Students medal in hi-tech skills competition

Lamar State College Port Arthur students studying software engineering and game design, as well as 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 compete against challengers from schools across the country .

Sarita V. Medhekar, coordinator of the software developer and game design program, said the SkillsUSA state competition was held April 7-9 at San Jacinto College in Houston. Her students brought home gold medals in three categories from the competition, she said.

Alaina Harbert and Thien Pham won 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 draws the player into the story.

“I’ve always wanted to do a metanarrative story that’s more about the big picture,” Pham explained. “It may just be a small, light-hearted game, but you can zoom out and it gives you the big picture of how you control these characters. Now what if the character had a sense of self, but you as the player still controlled them? It puts the actual player in the story itself and breaks the fourth wall.”

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

“You get a text from a friend you haven’t seen in a while and he’s like, ‘Hey, can you try this game for me?’ We say ‘yes’ and open up to the game,” said Herbert, who describes herself as a Minecraft fan. “The first part is a maze where you need to collect three keys. The buttons emit a tone that tells you if you’re getting closer or farther away. After picking up the third key, you’ll get another text message from the friend saying, “That was fun, wasn’t it? Can you try the second level for me?’ They say all you have to do is just hit the targets with the balls,'” but there’s another element of the challenge that your friend doesn’t mention. “It’s actually a time challenge, but you don’t know that at first.”

“It’s pretty fun,” said Pham. “I am very surprised that we won first place. We actually had to go to Houston, to San Jacinto College, to present it to a jury. We created a storyboard and gave 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 with Unity,” Medhekar said of the software used. “We developed the game app on it so that 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 to create games on platforms like Oculus.

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

“For the web design contest,” Sarita said, “they gave the topic directly and the students had four hours. Hector Flores and Malcom Watkins won gold in the web design and development competition. They had to design a restaurant website and its features, then start coding and building the website.”

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

“The website we designed was an island-style restaurant called Fresh Oasis,” he shared. “We had to create a menu, obviously not copyrighted. For the food we created it ourselves. We had to make a logo for ourselves. We had to do the color and the text color. And we also need to create an “About” for contacts and all things below, like the footer on the page.”

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

“The restaurant sold Hawaiian barbecue flavored with Samoan smoke,” Watkins describes, adding that he thinks it was their unique idea that made them stand out from the crowd. “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 easily know where to find the menu.”

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

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

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

Francisco Barrera-Cribas and Brian Magana took gold in the 3D Visualization and Animation Competition. They had no idea what their theme would be until the competition started.

“We didn’t know exactly how to prepare,” Barrera said. “We did everything with software called Blender, but at school they actually taught us to use 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 sure that a sack of flour gets hit by a soccer ball. Then the flour sack gets up and kicks the football.”

The partners each performed specific functions to animate the cartoon.

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

“We had to build a stadium and then get the sack outside the stadium to kick the ball. So I made the sack and the ball. I had to give him a skeleton, basically like bones in structure, and I had to run the sack,” Magana said. “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 are traveling to Atlanta, Georgia for the SkillsUSA national competition.”

Maurice Abelman says he too is proud of his graphic design students who won a medal at 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,” Padron said. “Pin design is for pins. The whole organization, SkillsUSA, has the pins that everyone wears and the t-shirts that represent the organization.”

Turner received a gold medal for his Texas-style pin.

“When you think of Texas, the first thing most people usually think of is cowboys and oil,” Turner suggested. “So I chose these two for my main components in my design for my pin, and I got the gold medal for first place.

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

“I have bronze in pin design and silver in t-shirt design,” said Padron, who said his interest in design was fueled by a passion for drawing that he had nurtured since childhood. “Ever since I was young, I have always loved to draw. I was always the kid in class, either drawing in his book or on a new piece of paper or something. It was just something I wanted to do since I read comics and watched cartoons. So I thought, ‘This is 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 continue in a company or business where I can actually use my skills. Much like Alex, I was the kid in class who was always drawing or doodling in a corner. I love comics, love anime, and I was like, ‘Hey, why not try and use what I can do?’”

Professor Abelman not only teaches graphic design to his students, but also encourages their love of art in a variety of mediums. He has taken many of them on mural adventures in the area to encourage their creativity.

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

Learn more about LSCPA and its programs online at

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