HAYS, KS -- For the third year in a row, students from the Fort Hays State University graphic design program swept the top three awards in the annual American Institute of Graphic Arts portfolio competition, held April 6 in Wichita.
AIGA is a national organization of professional designers dedicated to furthering excellence in communication design as a broadly defined discipline. FHSU participates in the competition sponsored by the Wichita chapter. This year, they faced students from Wichita State University, Kansas State University, the University of Kansas, Missouri Western State College, Salina Area Technical School and Wichita Area Technical College.
In addition to taking the top three overall awards, FHSU also took home three of the five awards for individual pieces. Chris Darmon, Wichita senior, took first place in the overall portfolio competition and also won the award for best packaging. Ben Schlitter, Hays junior, took second place for overall portfolio and the Speaker's Choice Award. Dee Erway, Larned graduate student, won third place in the overall portfolio competition and Michael Glenn, Norton senior, won the award for best logo design.
For the competition, students were allowed to enter any work done during their undergraduate careers. Students displayed their portfolios on tables, which were then visited by three judges during the morning. After lunch, students with the top three portfolios were called back to present their portfolios to all 15 judges to determine their final rankings.
Scholarship money was attached to each award. First place took home $300; second was $200 and third was $100. Each individual award also was worth $100.
Erway, who graduated with her B.F.A. in December, said the most valuable part of the competition was getting fresh insight on her work from professional designers.
"You look at a project like that for so long that you start to form an opinion about it," she said, "but it's nice to have someone else say, 'This is what I think about it.' "
Karrie Simpson Voth, assistant professor of art, said FHSU has done well since it began competing in AIGA about 10 years ago because of the conceptual approach to graphic design which forms the foundation of FHSU's program.
"I think the difference between FHSU students and the students from other schools is that our students take their concepts to the furthest limits," Simpson Voth said. "Their projects don't just look pretty; they are beautiful all the way around -- from beginning to end, from inside to outside, from concept to packaging."
Simpson Voth said one secret to FHSU's success is its location. Because Hays doesn't have the resources of larger cities, students must work harder to bring their projects to fruition.
"We don't have big paper stores or unlimited access to good packaging and supplies," she said. "The students have to rely on their imagination and creativity to make their projects happen. They have to think and think and think."
The other secret, Simpson Voth said, is sheer hard work and dedication.
"I know that we push them pretty hard, but the students are very disciplined and passionate within themselves. They want to achieve their dreams. That is probably the most important reason they do so well. They love what they do."