Appalachian takes two awards at Phoenix Challenge

Faculty and Staff
Fine and Applied Arts
Technology and Environmental Design
Friday, November 14, 2008

by Josh Jarman, Public Relations Intern, College of Fine and Applied Arts

Appalachian State University’s student flexography team

Appalachian State University’s student flexography team from the Graphic Arts and Imaging Technology (GAIT) program in the Department of Technology took two top awards at the Inaugural Phoenix Challenge College competition on April 26, in Dallas, Texas.

The Phoenix Challenge Foundation is an organization of industry professionals who are dedicated to encouraging today’s youth in exploring the exciting career opportunities available to them through the Flexography printing industry. Flexography is a printing process which uses laser-engraved rubber plates. Flexography is typically used to print packaging materials such as brown cardboard boxes, retail and shopping bags, food and hygiene bags and sacks, flexible plastics, self-adhesive labels and wallpaper.

The flexography skill-based competition challenged teams to devise a packaging solution for a new healthy energy drink that would be able to compete with existing brands. Appalachian State University was one of eight colleges that chose to compete, including Dunwoody College of Technology and California Polytechnic State University.

The college competition’s goal is to raise awareness through national competitions to promote the growth of flexography in the educational systems throughout North America.

Each team gave a 20-minute presentation about their energy drink to a panel of five judges.

Appalachian’s team consisted of Kierston Kahrs, Lindsay Hopkins, Erin O’Bryant, Tracy Chavis, Natalie Kirkley and Meghan Wagner. The women created “Evolve,” a drink that won both Excellence in Research and Excellence in Concept. Appalachian was the only team to win multiple awards out of the five possible.


“They have to be the most synergic group and most creative group I have ever worked with,” said Michelle Surerus instructor in the GAIT program. “I’ve been at three other universities and the students here are bright and motivated with rare exception.”

The Appalachian team did not just present a concept but instead they went beyond the required task and created the actual drink. During the presentation, a few of the judges tasted “Evolve” and were presented with a packet including T-shirts, product samples, armbands and other branding tools in the same way that they would be presented to a potential client.

The team members took turns sharing information with the judges about their product.

“Evolving implies progression,” said Kahrs. “More than 50 percent of people polled were concerned about the environment.”

The team designed the label of “Evolve” to be edible and the rest of the packaging to be bio-degradable.

“Appalachian went well beyond what the competition asked for,” said Bettylyn Kraft, executive director of the Phoenix Challenge Foundation. “Michelle Surerus did a phenomenal job with the team; you could tell they put a lot of hours into it.”

Kraft went on to say that one of the most humorous parts of the competition was that she actually flew on the same plane as the Appalachian team. Kraft said she could tell the team was from Appalachian by their excited flexography discussion that she overheard while waiting to board the plane. Kraft introduced herself to the team, and they all shared a laugh about the chances of traveling on the same plane together.

“The powerhouses were Dunwoody College of Technology and California Polytechnic State University,” said Surerus. “We came up out of nowhere. Our success has produced good exposure for Appalachian, and has allowed pride to develop and recruitment opportunities to flourish.”

Kraft believes that if the professors are excited about what they are doing then the students will share that enthusiasm.

“There were tears in Michelle’s eyes when her team won those awards,” said Kraft. “Michelle is one of the unique professors who will make sure every student has a unique and memorable experience that they will treasure for a lifetime.”

To learn more about the flexography or the GAIT program at Appalachian State University contact Michelle Surerus at 828-262-7539 or visit