Graphic Communications Technology: Where it All Began

In an era when it is common to hear that Graphic Communications programs have been curtailed or closed, it is refreshing and exciting to know that a baccalaureate-level graphic communications program is thriving at the University of Houston. This development becomes even more inspiring when one considers that the motivation to begin the program came not from the University, but from the local graphic arts community. This industry involvement, coupled with the University of Houston's location in a major city in a state in which printing is booming, made the program unique in printing education.

For many years, Houston-area printers were concerned that Texas colleges produce too few printing technicians and even fewer leaders. Printers in many areas of the country voice the same concern. However, instead of simply complaining, Houston's printers "put their money (and time) where their mouth is." Jim WhiteIn 1982, the Texas Printing Education Foundation (TPEF) was formed under the auspices of the Printing Industries of the Gulf Coast (PIGC). TPEF's board of directors, chaired by Mr. Jim White (see photo at left), was comprised of representatives from prominent printers as well as representatives of the Houston Litho Club. The TPEF was charged with providing educational opportunities for both technicians and management-level workers.

1982 - The TPEF Begins Offering Classes

Soon after it was formed, the TPEF began offering a variety of short-term non-credit technical and administrative courses in subjects that included estimating, press operation, and desktop publishing. These courses were offered each semester and were largely successful in providing skills upgrading for industry personnel. However, the need to prepare well-educated and degreed supervisors was not as easily met. The TPEF initiated discussions with representatives from the University of Houston's College of Technology regarding the establishment of a sequence of courses designed to prepare supervisors for printing and publishing firms. Through these discussions, it became clear that, in an era of declining higher education revenues, major funding for the program could not come from the University. Rather than surrendering, the TPEF set out to raise the money necessary to fund the curriculum they wanted. They succeeded in obtaining the support of local printing firms and the Houston Litho Club, sponsor of Houston's Southwest Graphics Show. This support generated cash.

1993 - Dr. Jerry Waite Joins the University

Fortified with financial backing, the TPEF again approached the University's College of Technology. In 1990, the Foundation pledged a $30,000 start-up grant as well as an additional $120,000 over four years to help pay a professor's salary and defer operational costs (this $150,000 pledge was paid off in October of 1996). The College Original_GRTC_Lablaunched a nationwide search for a graphic communications technology professor/coordinator in 1992. In early 1993, the faculty of the College and the TPEF agreed to ask Dr. Jerry Waite to join the University as a tenure-track faculty member. Dr. Waite, a graphic-arts instructor who had accumulated 19-years of teaching experience at the Don Bosco Technical Institute in Rosemead, California, was asked to formulate an appropriate sequence of courses, recruit students, oversee the outfitting of laboratory facilities (shown at left with "Ben Franklin" [aka Harry Benson] using the first donated machine...an OVAC exposure unit) and build the program to a position of national prominence. He accepted the offer because the opportunity to start a brand new curriculum was both challenging and exhilarating. He arrived in Houston in August 1993 and began preparing the new curriculum. More information about Dr. Waite is available here.

1993 - Curriculum & Goals Established

The original graphic communications technology curriculum (GRTC) was an area of emphasis in the Technology Leadership and Supervision (TLS) Program. It was designed to prepare professional supervisors and managers for the highly unique and specialized printing and publishing industry, which is ranked among the largest industries in the United States. Individuals who wish to lead printing and publishing businesses need a broad understanding of graphic communications processes from ideation through image preparation, reproduction, and finishing. In addition, they need a background in supervisory theory and methodology. Because no other baccalaureate-level graphic communications technology program that specialized in supervision existed in the state of Texas, the need for printing supervisors was acute. To satisfy this need, the Department aspired to become the premiere center for graphic communications technology in the Southwest. The department's goal was to compete with the nationally known and respected programs offered by California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, and by Rochester Institute of Technology.

The faculty of the Industrial Technology Department (now the Information and Logistics Technology [ILT] Department) worked with the TPEF and the Printing Industries of the Gulf Coast to construct a sequence of graphic communications-specific courses that meet the needs of the printing and publishing industries. Graphic Communications Technology (GRTC) courses covered printing processes as well as electronic publication, prepress, press, finishing, and costing activities. Approval for the specialization was acquired from the TPEF (acting as the advisory committee) and the faculty of the Department. The graphic-specific courses were then approved by the College, the University, and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. After the curriculum was originally established in 1993, the GRTC courses were reviewed and updated on a regular basis by a committee composed of representatives of the Information and Logistics Technology Department, the TPEF, Printing Industries of the Gulf Coast, other industry leaders, local "feeder" school instructors, and GRTC alumni.

In addition to the GRTC area of emphasis, Graphic Communications Technology students completed several management-related courses to complete their degree in Technology Leadership and Supervision (now Organizational Leadership and Supervision). TELS core courses included production control, human resource management, logistics, quality control, leadership, and leading technological change in the workplace.

To serve students majoring in other fields, a fifteen semester-hour Graphic Communications Technology minor was created by the College of Technology. This minor was recommended to students who majored in journalism, fine arts, graphic design (studio arts), computer science, information systems, CADD, and architecture.

Courses offered by the GRTC program also served students in other majors. In particular, most students completing majors offered by the Information and Logistics Technology Department took Visual Communications Technology, a course that offered students the opportunity to learn how to use graphic design principles in their personal and business endeavors.

Besides providing instruction for University of Houston students, GRTC had a strategic partnership with the North Harris/Montgomery County Community College District (now known as Lone Star College) so that students enrolled in desktop-publishing courses at Kingwood College could participate in GRTC courses through two-way interactive television. In addition, students enrolled in graphic design courses at the District's Kingwood Campus worked with UH faculty and staff to print their design projects on the College of Technology's conventional offset press.

By Fall 1998, Enrollment totaled 54 Students

In fall 1998, the graphic communications technology specialization and minor were serving a total of 54 students. According to Texas Printer magazine, this enrollment was the largest of any four-year college printing-related program in the state of Texas. At that time, the number of courses offered each semester exceeded the teaching load of one full-time faculty member. Therefore, at least one course or lab was taught each semester by a part-time professional from the industry.

GRTC_First_GradThe first student graduated with a minor in graphic communications technology in 1995 (shown at left accepting a plaque from Mr. Don Piercy, a member of the TPEF Board of Directors). The first specialist graduated in 1996. By the end of the Spring 1999 semester, over 40 students had graduated with either a major or minor specializing in graphic communications technology.

New and Expanded Facilities

In 1998, Dr. Bernard McIntyre, then Dean of the College of Technology, commissioned a five-year strategic plan for Graphic Communications Technology (GRTC). The plan was completed by a committee composed of a cross-section of Texas Printing Education Foundation (TPEF) board members, GRTC alumni, representatives from the Printing Industries of the Gulf Coast, and the GRTC curriculum coordinator (Dr. Jerry Waite). The plan contained a thorough evaluation of the existing program and suggestions to make the program stronger. Two major recommendations were given: (1) to revise the course structure to make it even stronger, and (2) to expand the facilities to house an ever-growing student population.

Based upon the strategic plan, Dr. McIntyre allocated nearly 4,000 square feet of laboratory space in the 102 Wing of Building T (shown at left) to be used for GRTC courses. T1_BldgThe space provided by the Dean is in an historically significant building known on campus as Technology I. Technology I was one of the original University of Houston buildings and was constructed in the late 1920's. During the 1940's, the building gained some notoriety because it was used by the military as the Houston-area training facility for personnel preparing to fight in World War II. It is reportedly one of the first air-conditioned classroom buildings built in the State of Texas.

Of the approximately 4,000 square feet allocated by the Dean to GRTC, 1,500 square feet (known as Rooms 102A-T and 102B-T) were occupied in Fall 1999. 102ADigital prepress, multimedia, and web development classes were taught in Room 102A-T, shown at left in a 2001 photograph. Analog and digital photography, film assembly, platemaking, color management, and color output have all been taught in Room 102B-T. Room 102A-T accommodated 30 students and Macintosh workstations, as well as output devices and other peripherals.

The remaining 2,500 square feet, known as Room 102F, was occupied in 2000 and was used for image transferRyobi_Press_New—single and multicolor conventional and digital presses—as well as bindery and finishing equipment. In anticipation of the 2004 International Graphic Arts Education Association Conference, the Information and Logistics Technology Department, in 2003, purchased its first multi-color press, a Ryobi 3302-HA. The photo at left shows the machine being delivered prior to its installation in 102F.

Over the years, the Graphic Communications Technology laboratories were filled with a variety of state-of-the-art equipment that was updated on a regular basis. More information about the labs is available here.

Growing Faculty and Staff

To meet the needs of a growing student body, as well as a more diverse curriculum composed of print, web, and motion media, three additional professionals joined the GRTC program in the early 2000's.

First on board, in 2004, was full-time graphic designer/lab assistant Ms. Ella O'Neal. Prior to Ms. O'Neal's arrival, students had to limit their use of the Graphics computer lab to times when an instructor was available. No longer. Ms. O'Neal, who officed in the Digital Prepress lab, kept the facility open for business 40 hours per week. In addition to sharing her experience and real-world graphic design tips and tricks with GRTC students, Ms. O'Neal assisted faculty members during class sessions and spent time designing projects for the College of Technology and experiments for the GRTC students.

In 2005, Ms. Monika Zarzycka joined the GRTC faculty as a full-time lecturer. Ms. Zarzycka, who has masters degrees in Training and Development and Divinity, brought to the program a wealth of experience in computer graphics, graphic and web design, and multimedia. She taught courses in Visual Communications, Computer Graphics, Multimedia, and web-related courses. She was responsible for developing courses in video production to augment the GRTC print and web emphases. Ms. Zarzycka was promoted to Instructional Assistant Professor in 2008. More about Ms. Zarzycka can be found here.

Mr. Harold Halliday joined the GRTC team in 2006. He has many years of offset press operation experience and spent about half of his time sharing his skills with the GRTC students as they progressed through the hands-on print-related courses. Mr. Halliday spent the rest of his time using the GRTC equipment to produce printed products for the College of Technology. Learn more about Mr. Halliday here.

When Ms. O'Neal resigned her position in the GRTC program to pursue a full-time graphic design position, the Information and Logistics Technology Department hired Mr. Can Le to work full time in the computer graphics lab. Possessing a computer science degree from his native Vietnam and a Bachelor of Science Degree in Technology Leadership and Supervision with a specialization in Graphic Communications Technology, along with extensive experience in color reproduction and computing, Mr. Le shared his skills with students in both scheduled and open-lab periods.

Digital Media: The Vision Becomes a Reality

Recognizing the trend to distribute graphic content through multiple media, the GRTC faculty and staff, in 2005, began to create a new program that would prepare students to manage communications projects that integrate internet, photographic, videographic, and computer graphics communications channels withconventional print technology.

Working with an active Advisory Board, Dr. Jerry Waite and his colleagues envisioned a program that would combine team and project leadership skills with digital media technology skills. Graduates would then be able to manage digital media projects so that the right message is sent to the right person at the right time with the right media. The essence of this process is personalization. Thus, database skills were also included in the mix.

Between 2005 and 2007, courses were developed, critiqued, and improved through extensive collaboration with faculty, staff, and advisors. Then, in 2007, a Substantive Change document was written to justify to the State of Texas' Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) the need for a baccalaureate degree based upon the shared vision of faculty and advisors. During that process, the monikerDigital Media was chosen to best represent the program.

The original Digital Media program, which was in effect from 2009 until 2012, required 42 semester hours of university core courses, 75 hours of major requirements, and 3 hours of electives. The major requirements included 42 hours of Digital-Media-specific coursework, 3 hours of Information Technology, 9 hours of Supply Chain classes, and 15 hours of Technology Leadership courses. The remaining six hours were mathematics courses so that the degree would qualify for bachelor of science status.

Between 2007 and 2009, the Substantive Change document worked its way through departmental, college, and university committees, was approved by the University of Houston Board of Regents, and was sent to the THECB. Authorization was given by the THECB to begin offering the Bachelor of Science in Digital Media degree in Fall 2009. At that time, six students, who were already specializing in Graphic Communications Technology in the Technology Leadership and Supervision program, became the first Digital Media Majors. The first graduate from the new Digital Media program received her degree in Spring 2010.

The Digital Media Program grew explosively. By Fall 2010, there were 60 majors, followed by 94 in Spring 2011, 149 in Fall 2011, and 184 in Spring 2012. During the same timeframe, the enrollment in Digital Media classes grew to exceed 325 per semester.

Digital Media Faculty and Staff

The introduction of digital media coursework beyond traditional print necessitated hiring several new adjunct faculty members. First to join professors Waite and Zarzycka was Patrice Charleville, MFA. Patrice, who has multiple degrees in graphic- and photographic-related fields, has over 30 years of production experience in Texas, Louisiana, and New Jersey. Owner of ARType since 2002, Patrice teaches Digital Photography and Visual Communications Technology courses. Patrice taught occasionally in the Graphic Communications Technology program in the 1990's, but began to teach in earnest for the program in 2009.

Lloyd Schuh, MEd, professor emeritus from Houston Community College, has been involved in the printing and publishing industry since he was ten years old. With 20 years of college-level teaching under his belt, Lloyd has taught several Digital Media courses, including Visual Communications Technology, Web Design, Computer Graphics, Digital Media Materials and Processes, Graphic Production Process Control I, Integrated Media, and Current Issues in Digital Media. Like Patrice, Lloyd taught an occasional class in the Graphic Communications Technology specialization in the 1990's and early 2000's. However, he became an integral part of the faculty in 2010.

Seth Stokes, MBA, is a graduate of Vincennes University, Ball State University, and University of Phoenix. A full time account manager for Xerox, Seth has taught on Digital Media Materials and Processes class on several occasions since he joined the adjunct faculty in 2011.

Jean Neumann, MBA, BFA, is the Marketing Services Manager for Hewlett-Packard Co. Jean's many years as art and creative design management, especially in the field of packaging, make her the perfect instructor for the Digital Media program's packaging course. In addition, she teaches sections of the Visual Communications Technology course. Jean joined our adjunct faculty in 2012.

Michael Dawson, a graduate of Art Institute of Houston and UH, has extensive experience in photography, videography, and design for print and web. He joined the Digital Media staff as a full time lab manager in 2012. He supervises students working in lab sections for our Visual Communications Technology, Computer Graphics, and Web Design classes.

Phil Snyder, MFA joined UH College of Technology in 2013, moving from Los Angeles, where he had been an independent producer of Digital Media for over a decade. Professor Snyder earned his BA in Multimedia Production at California State University Northridge and his Master of Fine Arts in TV/Film/Theatre at Cal State Los Angeles, where he also taught TV production. As an animator, Professor Snyder has produced some of the most-watched educational animations on YouTube, the "NumBears," with nearly 8 million views between his two channels. Professor Snyder's greatest claim to fame (next to teaching at UH) is his lifetime job as the Official Voice of Disney's Jiminy Cricket. Professor Snyder has caught the vision of UH Technology, and is excited about the boundless future that awaits us here!

Program Accreditation

Concurrent with the approval process for the Digital Media program by the University of Houston and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, the faculty created an Accreditation Self-Study report and submitted it to the Accrediting Council for Collegiate Graphic Communications (ACCGC). A team of three professionals, two from academia and one from industry, visited the UH Campus from November 2-4, 2009. Upon completing their visit, the team unanimously recommended that the ACCGC grant full six-year accreditation status to the Digital Mewdia Program at the University of Houston, Houston, Texas. The six-year period began on October 3, 2010 and continues through August 2016.

Digital Media: Reinvented for a Growing Market in 2012

By Spring 2011, it was obvious that the Digital Media program was viable and was ready to expand even further in order to handle the increasingly-large student body. Thus, the faculty and staff, in cooperation with the Advisory Committee, created a core/track program in which all majors would acquire a core understanding of digital media and then be allowed to choose an area of specialization within the field. These areas of specialization were:

  • print media
  • eMedia (ePublishing, object-oriented programming, internet application development)
  • video production
  • eCommerce
  • packaging

This expanded degree plan was approved, during 2011 and 2012, by the departmental, college, and university committees and went into effect in Fall of 2012.