Students Sweep National Design Competition

For Immediate Release: 
September 18, 2017

Three Graphic Communications students swept the post-secondary institution category in a national design competition, earning themselves and their professor, Steven Gonsowski, recognition. 

The Graphic Arts Education and Research Foundation (GAERF) in its ninth annual student design competition challenged students to design and print a full-page magazine ad featuring a product of their choice and linked to digital media to demonstrate the essential role that print plays in today's multichannel media mix. The 2017 competition was themed “MAGnify!” An independent panel of industry expert judges chose six winners from among the 177 entries — three at the secondary school level and three at the post-secondary school level.

Arnold Agustin took first place and received $2,000 plus an all-expenses-paid trip to Chicago from September 13-14 for him and Professor Gonsowski to attend PRINT 17, the largest gathering of the printing, publishing, in-plant, graphic communications and mailing/fulfillment communities in the Americas. Sejal Banker came in second place, earning $1,500, while Allison Liaw came in third, earning $1,000.

“All entries in the competition are judged anonymously,” said Margie Garr, GAERF director. “When the winners’ information was revealed, we were very surprised to discover that all three post-secondary school winners hailed from the same school, and the same instructor! Congratulations to Mr. Gonsowski for this unprecedented accomplishment, showing significant encouragement for his students that gave them a competitive edge.”

Professor Gonsowski incorporated the contest into his Intermediate Graphic Design Class, or GD240, as a practical exercise. Other assignments during the semester included a flyer for the Horticulture Department’s plant sale and a poster for the Film Department’s entry in the Saddleback Film Festival.

“It was an extremely good class with a lot of talent,” Professor Gonsowski said. “I am very happy to see that they were rewarded accordingly.” 

He explained the project was complex in that it’s a print-based ad tied to digital media. He surmised as long as the ad looked great in print and did more than simply giving a web address, it would qualify. Allison’s ad asked viewers to use a hashtag, Sejal’s offered a free pack of pencils for visiting the company’s Facebook page, and Arnold made his ad come to life through a QR code.

“I came up with the design while I was picking lemons off my tree,” Allison said. “I tend to lean towards minimal and clean design, and approached the design prompt accordingly. No fuss, straightforward. I was actually surprised at having placed in the contest, but I'm not complaining. It's very gratifying and validating to know other people like your designs!”

“It was an incredible opportunity to take part in this competition,” Sejal said. “I think my ad is a reflection of the times we live in. I have always wanted to send across a social message in a meaningful way and in my mind this was the perfect opportunity, which would of course advertise the product of my choice as well.” 

Students from across the continental United States studying in a graphic communications/printing, advertising, graphic design or interactive media program at a recognized secondary or post-secondary institution could participate. Their instructors were responsible for submitting entries completed during the 2016-2017 school year. The work had to be original and free of trademarked or copyrighted material.

All student entries are showcased online at and in PRINT 17's Workforce Solutions pavilion.

“GAERF is proud to continue its longstanding commitment to supporting education initiatives by encouraging creativity and self-expression in students through the art of design and production,” NPES President Thayer Long said in GAERF’s press release announcing the winners in early August. “Plans for next year’s Student Design Competition are already underway, when GAERF will again recognize our best and brightest students, as well as the significant commitment of their instructors,” he continued.

GAERF’s mission is to advance knowledge and education in the field of graphic communications by supporting programs that prepare the workforce of the future. GAERF was founded in 1983 by Idealliance (formerly Epicomm), NPES The Association for Suppliers of Printing, Publishing and Converting Technologies, and the Printing Industries of America. GAERF has its offices at the NPES headquarters in Reston, VA.

Saddleback’s Graphic Communications Certificate Program includes electronic and traditional printing, computer graphics, screen printing, letterpress and related areas. The discipline focuses on the creation, production, and reproduction in printed and digital form. Students are encouraged to adhere to electives noted for a rounded educational experience.

Originally published September 18, 2017.