If you would have asked Brittany Whitestone, a junior at the California University of Pennsylvania, if she knew she was going to win the 2016 and 2017 SkillsUSA national competition, she would have said no. To her surprise, she did and now she's preparing to compete at the WorldSkills Competition this August in Russia. We sat down with this college junior to talk about what it takes to compete and how she feels being an up-and-coming woman in the industry.
You studied print production at Carroll County Career and Technology Center (CCCTC) in Westminster, Maryland, while in high school. What got you interested in the printing industry?
I took a Graphic Communications class in high school because it seemed interesting. I started learning Illustrator and Photoshop and was excited about it. I had always liked art and translating it to a computer was something new I wanted to try. In the program at CCCTC, you had to design your own work and print it. Being able to do a live job from start to finish really made me realize I liked printing and that it was an industry I would be excited to be a part of.
How did you get started competing in the SkillsUSA Competition?
When I started the Print Production program at CCCTC in 2015, I was a junior and all of the seniors would talk about this competition that we should apply for. I didn't understand what I was applying for, but I wrote my name down and at the end of the semester, I was picked to compete the following year. I originally applied to compete in advertising design and photography but my teacher, David Hutchison, suggested I try graphic communications. The first year I competed, I got first place at nationals.
How did it feel to win two years in a row?
It was insane because I was practicing at CCCTC and the school doesn't even have an offset press. So, I went to the Center of Applied Technology North and trained with Michael Born two to three times a week on the press. In the national competition, we had to run a 2-color offset press, digital press, folder, cutter, estimate a job, use InDesign, and go through a knowledge test and job interview. I am so grateful for all the help I received.
What's the best part of a competition?
The learning experiences. When competing, the judges are always there and are so helpful. You get to learn so much just by interacting with them. When you are in the competition and you are being tested on your skills, you grow so much as a person because you meet so many people who are the best in the industry. The support they give you can't be found anywhere else.
How are you training for the WorldSkills Competition?
In the WorldSkills Competition, I'll have to run a 4-color offset press, mix ink, run a 2-color press, perform maintenance, run a digital press, and run a Sinapse simulator. Right now, the 4-color press is foreign to me because I only had to run a 2-color press at nationals. I live on campus in California, PA, and go to classes Monday through Thursday. I drive to Allentown, PA, on the weekends to Lehigh Career and Technical Institute and learn how to run a 4-color press. I also keep all of the information for the competition in a 5-inch binder. I had one for nationals too and I called it my "Print Bible." I carry both everywhere I go.
Have you seen a lot of other women at the competitions?
At competition, it's about 50/50. When I was working at Westland/RR Donnelly before college, I was the only woman in the pressroom. It's pretty empowering. In high school, I used to watch Foldfactory and seeing Trish Witkowski doing something I loved really showed me that I can do it too. Having a woman I can look up to in the industry is pretty cool.
How do you think we can get more students interested in printing at the high school/college level so we have more hirable, skilled employees?
More students need to be aware of printing. At college now, I tell people I'm in the Graphics and Multimedia program and many students don't know what I'm talking about or that it's a real path they can get into. When I first told my parents I wanted to work in the printing industry, they wondered what that was. I took them to the Excellence in Printing Gala hosted by the Printing and Graphics Association of the MidAtlantic and they saw all the work and the companies there. Now, they understand and think it is really cool that I'm getting into this industry.
How do you see yourself working in the industry after you graduate from college?
Right now, I really love offset printing and estimating. I really enjoyed working for Westland/RR Donnelly, but I would love to work for any printer because this industry is something I am proud to be apart of. The printing industry is like my family.
Photos provided by: Heidelberg, SkillsUSA, and WorldSkillsUSA