The college’s packaging systems and design program has gained a significant victory — a student team placed third in the Paperboard Packaging Alliance’s 2016 Student Design Challenge, a competition that drew 72 entries from across North America.

The team’s product design for “Pararice” — a play on “paradise” — was created by team leader Vina Le. She and fellow team members Loc PhamAnthony Tran, and Miguel Comparativo did product research, studied concurrent trends in rice packaging, and developed a social media-based marketing plan as part of their capstone project in Professor Robert Bush’s Packaging Systems and Design Practicum course.

Bush believes that Le’s eye for design helped Pararice stand out from the competition. The judging was based on several criteria, including the product’s ability to be reproduced on a commercial scale, stand upright on a store shelf, and hold and preserve a food product.

Virginia Tech has participated in this competition for a number of years, sending a total of four teams in 2016, but has never before placed in the top three. The team members and the Department of Sustainable Biomaterials were awarded cash prizes and invited to Pack Expo, where the students were recognized at an awards luncheon. Participation also makes Virginia Tech eligible for future student scholarships.

“It’s great experience for the students,” said Bush. “It’s a real-life situation, put together by people in the industry. The entries are judged based on how they look, how they are made, if can it be done on a commercial scale. It’s good exposure and it prepares the students for projects they’ll do when they get jobs.”

Le said competing in the design challenge was enjoyable because representation at such competitions helps place the packaging program in the national limelight. “It allowed me to push my knowledge beyond its extent,” said Le, who graduated in May 2016 and now works for Packaging Corporation of America, having been promoted from structural design intern to project manager in a matter of months.