Team of Appalachian students wins international Phoenix Challenge competition

Five students in the Thomas W. Reese Graphic Arts and Imaging Technology (GAIT) program in Appalachian State University’s Department of Art took home top honors for the first time in the annual Phoenix Challenge competition, hosted at the Flexographic Technical Association Forum in Phoenix, Arizona on April 29. To best the competition, the team designed a custom packaging solution and other marketing materials for MoosepacksTM, a local, student-owned business.

Appalachian’s GAIT program has participated in the Phoenix Challenge, which is a year-long, problem-solving team project culminating in a formal presentation to a panel of industry judges, for the last 10 years. The student team, along with faculty advisor and Art Department Practitioner-in-Residence Tom Reeves, began preparing for the competition during fall 2016. They met for several hours each week to research, design, and produce the final products.

“Our client, Moosepacks, makes high-end, durable outdoor products by hand, including customizable backpacks, messenger bags, bicycle handlebar bags and chalk bags,” said Erin Donohue, senior GAIT major and student team leader. “Our team chose to rebrand and market our client’s chalk bag line and produced a packaging element, hang tag and decal label for the competition.”

In addition to research, design and production, the team was responsible for communicating with industry leaders and project sponsors, liaising with their client and problem-solving in the field.

“Our program is very hands-on; however, being in a real-world production setting working on an industry grade flexo press isn't something that we are exposed to on a daily basis,” recalled Donohue. “Flexographic printing can be very challenging because there are a lot of minor details that you need to monitor and adjust throughout your print run to get high quality items. It's a very technical process.”


Advisor Reeves is pleased with the outcome, and appreciated the experience his students received as part of the competition.

“It’s so much more than we can give them in the classroom,” he said. “The networking opportunities, the presentation experience, the problem solving skills they learn – the students really go through a maturing process.”

The team included Donohue, a native of Norwich, Vermont, in addition to juniors Savannah Cyzick of Wilmington and Lorna Galloway of Cary and seniors Grant Murray, also of Cary, and Sunny Turner of New Bern.

This experience was a confidence-booster to Donohue. She’s accepted a position with Wikoff Color Corporation in Fort Mill, South Carolina as a technical service team member and will begin her new role in June.

“My goal was to finish off my undergraduate career feeling like I left my program in a better place,” she said. “After winning Phoenix Challenge with my team I felt like I accomplished my personal goal. I’m extremely proud and grateful to give back to a program that has given me so much.”

About the Phoenix Challenge

The Phoenix Challenge competition occurs every year as a part of the annual Flexographic Technical Association (FTA) expo. It is an international college-level competition focused on flexographic printing and package design. Teams present their final projects to a panel of industry judges then are scored on concept, execution, design and research. Participating schools include California Polytechnic State University, Clemson University, Ryerson University, Appalachian State University, Illinois State University and University of Central Missouri, among others.

About the Department of Art

One of seven departments housed in the College of Fine and Applied Arts, the Department of Art at Appalachian State University prepares students to explore art, identity, expression and creative problem-solving while challenging them to go beyond their previous limits by discovering new connections to culture. The department offers degrees in art and visual culture, art education, graphic design, studio art, commercial photography and graphic arts and imaging technology, with minors in art history, studio art, commercial photography and graphic arts and imaging technology.

About Appalachian State University

Appalachian State University, in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, prepares students to lead purposeful lives as global citizens who understand and engage their responsibilities in creating a sustainable future for all. The transformational Appalachian experience promotes a spirit of inclusion that brings people together in inspiring ways to acquire and create knowledge, to grow holistically, to act with passion and determination, and embrace diversity and difference. As one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina system, Appalachian enrolls about 18,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and graduate majors.

Moosepacks packaging
Published: May 10, 2017 4:15pm