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Alumni Spotlight: Travis Brownell & PA House of Representatives

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Many people dream of obtaining a creative, satisfying career within their first few post-college years. For Travis Brownell, this dream is very much a reality as he continues to advance in his design career. Travis is a 2016 graduate of the Graphic Communications and Printing Technology program at Thaddeus Stevens College, a time which he describes as “inspiring” and a “fantastic education.” Now, 5 years later, Travis is working with the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in the state capital, Harrisburg, PA as a Communications Specialist. 

Tell us about yourself and your background?

I grew up in Lancaster County attending private school throughout my grade school years. I first attended HACC to complete my general education, and then attended Thaddeus Stevens. From graduation I was hired at a small print shop in Wyomissing, PA, spending my first 4.5 years there in my professional career. I then moved onto my new position as a communications specialist for the House of Representatives. I love traveling and exploring new areas, my most recent adventure hiking the Superstition Mountains in Arizona. I'm hoping to make my way down to New Orleans once life gets back normal from the pandemic.

How did your education and time at Thaddeus Stevens College help prepare you for your current position?

Thaddeus Stevens College helped me prepare for life outside of college by instilling a respect for what it's like to work in a professional setting, inspiring me to pursue my current career as a designer through fantastic education and [the support I gained from] passionate professors like Mike Brady and Bradley Adams.

What inspired you to choose your major/career path?

I had always leaned more into creative fields. Initially I went to college intending to study Journalism, then switched several times before landing on an English degree. Once I finished [my studies at] HACC, I realized this was still not the path I wanted to walk. I did some soul searching before my astute mother advised to look into a truly creative field such as design or 3D modeling. After some research I realized I had been essentially doing design in my spare time, playing around with several Adobe programs since I found it so fun to work in those suites. That's when I realized it made the most sense to pursue something I enjoy doing even in my free time.

Why did you choose Thaddeus Stevens College?

I had been looking for colleges that taught graphic design as a Major and had originally settled on Millersville University. At the time, I had a good friend (who has now become the first year Automotive Technology instructor, Naaman Hedge) who was attending and spoke about how great the environment and education was, and let me know they also had a design Major. After doing some digging and going to an open house to speak with the professors about what the classes, I decided it was the right decision to go to Thaddeus Stevens College.

What is most fulfilling about your current job?

[I appreciate] the fact that I am able to go to work and create something new every day. There's always going to be some challenge or aspect that needs to be overcome and problem-solved, and I enjoy those aspects of figuring out the puzzle.
The atmosphere is relaxed and my co-workers and supervisors could not be nicer. It also is a design-focused position, giving me the satisfaction of constantly working and creating entirely new projects and gives me the freedom to pursue my ideas.

What has been challenging about this position?

There have been challenging moments of quick-turnaround, which is expected in the design field. Some days you'll be given a project that needs finished within an hour or two, and while that can be stressful, it also keeps you sharp and truly tests your mettle. I don't mind those moments at all, but it is still a challenge to meet head-on nevertheless.

What is one piece of advice you would give a potential or current Thaddeus Stevens College student?

You put into your education what you get out of it. If you stay dedicated and put your head down, you will be successful not only at Thaddeus Stevens College, but in your life and career as well. As a secondary to that, always remember: your professors are there to help you, not to hinder you.


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Like Grandfather Like Grandson: Thaddeus Stevens College makes generational impact

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Loyalty and commitment run deep in the Pettis family. To family, to values, to workplace culture and goals, and to Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology (TSCT). Especially to TSCT, given credit by a grandfather and his grandson — both alumni — for developing the skills and philosophy for them to pursue satisfying careers while supporting a family and comfortable lifestyle.

Steve Pettis may have been the first in his family to attend Thaddeus Stevens College, but he wasn’t the family’s first connection with the college. A generation earlier, his stepfather Philmore Dyer, a printer who owned Lancaster Photo Engraving in downtown Lancaster, supplied the college with plates and cuts used to print pictures and illustrations.

“He was instrumental in getting me into Stevens Trade School (later renamed Thaddeus Stevens College),” said Steve. “He knew I was interested in printing and helped steer me to work in the industry.”

Steve first started working in printing when he was attending Lancaster Catholic High School.

“I got a job with Forry and Hacker located on Liberty Street in Lancaster. My first job was to melt down the lead lines of type from previous printings. The metal was poured into molds to make bars of metal called ‘pigs,’ The pigs were then remelted in the Linotype machines to cast new lines of type for new printings.”

“When I turned 16, I was taught to operate hand-fed presses,” he said. “Those presses were used to print small jobs like business cards, postcards, and envelopes.”

After high school graduation, Steve had the choice between attending MIT or Thaddeus Stevens College. He toured Thaddeus Stevens College and found the printing department was using equipment that he was already familiar with. He chose Thaddeus Stevens College and lived at home while he attended.

Steve’s son, Ronald Pettis, began his career following in his father’s footsteps and working for a printing company. While he did not attend Thaddeus Stevens College, he developed a connection to it.

“I was working in cybersecurity at a printing company with an alum when I was asked to address computer science classes at Thaddeus Stevens College in 2018 and 2019,” said Ronald.

Grandson Shawn Pettis, who grew up in Millersville, is the latest generation of the family to attend Thaddeus Stevens College. Shawn received a degree in business administration (BUAD 14).

54 Years at Lancaster Newspapers/LNP Communications

Steve Pettis started to work at Lancaster Newspaper (later LNP Communications) while attending Thaddeus Stevens College.

 “During my second year, I worked after school from 4:30-11:30 p.m.,” said Steve. “It was like a full-time job, but after work, I got up the next morning to go to class.”

After graduation, Steve joined LNP full-time and worked in print production. He was involved in the development of the equipment and worked through the switch from linotype to electronic typesetting (hot to cold type).

 “We were part of the industry’s testers. The managers liked to get the equipment in and test it, and I was involved in the development and modification of manufacturer’s equipment. I wrote diagnostics for some of the machines to have equipment work with the other parts,” said Steve.

“If the equipment is running good, it’s like I don’t exist,” he said. “There were times I actually slept there because I was working on a problem.”

Steve recently retired from LNP after spending 54 years with the company. When he retired in June 2020, both his college and his employer recognized him for years of dedication and service.

“I had the honor of presenting my grandfather with an award from the Thaddeus Stevens College Alumni Association,” said Shawn, who is a member of the college’s Board of Governors and the Alumni Association and Foundation. “This award was presented to him in recognition of 54 years of commitment to the industry. That was a highlight for me, to present him with something on behalf of the whole college,” he added.

Grandson Chooses Thaddeus Stevens College

An admirer of his grandfather’s intellect, specialized skills, and dedication, Shawn Pettis thought it would be good to continue his education at his grandfather’s alma mater. He first saw Thaddeus Stevens College when he attended a tour with his grandfather.

“I knew I had an aptitude for entrepreneurship and l wanted to pursue marketing or business solutions, to get my feet wet and see how a two-year business degree could help me toward future plans,” said Shawn.

“When I found out that 98 percent of Thaddeus Stevens College grads are employed upon graduation, that was very impressive,” he said. “I knew the college produces high-caliber graduates desired by local industries.”

Shawn said his Thaddeus Stevens College professors were “great teachers who challenged me and helped build my background and character.” He credits them with teaching him communication skills, e-mail etiquette, and extensive Microsoft applications—all skills he continues to use daily in his job.

Shawn was honored with the Program Role Model Award of 2014 for the Business Class, and his grandfather Steve attended the award ceremony. Shawn has since returned to campus to speak to business classes, something he enjoys doing.

He attended Millersville University for a year but then chose to take advantage of a job offer as a business development specialist with Dominion Pest Control. It is the largest locally-owned pest control servicer in the area, servicing all of Lancaster and York counties, recently named the number one pest control company by LNP readers.

“Thaddeus Stevens College taught me all the skills I needed and I was really enjoying this company and wanted to stay here,” said Shawn, who lives with his wife, Lauren, in Ephrata. “They were happy with my two-year degree and I was promoted to general services manager, where I oversee the service department and general management of the company’s 17 employees.”

Earlier this year, he also became the first ever public health entomologist accredited by the Entomological Society of America, the international professional organization of professionals, scientists, and government individuals studying insect science. Shawn said the rigorous study and subsequent certification exam recognizes the role of public health-related pests and how they contribute to serious injury and death among the public.

Grateful and Thankful

The Pettis family credits Thaddeus Stevens College for much of its academic and career success.

“My father is my hero,” said Ronald. “His experiences at Thaddeus Stevens College fostered his talents and guided him to pursue an industry passion that ultimately led to a 54-year tenure within the same organization.

“I felt honored to have been presenting to classes where my father’s journey began,” he added.

“I’m extremely grateful for my education and career growth,” said Shawn. “For generations, Thaddeus Stevens College has been there—providing my grandfather with the skills to pursue a good, steady job and helping greatly with our family’s financial opportunity.”

“When Shawn told me he was going to attend Thaddeus Stevens College, I was totally flabbergasted—and very proud,” said Steve, adding he appreciates the opportunity the college has given Shawn to build his own career.

“Thaddeus Stevens College provides a great education at an affordable cost. It grew my character and strengthened me as a person,” said Shawn. “Our whole family is very invested in contributing to Thaddeus Stevens College.”

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