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.

Multicultural Business Program to host ID Week Jan. 21-25

On Jan. 21-25, students from the Multicultural Business Program will be hosting ID Week, five days of panels, workshops and other events discussing identity and inclusion, culminating in the annual Leadership Beyond the Resume (LBTR) conference.

LBTR began in 2016, but ID Week is new this year. It will feature dialogues facilitated by student organizations like MBP, Women in Business, the Hispanic Business Student Association and the Cal Poly Accounting Club. The goal: to provide attendees a better understanding of identity and how it fosters inclusion.

LBTR will serve as a capstone that synthesizes the week’s identity discussions with professional development, promoting diversity and inclusion in the workplace while preparing students from historically underrepresented backgrounds for any challenges they may face in their early careers.

The conference has received strong support from the broader Orfalea College of Business community. In November, MBP students fundraised $6,500—130 percent of their goal—through Cal Poly’s Spur Change crowdfunding initiative, funds that will cover the costs of speakers, workshops, food and other conference expenses.

ID Week and Leadership Beyond the Resume aim to raise awareness and generate honest dialogue about diversity and inclusion through interactive workshops and activities. The latter will also feature accomplished speakers who share inspiring stories about overcoming workplace challenges.

Insights from these speakers will help equip emerging leaders who may encounter similar situations, and shed light on important discussion topics. Students will not only gain professional advice but also resources that can assist them on their career paths. Khushbu Patel, third-year Economics student has attended the conference multiple times and appreciates how much perspective they’ve given her. “Prior to this conference I was not aware of how much these issues in the business world could affect me,” she says. “Now I feel so much more prepared for my career and ready to take on new challenges.”

This conference stands as an important opportunity for future business leaders to learn about how diversity and inclusion can impact the workplace environment as it imparts valuable skills for equitable and exclusive practices along with the opportunity to build connections with professionals. “I’ve been able to use the skills I learned at LBTR in my job interviews,” says fourth-year Information Systems student Casey Tolentino, who credits the knowledge she gained at LBTR with helping her earn a job offer this year.

Participants will walk away from ID Week and LBTR with a sense of belonging and social responsibility as they forge ahead in their careers and create positive change in their communities.

For more information, visit the ID Week webpage.

Fall Commencement Scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 15

This Saturday, Dec. 15, 155 Orfalea College of Business students will be eligible to graduate in the 1 p.m. ceremony at Cal Poly’s 35th annual fall commencement.

Ceremonies are set for 9 a.m., 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. in the Cal Poly Recreation Center Main Gym. The ceremonies will include a “proud pinning” ceremony, a celebratory surprise and a large LED screen for all guests to see.

“Commencement marks a decisive transition in the lives of these future leaders in their respective fields,” said Cal Poly President Jeffrey D. Armstrong. “It provides the opportunity to salute our graduates’ accomplishments while recognizing the dedication and support each member of the Class of 2018 received from their biggest fans: family members, friends, teachers and mentors.

“We know from experience that Learn by Doing will stay with them the rest of their lives and serve them well as they begin careers or pursue higher educational goals.”

About 10,000 visitors are expected to attend. The 90-minute ceremony will be live-streamed online with closed captioning for those unable to attend.

The theme for this year’s commencement is “Mustangs Forever.”

The keynote speaker is Tjada McKenna, chief operating officer of Habitat for Humanity International and a global leader in creating innovative programming and partnerships to ensure the world’s most economically vulnerable families have access to adequate shelter and food, the foundations everyone needs to thrive.

McKenna earned a bachelor’s degree in government from Harvard College and an MBA from Harvard Business School. During the past three years, she has overseen Habitat’s program execution and service delivery across more than 70 countries to fulfill the nonprofit organization’s vision of a world where everyone has a decent place to live. Habitat has helped more than 13.2 million people meet their affordable housing needs since 1976. She also spent more than a decade working to end world hunger through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the U.S. government. She was a key figure in establishing and leading Feed the Future, the federal government’s global hunger and food security initiative, and 2012’s G-8 initiative to unite governments and the private sector to end hunger.

The 9 a.m. ceremony will recognize graduate candidates from the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences and the College of Science and Mathematics. Candidates from the College of Liberal Arts and the Orfalea College of Business will be honored at the 1 p.m. ceremony, and candidates from the College of Architecture and Environmental Design and the College of Engineering will be recognized at 4 p.m.

Immediately following each ceremony, participants and guests are invited to attend a reception in the Julian A. McPhee University Union Plaza, located across from the Recreation Center.

Permits are not required to park on campus during commencement. Parking will be available in the Grand Avenue Structure and Parking Structure 131, which opened in September. These lots are about a 10-minute walk from the Recreation Center. Shuttles will be available to pick up guests from the Performing Arts Center and drop them off in front of the Recreation Center.

For more information about the ceremonies, visit

Live Stream links:
Fall Commencement 9 a.m. ceremony:

Fall Commencement 1 p.m. ceremony:

Fall Commencement 4 p.m. ceremony:

Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship to Host Elevator Pitch Competition Forum

The Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship will host the ninth annual Elevator Pitch Competition Forum, a fast-paced contest for Cal Poly and Cuesta College entrepreneurs, on Wednesday, Nov. 7, in the Performing Arts Center on the Cal Poly campus.

The forum — free, open to the public — will be held from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. Students will have 90 seconds each to pitch their cutting-edge innovations and business ideas. Judges will select two winners; one from Cal Poly and another from Cuesta. Each winner will receive $1,000. The audience will pick an overall “audience choice” winner that will receive $500.

AJ Forsythe, the co-founder and CEO of iCracked, is the keynote speaker. He won the first annual Elevator Pitch Competition in 2010 with a proposal for an on-demand smartphone repair network. What was once a Cal Poly student-founded startup with Forsythe as its first iTech has evolved into a multimillion-dollar company with more than 70 employees. In the past eight years, iCracked has attracted some 5,000 iTechs who have performed nearly 774,000 repairs across the nation. Forsythe will discuss iCracked’s transition from startup to success.

The Elevator Pitch Competition forum is sponsored by Cuesta College, Wells Fargo, SESLOC Federal Credit Union, the law firm of Carmel and Naccasha, and Relentless Management Group. Advance registration for the competition is required. For more information about the event and to register, visit

About the Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship

The CIE opens a world of entrepreneurial opportunity to Cal Poly students, faculty and community members and promotes entrepreneurial activity and dialogue across the university and throughout San Luis Obispo. For more information, go to

Cal Poly to Host Demo Day for Startups Sept. 14

The Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) will host its annual Demo Day on Friday, Sept. 14, at the Fremont Theater in downtown San Luis Obispo.

The event culminates CIE’s 2018 HotHouse Summer Accelerator program — an intense 13-week program that helps students and recent graduates who have developed new products and ventures. Representatives of the eight participating companies will give demonstrations and pitches and answer questions about their entrepreneurial efforts.

The summer accelerator program provides $10,000 in seed money to each company, hands-on strategic business guidance from Cal Poly faculty and mentors as well as dedicated office space at the HotHouse. The entrepreneurs receive training, introductions to investors, and resources to help move their startup forward.

The CIE Accelerators constantly worked and pivoted throughout the program, and the startups are seeing this pay off.

“Being in the HotHouse Accelerator program this year has allowed our team to cultivate our company culture,” said Shaun Wixted, co-founder of Lost Coast Surf Tech. “We have learned who we are as a company and what we represent while building our technology.”

This year’s accelerator companies include a variety of industries and disciplines, making it a unique cohort. They are:

— NeoCharge creates solutions that improve the ease of use and ownership experience for electric vehicle owners. Its first product, the NeoCharge One, is a simple and affordable way for EV owners to get access to fast charging at home.

— BooBees is a women-empowering surf company that provides sustainable products such as a beeswax-based surf wax to replace petroleum products.

— Clove is an automated smart appliance that allows people who love food and cooking culture to grow a sustainable supply of fresh herbs and produce in their home.

— Fauna Farms helps mitigate the environmental crisis through agriculture by providing farmers with a marketplace to consistently sell responsibly raised animals, and consumers with a reliable way to eat meat responsibly.

— De Oro Devices is creating innovative technology to improve the quality of life for people afflicted with Parkinson’s disease. Their device utilizes audio and visual cues that are clinically proven to help individuals with Parkinson’s overcome freezing of gait, one of the most common and debilitating symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

— Lost Coast is an emerging surf company that develops premiere equipment. Their first product will be a high-performance surfboard fin with activity tracking technology, allowing surfers to push past their ceilings via the fin design and data.

— Roopairs is an equipment management platform that enables restaurant owners and managers to track repairs and maintenance history, while also providing a simple process for hiring service providers when equipment breaks down.

— Sex.E provides sexual health and gender-based violence education through live sketch comedy shows and online content.

Demo Day is sponsored by Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati Professional Corporation.  The Sept. 14 event is free and open to the public; advance registration is required. For more information and to register, go to