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Fine print

Electronic technology lets us shop via e-commerce and communicate by e-mail. But what does it all mean for the future of the printed words?

David Pankow is curator of the Cary Collection, a renowned repository of materials related to printing and the graphic arts, housed at RIT’s Wallace Library.

From inside his office on the second floor of RIT’s Wallace Library, David Pankow frequently hears that question. As curator of the Cary Collection, a nationally recognized graphic arts resource center, he studies the transformation of the information age to the digital era – where information is more frequently shared electronically.

“What will happen to print?” he considers. “Is it going away? The evidence indicates that will not happen. Print maintains a function in society that simply cannot be replaced.”

Frank Romano, the Roger K. Fawcett Distinguished Professor of Digital Publishing in RIT’s School of Print Media, can’t help but chuckle as he relays a recent conversation on the subject.

“I got a call from a reporter at Business Week, and his opening line was, ‘Print is dead.’ I said, ‘Where did you hear that?’ And he said, ‘I read it somewhere.’”

RIT plays an important role in assuring the evolution of print. The School of Print Media maintains a world-class reputation, and the recent creation of the Printing Industry Center at RIT enhances that. As a Sloan Industry Center, it is dedicated to studying and analyzing major business-environment influences in the printing industry. The center is a partnership between RIT, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and printing industry leaders.

Other resources include RIT’s Printing Applications Laboratory, which provides the industry with a facility for applied research. The Heidelberg Web Press Laboratory, dedicated in April, serves as the centerpiece of PAL’s activities. Printing professionals turn to the university’s Industry Education Programs to enhance their skills and knowledge base. And the Cary Collection remains one of the country’s premier resources on the history and practices of printing.

‘The Harvard of printing’

The origin of printing and print-media education at RIT dates to 1937. Since then, the school has evolved to meet the changing nature of the industry. The School of Printing Management and Sciences became the School of Print Media last year, reflecting the ongoing integration of print and new media communication. The school offers a B.S. degree in graphic media, and last year teamed up with RIT’s B. Thomas Golisano College of Computing and Information Sciences on a B.S. degree program in new media publishing.

Barb Pellow, chair, School of Print Media

Graduate programs within the School of Print Media include print media and graphic arts publishing. There’s also an accelerated B.S./M.B.A. in graphic media offered jointly with the College of Business.

“What we’re finding is that an interdisciplinary approach is very important,” says Barb Pellow, SPM chair. “Print is linked to Web sites, which are linked to direct mail companies. So what these companies look for is a very interdisciplinary approach, offering them flexibility in how they communicate with their consumers.”

The strength of the educational opportunities offered by the school is apparent through more than just its worldwide reputation. The excellence displayed by its students continues to earn critical acclaim. For example, RIT’s chapter of the Technical Association of the Graphic Arts (TAGA) recently claimed the top prize in TAGA’s Student Chapter Publication Competition for the third consecutive year.

Trish Boyle Witkowski ’95 and ’99 (B.F.A. and M.S., graphic arts and publishing) used her RIT education to develop a multi-faceted career. In addition to her role as creative director for a marketing and communications firm in Baltimore, Witkowski owns a business with her husband, Mark Witkowski ’97 (M.S., graphic systems). Finishing Experts Group Inc. focuses on education and the implementation of standards for the design and print-finishing industry.

Trish Boyle Witkowski ’95 and ’99 and Mark Witkowski ’97 founded a company focused on education and standards for the design and print-finishing industry.

Their flagship publication, FOLD: The Professional’s Guide to Folding, creates a system for the printing and design industry by standardizing the folding process. Witkowski credits her RIT connections for helping to get the project running.

“I had to move away from Rochester to fully understand the significance of an RIT degree,” she reflects. “People throughout the industry recognize it as the Harvard of printing programs.”

Witkowski is among nearly 5,300 alumni with degrees in printing from RIT, many holding leadership positions in the industry. Bruce James ’64, chair of RIT’s Board of Trustees, is a notable example. Early this year, James was sworn-in as U.S. Public Printer, in charge of all government publication. Another RIT alumnus, William Turri ’62, has been appointed Deputy Public Printer.

Getting digital

Many members of the industry wonder what it will take to keep printing viable in this digital era. These concerns are what drive the Printing Industry Center at RIT.

Patricia Sorce and Frank Cost ’87, directors of the Printing Industry Center at RIT

“Most of what happens before ink meets paper is now digital,” explains Frank Cost ’87, associate dean of the College of Imaging Arts and Sciences. “Research conducted by the Printing Industry Center is critical in reevaluating the role of the printed word.”

Under the direction of Cost and Patricia Sorce, associate professor of marketing in the College of Business, the center examines various dynamics of the industry such as the long-term role of new technologies and the evolution of digital media. Findings are shared with industry personnel through published articles and an annual symposium held on the RIT campus. Ultimately, the goal is to formulate a rational understanding of opportunities for business expansion, technology adoption and cost reduction.

Companies like Nexpress highlight the industry’s transformation. As a joint venture between Heidelberg and Eastman Kodak, the company manufacturers digital printing presses. RIT alumnus Venkat Purushotham ’80 and ’81 (B.S. printing management, M.S. imaging science), president and CEO of Nexpress, believes new technology makes print a more dynamic tool.

Venkat Purushotham ’80 and ’81, president and CEO of Nexpress

“Print is being revitalized,” he says. “It’s becoming more responsive, allowing users to communicate in a targeted, personalized fashion. From mass production to mass customization, it can benefit even communities of a few.”

The support of industry partners like Nexpress is critical to the success of the Printing Industry Center. The partners foster the exchange of expertise between industry leaders and faculty, provide cooperative education opportunities for SPM students, and contribute equipment and technology.

Top of the line

One of the more notable partnerships is with Heidelberg. In April, RIT dedicated the new Heidelberg Web Press Laboratory located in the expanded Louise M. Slaughter Building. The centerpiece of this laboratory is a state-of-the-art Sunday 2000 web press, consigned to RIT by Heidelberg.

“In planning our technology partnership with RIT, we understood from the beginning that only our newest, most advanced printing system would do,” says Werner Albrecht, president of Heidelberg Web Systems.

And while SPM students draw tremendous benefits from the new press, so does the industry as a whole. RIT’s Printing Applications Laboratory will use the system in collaboration with web offset printers and suppliers on applied research projects.

Frank Romano, professor of digital publishing

The multi-million dollar press is believed to be the largest commitment of resources by a vendor to an educational institution in the industry’s history. In addition, 17 other industry suppliers have offered additional support to the Heidelberg Web Press Laboratory by providing components and consumables valued at more than $1.6 million.

The value of these partnerships goes beyond the equipment they provide. Representatives of many companies offer their expertise on campus – visiting classrooms and sponsoring lectures.

“It makes the education at RIT a much richer experience for our students,” explains Romano. “The classroom becomes a window on the world, and that’s what those relationships give us.”

Shared experience

Industry professionals gain something in return. Many turn to RIT to enhance their own expertise and to gain a better understanding of the latest technology. Industry Education Programs are incorporated within the Printing Industry Center. Educational seminars are available at RIT, or they can be customized for delivery in the workplace. RIT has been offering educational programs for members of the printing industry since 1951.

With all these educational opportunities and technological resources, the traditional tools and products of printing remain an important part of the RIT landscape. The Cary Collection houses more than 50,000 volumes and a growing number of manuscripts and correspondence collections.

Visitors to the Cary Collection are also treated to an assortment of famous 19th century iron handpresses and letterpresses, accompanied by the necessary trappings for printing. This rare equipment allows for practical research on various aspects of printing and graphic communications history. But it’s not all just about the past.

“We are a guide for where the industry is going in the future,” states Pankow. “We don’t intend to stop with the printed books. In fact, we’ve already begun collecting early examples of born-digital publications. It’s a whole new era of publishing technology that scholars will study in the future.”

Paul Stella '03
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