These teens know how to impress future employers

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By Susan Pohorski

High school students working with robot, computers

Never having boys, I thought all high school males only speak in one- or two-word sentences, rarely to adults and only about video games or sports. Well, I was wrong.

Recently I went to an event that shattered that image. The young men wore neckties and sport coats, and shook hands with each other and with adults. They spoke to me and made eye contact. They were engaged in individual and group projects and articulately described their work.

So where was this land of mature, polite young men? It was the Wisconsin SkillsUSA State Leadership and Skills Conference. And there were plenty of girls there too.

SkillsUSA is a partnership of students, teachers and industry representatives, working together to ensure America has a skilled work force. Involvement with this student organization helps each student excel. Approximately 125 middle and high schools in Wisconsin have SkillsUSA chapters and there are 16 collegiate chapters in the state.

About 1,300 students come to the State Leadership and Skills Conference to compete in 77 different contests. This year the conference was held in Madison with events at the Alliant Energy Center and Madison College.

What students like about SkillsUSA
In the huge expo center I stopped by a table where four seniors from Menasha High School were working with a small robot. They were preparing to compete in the Robo Rescue Challenge. The object was to use the computer-controlled robot to search for and retrieve a bomb.

“This is a great way to apply knowledge,” said Jacob Fisher, spokesperson for the group. “SkillsUSA is about having fun, making friends and doing what you love.”

The team prepares a formal presentation on their project along with demonstrating how it works. I was impressed with the perseverance and confidence of these students.

“It took about a month to design, build and program the robot,” Jacob said. “We made four prototypes.” By the way, the Menasha H.S. team took the gold medal in their event.

Moms like SkillsUSA too
In the Carpentry competition area I met Amy Vossekuil, watching her son Tyler, a senior at Germantown High School. Amy told me this was his first experience with SkillsUSA and first exposure to a skilled trade.

“It is exciting to see students who are so skilled,” she said. “(SkillsUSA) has been a real turning point for him. I don’t think he had a plan for after high school before. SkillsUSA gave him exposure to a lot of different careers. He plans to enroll in WCTC (Waukesha County Technical College) in the fall to gain more construction skills.”

Later I learned that Tyler took the gold medal for high school carpentry. Amy must be so proud.

In another area, students were racing small wooden dragsters propelled by carbon dioxide. Patrick Wudke, a shop teacher from Pulaski Community Middle School, one of the judges, explained how the event involves aerodynamics, precision measurement and accuracy.

“We judge them on the quality of their work, their personal appearance and their presentation,” Patrick said. “SkillsUSA makes students aware of what employers are looking for.”

What the girls say
Three Oregon High School girls were sitting at a table waiting for their events. Freshman Abbie Reid was competing in her first state Related Technical Math event.

“It involves problems you encounter in everyday life,” she explained.

Junior Kate Spierings found out about SkillsUSA in her technical education class. “Before I was not sure what I wanted to do. This exposed me to a lot of potential occupations,” she stated.

In another room, male and female students were working on architectural drafting, video production and photography. There is even a competition for mock job interviews.

Kay Weber, a chaperone for students from Merrill Middle School in Oshkosh, watched her students working on a Team Problem Solving challenge. Other middle school students were competing in a large number of events including model rocketry and prepared speech. Young students testing small boats

“The first time I came to this event I was blown away. When I see the professionalism and the attention to detail in these kids, it is very impressive,” she said. Kay feels that SkillsUSA makes participants well rounded. She comes to the state event every year. “Wouldn’t miss it,” she said emphatically.

On to Nationals
At the end of the conference winners in the various competitions are recognized with gold, sliver and bronze medals at the middle school, high school and collegiate levels. They also receive prizes like scholarships, tools and attire. The gold medalists are invited to the national SkillsUSA competition the first week of June.

To me they are all winners. I am sure they will do well in their future endeavors.


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