Students medal in hi-tech skills competition

Lamar State College Port Arthur students studying Software Developer and Game Design, and Graphic Design students from the college, brought home multiple medals from a state competition in April and are moving on to nationals where they will face challengers from schools across the country.

Software Developer and Game Design Program Coordinator Sarita V. Medhekar said the SkillsUSA state competition was held from April 7-9 at San Jacinto College in Houston. Her students brought home gold medals in three categories in the competition, she shared.

Alaina Harbert and Thien Pham got the gold in the Interactive Application & Video Game Development competition. The team designed a video game called Ashychrony that can be played as a mobile app. Pham says he came up with the idea for the game that pulls the player into the story.

“I’ve always wanted to do a metanarrative story where it’s more of a big picture,” Pham explained. “It can be just a small, lighthearted game, but you can zoom out and it will show you the big picture of how you’re controlling these characters. Now, what if the character had a self-consciousness, but you, as the player, are still controlling them? It places the actual player into the story itself, breaking the fourth wall.”

Harbert says the game starts with a text message from an old friend you haven’t talked to in a while.

“You’re sent a text message by a friend that you haven’t seen in a long time, and they say, ‘Hey, can you try out this game for me?’ We say, ‘Yes,’ and we open to the game,” said Harbert, who describes herself as a Minecraft fan. “The first part is a maze where you have to collect three keys. The keys emit a sound that tells you if you’re getting closer or farther away. After you collect the third key, you get another text message from the friend who says, ‘That was fun, right? Can you try out the second level for me?’ They say all you have to do is just hit the targets with the balls,’” but there is another element to the challenge your friend fails to mention. “It is actually a time challenge, but you don’t know that at first.”

“It’s pretty fun,” said Pham. “I’m very surprised we won first place. We actually had to go to Houston for this, San Jacinto College, to present to a panel of judges. We made a storyboard and did a 15-minute presentation. We had over two months to work on the game. It was definitely a lot of hard work.”

“We made the game using Unity,” Medhekar said of the software used. “We made the game app on that so we can use Google Cardboard, and you can play the game in virtual reality.”

She said she eventually wants to train her students in even more advanced VR programming for making games on platforms like the Oculus.

Harbert and Pham had to present at the competition but had time before the contest to work on their game. Students competing in some other categories had a short time to come up with an idea for a random topic.

“For the web design competition,” said Sarita, “they gave the topic on the spot and the students had four hours. Hector Flores and Malcom Watkins won gold in the Web Design & Development competition. They had to design a restaurant website and its features, then start coding and make up the website.”

Watkins said they came up with great plan and had to execute it quickly due to the time limit.

“The website that we designed was an island-style restaurant called Fresh Oasis,” he shared. “We had to make a menu, non-copyrighted, of course. For the food, we created that ourselves. We had to make a logo for ourselves. We had to make the color and the text color. And, we also have to make an ‘About’ for contacts, and any things below it, like the footer on the page.”

“They gave us a prop, and basically told us to make a website for a random restaurant,” said co-champion Flores. “We thought for about five minutes and decided to make a Hawaiian, tropical-based restaurant.”

“The restaurant sold Hawaiian barbecue, with a Samoan smoke flavor,” Watkins described, adding that he feels it was their unique idea that propelled them ahead of the pack. “It was probably the theme itself, and where the menu itself was, like where the interaction was. It was at the top of the page, so they can easily know where to find the menu.”

Flores said they used concepts learned from Medhekar at LSCPA to win the gold.

“We used certain CSS that made the colors and the fonts different,” said Flores. “When you use the CSS with an HTML, it actually gives it more colors, more fonts, more designs to the page than the HTML alone would.”

“For this competition,” said Medhekar, who helped them prepare for the contest, “I would give them topics like outdoor fitness, or a chocolate factory, and they make up a website. Then, we do two or three mock-up tests. They really work hard.”

Francisco Barrera-Cribas and Brian Magana brought home the gold in the 3D Visualization & Animation competition. They had no idea what their topic would be until the contest began.

“We didn’t know exactly how to prepare,” said Barrera. “We were doing everything using the software called Blender, but in school, they actually teach us on 3ds Max. It was just that Blender was what we could run on our laptops, and it’s free for students. So, we just had to adapt.

“We had to make a flour sack get hit by a soccer ball. Then, the flour sack gets up and kicks the soccer ball.”

The partners each performed specific functions to animate the cartoon.

“We started off by making a storyboard and just making our own little way of showing how it’s going to happen. We had to write it all down,” said Barrera. “Then, we just started modeling. Brian did most of the animation, and I did most of the modeling.”

“We had to make a stadium, and then make the sack outside of the stadium kick the ball. So, I did the sack and the ball. I had to give him a skeleton, basically like bones in the structure, and I had to make the sack walk,” said Magana. “I made the animation for him to kick the ball, and I had to make the ball bounce.”

“I am very proud of my students,” Medhekar shared. “All six of them are going to Atlanta, Georgia, for the SkillsUSA national competition.”

Maurice Abelman says he, too, is proud of his graphic design students who medaled in the state competition.

“This is the graphic design program. It’s a relatively new program,” he shared. “Cory Turner and Alejandro (Alex) Padron both won medals in their categories.”

“We competed in Pin Design and T-shirt Design,” said Padron. “Pin Design is for lapel pins. The whole organization, SkillsUSA, they have the lapel pins that everyone wears and the T-shirts that represent the organization.”

Turner earned a gold medal for his Texas-themed pin.

“When you think Texas, the first thing most people normally think of is cowboys and oil,” Turner suggested. “So, I went with those two for my major components in my design for my lapel pin, and I received the gold medal for first place.

“For the T-shirt, which was still based off of Texas, I used a cowboy boot, a bluebonnet and a mockingbird, which is the state bird. I got the bronze medal for that.”

“I got bronze in Pin Design and silver in T-shirt Design,” said Padron, who shared that his interest in design spurred from a passion for drawing that he’s fostered since childhood. “Since I was young, I always loved drawing. I was always that kid in class drawing in either his book or on a new piece of paper or something. It just naturally was something that I wanted to do, since I was reading comic books and watching animated cartoons. So, I thought, ‘That’s something I want to do when I’m older.’”

Turner described a similar interest in art that led him to graphic design.

“My plan after graduation is to hopefully get on with some kind of firm or with some kind of company where I can actually put my skills to use. Much like Alex, I was the kid in class who always was in a corner drawing or doodling. I love comics, love anime, and, I was like, ‘Hey, why don’t I try to put what I can do to use?’”

Professor Abelman not only teaches his students graphic design, but he also nurtures their love for art in a variety of mediums. He has taken many of them on mural-painting adventures around the area to cultivate their creativity.

The annual SkillsUSA National Leadership & Skills Conference (NLSC) showcasing career and technical education students will be held in Atlanta, Georgia, from June 20-24. Learn more about the contest online at

Learn more about LSCPA and its programs online at