Student Designer Represents RIT On Three
Winning Packaging Competition Teams 

by Michelle Cometa

Kelly Fellner is still packing heat.

The packaging science major has been on three winning RIT student teams in the past four years at the annual Paperboard Packaging Design Challenge. In 2018, she was part of the Packing Heat team that took first place for its subscription box filled with fiery sauces and treats.

When the Paperboard Packaging Council (PPC) announced this year’s finalists, the Rochester Institue of Technology (RIT) and Fellner were among them.

The team of Fellner; Robert Fliegel, an industrial design student; and Rachel Tiano and Brianna Young, both graphic design students, were recognized for their Super Sibs Kit, a subscription box of treats for the Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation.

Winners will be announced at the Paperboard Packaging Alliance’s Council Meeting and Spring Outlook and Strategies Conference March 9-11, 2022, in Denver, Colorado. The competition, then presentation in front of industry leaders at the meeting, continues a tradition of designing products that are both sustainable and functional. And it provides multiple co-op and career opportunities for RIT’s students.

Integrated into an RIT design course, the competition is a collaboration between the College of Art and Design and the College of Engineering Technology. Students from graphic design work with peers from industrial design and packaging science, bringing together knowledge from each area to develop packaging options that are both exquisite and practical products. Each year the competition challenge is different, reflecting packaging trends and current events. This year’s challenge was to create packaging for nonprofit or community organizations to promote their missions to supporters or users. The team chose Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation for Childhood Cancer and modified an activity in the “sibling” box sent to family members of children with cancer.

“It was inspirational, but also a fun, branded product,” said Fellner, who is from Buffalo, N.Y. “The idea was to make a Hope Box, and everything a kid needs would be in it. It also reflected our focus on recyclability and sustainability.”

Boxes included markers, inspirational materials, and blank sheets of homemade “seed” paper to write personal sentiments during difficult times. The paper, consisting of flower seeds, could then be planted as remembrances.

Presenting entries in front of industry professionals is an essential part of the competition. This exposure at past competitions helped Fellner make connections for required co-ops. 

“I wouldn’t have met them otherwise,” she said. It also solidified packaging as a career. “This is what I want to do, and there is a place for me in this field. RIT provides you with the best in technology and it’s huge going into a career. I had a co-op and they were surprised that I knew how to work equipment. This was something they usually had to teach interns. That’s already a huge advantage.”

That advantage paid dividends. One business recently offered her a position, and she starts at Burt Rigid Box Inc., a paperboard packaging company, after graduation this May. Participating in the annual competition for 17 years, student-designers from the two colleges have consistently done well, taking multiple top placements for work developing popular subscription boxes, video gaming consoles, fitness trackers, and hospitality services, said Lorrie Frear, Professor of Graphic Design in RIT’s College of Art and Design. 

“This interdisciplinary collaboration is a wonderful opportunity for our students, and it is an honor for us to represent RIT at the professional meeting. This experience represents what RIT does best; providing collaborative and experiential learning using professional scenarios and resources,” said Frear, one of the faculty members leading the Packaging Design course along with Carlos Diaz-Acosta, Associate Professor of Packaging in RIT’s College of Engineering Technology, with consultant Bill Wynkoop.

Michelle Cometa is a Senior Communication Specialist at the Rochester Institute of Technology.