and packaging), and Harrison Whitaker (industrial technology and packaging).

The top three student teams received cash prizes, while their respective schools also received a cash award to support academic programs, with first-place earning $5,500 for the team and $5,000 for the university.

All award-winning Cal Poly teams were advised by professors Javier de la Fuente (associate professor of industrial technology and packaging), Irene Carbonell (lecturer of industrial technology and packaging), and Mary LaPorte (professor emeritus of art and design). The projects were the result of an ongoing collaboration between industrial technology and packaging (ITP 408) and art and design (ART 437) students. In previous ITP-ART collaborations, Cal Poly teams finished in second place at the PPA Student Design Challenge, both in 2018 and 2017, and in first place in 2015.

The program has been using the income from their past and present victories to outsource printing services for their projects. They’ve also been banking the leftovers to save for a $45,000 Roland plotter, capable of printing directly on paperboard. They’re hoping to find a donor in the near future to match those efforts, putting a tool that would allow teams to be even more creative within reach. “These victories are the results of a lot of hard work for all the parties involved,” say professor de la Fuente. “No special magic is enabling them. Just dedication.”

“The PPA Student Design Challenge provides students an invaluable, real-world product-development experience that results in a tangible package to add to their professional portfolio,” said American Forest & Paper Association President and CEO Heidi Brock. “It is energizing to see young designers contributing to paperboard packaging innovations through teamwork, determination, and creativity.”

(Top) From left to right: Sam Baber, Ben Markens (Paperboard Packaging Council President), Sammy Phan, Morgan McKean, Vance Perkins, Mary LaPorte, and John O’Neal (WestRock Executive Vice President). Photo courtesy of Mary LaPorte. (Middle) Professors and students hard at work on “Pokémon Battle Arena.” Photo by Joe Johnston. (Bottom) “Party Box.” Photo courtesy of Javier de la Fuente.

Originally published at on Nov 5, 2019