Alumni in Print—Where Are They Now?

The Print and Graphics Scholarship Foundation is publishing profiles featuring some of their more than 6000 former scholarship recipients. This series gives you an up close and personal insight into the thoughts and motivations of the former students who are a part of our industry today. As our current employees reach retirement and leave, replacing them becomes an increasingly important factor for many companies. Here is one story…

A Profile

Seth Stokes attended Vincennes University (where he received the PGSF scholarship) in Vincennes, Indiana. There he received an Associate’s Degree in Printing Technology, graduating in 1997. He then went on to attend Ball State University located in Muncie, Indiana where he received his Bachelor’s Degree in Graphic Arts Management, in 1999.

How did you first get interested in the graphic arts, or decide to focus on graphic communications in school?

I started out in high school, at the age of 14, by taking a Graphic Arts class where I learned how to run a letterpress. The following year, I moved on to Graphic Arts at the Vocational School, where I learned the more broad spectrum of printing (small offset, camera work, DTP, finishing, etc.). My activities included actually creating the graphics for my High School Soccer team (where I was a captain), and printing the team sweat shirts in class. And I printed my own graduation announcements as well.

When it came time to start thinking of college…printing was the only thing that really seemed to make sense to me. At that time, I wasn’t sure where I would go with that choice, but it was all I knew.

How do you think going through your education process prepared you for the workforce?

I hated it at the time, but in college I had to learn the basics by learning to do things manually (camera, no scanner / manual paste-­‐up, no DTP / etc.). It taught me why things are what they are today, and gave a better understanding of what we now do automatically with software. Honestly, it was a better-rounded knowledge base to pull from for years to come, even though many of those operations no longer exist. The foundation knowledge is still valuable.

I spent 100% of my time at college focusing on learning. I didn’t attend one party in all of those years. I spent early hours and late hours in the printing building learning processes and machines. Listening to stories and bits of wisdom from instructors, as well as becoming more familiar with deeper levels of knowledge that isn’t really taught from the curriculum helped me in many ways. I think it also helped me feel more “a part” of the industry instead of just being a student on the outside looking in.

I ended up taking almost every printing class offered, before graduating from Vincennes University.

In the Workforce Today

What company are you working for now and what types of products and services do they provide to their customers?

I spent many years working for some industry giants (Standard Register, Heidelberg, HP Indigo and Xerox) and now I’m the owner/managing partner of Launch Graphics, LLC here in Houston, Texas. Between my company and my partner’s company, we have large and small offset, digital presses, wide format and do everything from business cards to vehicle fleet wraps.

What job did you first have with the company when you started, what position do you have now, and/or what else have you done since joining the company?

After being in the corporate world and experiencing the challenges that come with that these days, I decided it was time for me to break out and do it for myself. (I was a business consultant for Xerox at the time trying to teach reluctant printers how to adapt and thrive.) After four years now in business, we are doing great, and have a solid growth path in front of us.

We have the privilege of doing work for some very large domestic and international companies, as well as media covered historical site campaigns. I’ve been able to meet celebrities, attend exclusive premiers, and help make some great ideas come true for many companies.

What do you think employers are looking for in today’s workforce and the current industry environment?

I personally look for passion. I need enthusiasm from my employees for what we do. This isn’t just a job… this is a career. Does that mean I pass on many applicants?… absolutely. But, I’d rather have someone who really wants to be here and has a passion (or wants to have a passion) for print like I do, than someone who is just here watching the clock and waiting to leave. That kind of attitude is apparent in the work that they produce… and that kind of work isn’t going to help us become the dominant company that I plan on being.

Is there anything that you have found to be particularly different from what you initially expected, now that you’ve progressed through your work career for a period of time?

In college it was said that the corner office in the corporate world was the “place to be”. That may still be true for some people. However, in my many years there, the politics seemed to be common place, and it always ended up standing in my way of progression (since I don’t play the games). I heard many times during my career in the corporate world that I needed to “Sit down and wait my turn” for advancement opportunities.

So, after a lot of thinking, I took my career into my own hands. I have never avoided taking responsibility, as long as I have the authority to do what needs done to achieve the results. I would say that starting and running company is one of the ultimate tests of skill and knowledge…with some luck needed from time to time too.

Have you changed your plans or ideas about what area or type of job you might like to have since you first considered the graphic communications field and began studying for a career in it?

As mentioned before, the corporate world used to be where I thought I would end up. Working for major names like I have, I had always seen myself there, and loved the history surrounding what I was doing at that time. However, I’m not one to let others stand in my way… so I changed the game! I never thought I would be a business owner. However the older I got, the more desirable it became. Sometimes the stars align and the right opportunity comes up to change your world.

What do you see yourself doing a few years from now?

I see my company continuing to grow, expanding into new facilities and markets, as well as adjusting to the industry as needed. Things have changed so much since my first days in the industry, and I continue to see it morph every year. Who knows where we will end up in the future!

Was being a recipient of a PGSF scholarship important, or did it have an impact on your future or ability to succeed in the industry?

Receiving the PGSF scholarship certainly helped me fund my education during those early years. I was doing everything from part-­‐time work running web presses to tutoring my classmates on film stripping at night, to help pay for gas to get home. What I received wasn’t a large amount at all, but it absolutely helped me keep going into the path that I was meant to be on.

Anything else that you would like to add?

Please feel free to review my LinkedIn profile or contact me directly for additional info on my career details. I have a very diverse history in the industry as well as non-profit and now political world as well. I also sit on the University of Houston College of Technology Advisory Board, and try to help others like I was continue into this industry if it’s truly their passion.