A team of University of Wisconsin-Stout graphic communications students took second place in the international Phoenix Challenge College Competition on May 2.
The students virtually presented their small business client projects, which required flexographic printed materials to support a set of objectives. The competition was held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Teams were judged on presentation, research, graphics, concept and execution.
Flexographic printing is a high-tech specialty printing process widely used by the label and food-packaging industries to print food-product labels, bags, pouches, boxes and wraps that consumers see on nearly every grocery store shelf.
The UW-Stout project helped brand and promote Blaeser Farms of Chippewa Falls. Owned by Josh and Ashley Blaeser, it’s a sustainable farm that raises grass-fed cattle and sells beef.
“We had a very good presentation,” said Matt Smith, of Bristol, a sophomore. “The judges said this was one of the closest competitions they ever had. There are quite a few schools who do the competition as a class. We do this as an extracurricular activity.”
First place went to a team from California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, Calif.
The products, all custom-created for Blaeser Farms, included an FDA-compliant label for packaged meat, a recloseable corrugated carton for meat products and a resealable plastic food pouch.
“We’re proud of the products we created,” said team member Julia Otten, of Madison, a junior at UW-Stout.
Chad Nyseth, graphic communications lab manager and instructional specialist, said he was pleased with the students’ achievement.
“I’m especially proud that our students did not even think of quitting when the COVID-19 situation arose — several schools elected to drop out of the competition this year,” Nyseth noted. “Our students continued working via Microsoft Teams and Zoom platforms, interfacing with industry partners, creating their contest materials, rehearsing for the competition and ultimately presenting it on May 2.”
Josh Blaeser liked the designs and enjoyed working with the students. “They used our brand colors and had some great creativity in helping create packaging ideas,” he noted. “The shipping box looks amazing. The box is very unique and creates a very strong brand in its appearance.”
The Blaesers plan to use the boxes to start shipping their products to other states. “Working with the students was great,” Josh Blaeser said. “We had them over for a farm meal and toured the farm. They are very creative individuals with a strong future ahead of them.”
Members of the UW-Stout team also included senior Nikolas Thomas, St. Paul; junior Molly Perkins, Brookfield; and sophomore Eli Dupslaff, Harris, Minn.
Last year UW-Stout won the competition. Smith was part of that team. In 2018, UW-Stout’s team earned the best research award.
The intent of the Phoenix Challenge Competition is to engage college-level students in creatively solving an industry-relevant flexographic problem that would allow them to practice and showcase their research, problem-solving, design and print production skills. The goal is to inspire academic programs to grow and improve their level of instruction and research.
Bettlyyn Krafft, chair of the Phoenix Challenge Foundation, said she enjoys the competition and watching students thrive. “I continue to be inspired, impressed and frankly just blown away by the college competition,” she said in a news release. “The students take it up several notches every year. This year, with all the difficulties surrounding the pandemic, these students went even further above and beyond.”
Smith said he loves his major because it allows him to work with clients and take ideas or concepts and create a product for them. “We get to speak with industry,” he said. “We get hands-on learning.”
Otten said she became interested in graphic communications because it allows her to use her photography and marketing skills. She also finds the professors at UW-Stout truly care about students. “The professors want us to find our best paths,” she said. “They get to know each of us and (give us) the most opportunity to find our interests. I could not be happier with the education I’ve received at UW-Stout. I feel really prepared for the next step of my career.”
UW-Stout is Wisconsin’s Polytechnic University, with a focus on applied learning, collaboration with business and industry, and career outcomes.
Josh Blaeser, owner of Blaeser Farms, second from right, with members of the UW-Stout Phoenix Challenge Competition Molly Perkins, at left, Nikolas Thomas, Eli Dupslaff, Matt Smith and Julia Otten.
A box with graphics the students designed as part of the competition for Blaeser Farms of Chippewa Falls.
Students also designed a label for Blaeser Farms.