We had an amazing opportunity to talk about SkillsUSA, skilled trades and welding from February 20-24 during a week of racing at Daytona Beach, Florida. This was the SkillsUSA WorldTeam final Weld-Off - a competition taking 22 hours over four days – to select the final member of the WorldTeam. We had three finalists, Andrew Cardin of Massachusetts, Tanner Tipsword of Wyoming and Alex Pazkowski of Michigan. All of them did fantastic work, and Alex was named the winner on Sunday evening.
The other big winner was SkillsUSA. Thanks to an outdoor booth valued at $58,000 and donated by Larsen Motorsports, we had tens of thousands of people come by to talk, meet the students and examine their welding projects. Larsen Motorsports is owned by Chris and Elaine Larsen, and she’s one of only four female jet fuel dragster drivers in the world. She was in the booth signing autographs right along with the students when they were on break. The SkillsUSA flag was flying and the SkillsUSA and AWS logos were prominently displayed on a racing trailer in the booth. Crowds got progressively larger through the week. By Sunday, the crowds were four and five deep. See the photos at: www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10152585499225591.959256.22208255590&type=1.
The connection to Larsen was made through Youth Development Foundation Committee member Paul Cleveland of Miller Electric Mfg. Co., Inc., and members of the Welding contest technical committee. The American Welding Society (AWS) was the main sponsor and, on awards night had a beautiful white tent with lights and a sound system right down on Daytona Beach. It was a beautiful setting and event to announce the winner and recognize each of our contestants. Thanks go to Brandon Muehlbrandt of Lincoln Electric Co., Nick Peterson of Miller and all the other participants for pulling this whole event together. I know Alex will do a wonderful job of representing the United States in Germany this July.
SkillsUSA had an exhibit at the AACC’s Workforce Development Institute from January 30-February 2 in San Diego. The annual conference is growing in size and a lot of people stopped by the exhibit. National officer Ben Morris was a featured luncheon speaker – the only student speaker in the entire conference – and he was followed by Assistant Secretary of Education Brenda Dann-Messier who had lots of great things to say about Ben and about SkillsUSA. Current SkillsUSA board member Kathy Jo Mannes and past board member Jim McKenney were both in attendance, of course, as well as past board member Greg Rintala.
Staff reports that UTI (Universal Technical Institute) will sponsor SkillsUSA University at national conference this year. UTI is talking about the possibility of having representatives from NASCAR attend conference as well.
Larry Rabalais, SkillsUSA Louisiana state association director, high school (and a former SkillsUSA board member) reports that 25 students and four teachers from Bonnabel High School participated in the Super Bowl sanctioned 18th Annual Rebuilding Together event in New Orleans. Larry said the event was well-run, the students and teachers worked hard, and it was a positive experience for all concerned. Lowe’s was the “presenting sponsor.”
On Thursday, March 4, Kelly Horton and I traveled to Atlanta to join the Lowe’s Kobalt Tools Team and four-time NASCAR Champion Jimmie Johnson in an exciting event to honor our first school in the 2010 “Toolbox for Education” Kobalt Tool program. SkillsUSA students and their advisor from Jonesboro High School in Atlanta were taken on a “tool shopping spree” in the Lowe’s store by driver Jimmie Johnson, and they left the store with $1,100.00 worth of Kobalt Mechanic’s tools. Jimmie Johnson told me: “SkillsUSA is really a perfect fit for me to talk about. Your organization is doing fantastic things.”
The tool set was the first of 400 to be presented to SkillsUSA Automotive Service Technology chapters nationwide. The chapters receiving the tools are all 100% chapters that engage all students in the program as active members. All chapters have been notified of their awards, and each chapter will visit their local Lowe’s store to redeem the coupon for tools and a Lowe’s/Kobalt/SkillsUSA co-branded banner for their labs. The total value of the nationwide tool donation is $440,000.
The event, held at Lowe’s of Edgewood in Atlanta, included an overview of the tool program by Lowe’s executive Billy Sarvis, and I delivered a presentation on the SkillsUSA/Lowe’s partnership, expressed appreciation on behalf of our students nationwide and congratulated the local chapter.
Jimmie Johnson drove the Lowe’s #48 car into the doorway of the Lowe’s store and received an enthusiastic welcome from the store associates, SkillsUSA members and the general public who attended. There was lots of press on hand, and our students were featured in a spot by the Fox Network that aired Sunday at the beginning of the Kobalt Tools 500 at the Atlanta Motor Speedway.
SkillsUSA Georgia State Association Director Gayle Silvey joined us in Atlanta, and she did a great job in helping to organize the event.