Photo courtesy of Brittany Whitestone.
In printing, a duotone refers to creations that are made up of one photo printed in two contrasting colors, one superimposed over the other. The outcome is a new creative image that brings out the middle tones and highlights in a whole new way. Like a duotone, graphic communications graduates Chandler Kerr and Brittany Whitestone have merged two sets of talents and dreams to create a new shared image for their lives. But if SkillsUSA had not provided the opportunity for that intersection, the Maryland natives may have never even met.
When Whitestone was in high school, she wanted to be a graphic designer. “I attended the print production class at the Carroll County Career and Technology Center (Westminster, Md.) in order to learn more about design,” she recalls. “In the class, we were taught all aspects of this industry and became familiar with the world of photography, design and graphic communications.” Whitestone wasn’t just becoming “familiar” with the industry; the more she immersed herself into printing, the more she fell in love with it. “I got to work with my hands and create something that clients would enjoy. I was bringing the ideas people have to life.”
Kerr had a similar story — but at a different high school. “During my freshman year, I was given the opportunity to take four introductory classes in varying subjects at the Center of Applied Technology North [Severn, Md.],” he explains, “and one of these classes was printing technologies. As I got further along in the class, I grew to love the printing industry. From that point on, I knew I wanted to keep taking classes and learn as much as I could about printing.”
A Shared Focus
Both Whitestone and Kerr joined SkillsUSA through their schools, so each had an opportunity to pursue competition. Both excelled. Kerr won local and state contests to earn the right to compete nationally in Graphic Communications at the 2014 and 2015 SkillsUSA Championships. The national event is by invitation only, and less than two percent of SkillsUSA students earn a spot. Kerr earned gold medals both years.
“Being able to represent my school was fun,” he remembers. “Representing the entire state of Maryland at the national competition was amazing.” Kerr’s performance at the national skilled trades showcase earned him the right for an even higher honor: He was selected as a member of the elite 2017 WorldSkills USA team and — as part of the WorldSkills Competition — competed in Abu Dhabi against the best student printers in the world.
Michael Born, Kerr’s printing instructor from the Center of Applied Technology North, was chosen to be the U.S. technical expert for Print Media Technology in the competition. Born remembers that he first met Kerr when the student walked into class as a thin, gangly freshman. “He was a friendly kid with a winning smile and laser focus,” Born says. “He seemed to enjoy the four-week career exploration class, and I was excited to see him on my roster for sophomore year. He was a leader in the classroom and excelled in every aspect of my class. His dedication and work ethic set him apart. He is the hardest-working student I’ve taught. He continues to be a leader for my program and the school by volunteering as a guest speaker, participating in our annual open house and judging skills competitions.”
Although developing in a different Maryland classroom, Whitestone shared the same “laser focus” Kerr had become known for. Like Kerr, she competed in Graphic Communications at the SkillsUSA Championships, although her national-level experiences came in 2016 and 2017. Whitestone also took gold both years and was tapped for the 22-member WorldSkills USA team — the largest ever — that competed at the 2019 WorldSkills Competition in Kazan, Russia.
Although neither student medaled during their WorldSkills adventures, they both took home irreplaceable experiences that would continue to shape their respective futures. “Representing the U.S. at the WorldSkills competition was one of the most rewarding things to happen in my life,” Whitestone exclaims. “I was excited to learn from other nations and meet people from all over the world who enjoy the trade as much as I do.” Kerr agrees, adding, “The preparations for the international competition taught me about how to break down cultural barriers and keep an open mind to the world around me.”
A Shared Career Path
After WorldSkills, Whitestone went on to complete a degree in graphics and multimedia at the California University of Pennsylvania. Printing has now become her purpose and passion. “Printing is more than just ink on paper, it’s an interactive experience,” she says.
Having met her employer through her SkillsUSA experiences and competitions, Whitestone went to work for Printing Specialists in Glen Burnie, where her main responsibility was to print pieces on the digital equipment. She also ran offset presses, worked in the bindery, and set jobs up in prepress. More recently, Whitestone started a new role at Ironmark, An Image Company, after it was acquired by Printing Specialists. She is now on a path toward her dream job as a printing estimator. “I love estimating, because I am able to use all the aspects of my knowledge of the printing industry,” she explains. “I’m able to plan and organize jobs and find the most cost effective and efficient way of completing them.”
Kerr works as a printer for a federal government agency in their secure print shop, and he also serves as an assistant teacher with The Printing and Graphics Association Mid-Atlantic, an organization that provides free classes to industry partners and certifications for students. Kerr is also pursuing a graphic design degree from Anne Arundel Community College.
When asked what he loves about printing, Kerr says it is seeing the reactions of customers when their jobs are finished. “It brings me a sense of pride to make customers happy and help make their visions a reality.” Kerr also wants to challenge the idea that the printing industry is dead. “We may not be doing the exact same work that we used to, but the industry has evolved. People still buy printed books, brochures and posters, but that isn’t all the printing industry has to offer. It is impossible to go a day without running into printing, whether it be the morning newspaper, a billboard on your way to work, or the packaging on your lunch. Print is everywhere,” he says proudly.
As far as SkillsUSA’s influence on their success, Whitestone says being a member gave her a well-rounded education and networking opportunities she would not have had otherwise. “When preparing to compete, I had the opportunity to train with local industry experts. At my first competition, I was offered an internship. I met my employer through SkillsUSA, as they’ve hosted the state competition for years and helped train both Chandler and me for WorldSkills. SkillsUSA gives all of its students the opportunity to succeed. We gain confidence, technical knowledge, and connections that advance us along in our career path.”
Kerr, now 23, echoes Whitestone in believing SkillsUSA amped up his education. “SkillsUSA provided me with the tools I needed to become educated, both technically and interpersonally. SkillsUSA pushed me to be the person I am today.”
A Shared Life
So, now that we’ve followed the nearly parallel paths of these successful young professionals, you may be wondering: “How did the two finally meet?” Naturally, it was at a competition. “It was my senior year,” Whitestone recalls. “I was competing at state, and it was Chandler’s first year judging at state. Our teachers, Michael Born and David Hutchison, often joked that we would be married one day. They even planned a whole print-themed wedding. That’s a little embarrassing — but now we are here.”
So what’s in the future for the powerhouse printers? The couple of four years recently bought a house and are adopting a husky named Luna. They are planning a trip to Spain and Greece, since their WorldSkills USA travel experiences ignited a travel bug as well as a passion for printing. Though not yet engaged, they do plan to get married and have a family in the future.
Kerr and Whitestone are good examples of the old adage that hard work combined with laser focus and skills honed over time can ignite larger opportunities, similar to a campfire that grows strong and steady with the combination of the right firewood, spark and a little wind. This couple-to-watch is fired up to build not only great careers but a great, balanced life. As Walt Disney said, “All our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them.”