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Taking the Long View in Nebraska

March 1st, 2013

I traveled to Lincoln for board training and strategic planning on February 8. Nebraska’s board comprises both business executives and educators. The meeting was hosted by Design Data Corp., which has a representative on the board. I sent the completed draft of the strategic plan to them the following week.

That evening, the association held a student leadership dinner followed by a SkillsUSA Nebraska Foundation fundraiser. More than 400 people attended the event held at a private car collection museum valued in the millions of dollars and owned by a local entrepreneur. Sales of tickets, a silent auction, and a donation of $10,000 from Nebraska Machinery – the local Caterpillar dealer group – netted the foundation approximately $24,000 for the evening. A real highlight was the endorsement of SkillsUSA by Kelly Beach, an executive from Nebraska Machinery. In her remarks, she spoke of the strong network of SkillsUSA, how students benefit and the fact that the dealership uses SkillsUSA to recruit employees.

Congratulations and thanks go to Greg Stahr, state association director and former SkillsUSA board member, Tony Glenn, for the great work they’re doing.

2012-13 Officer Team

January 31st, 2013

The highly motivated and trained 2012-13 national officers are ready and willing to come serve you and your state delegation this spring. To have a national officer assist with your state conference, bring greetings, conduct a workshop, assist with your Championships, share their SkillsUSA story or other assignments you need help with contact Stephanie Bland at 703-737-0622. The current national officers are listed below. For more information about them, go to:


High School Division

President: Sergio Cavazos, Texas

Vice President: Mayokun Ojo, Maryland

Secretary: Jonathan Irizarry, Puerto Rico

Parliamentarian: Marical Ryan, Ohio

Region I Vice President: Kaila O’Farrell, Massachusetts

Region II Vice President: Brian Bradley, Georgia

Region III Vice President: Natasha Osborne, Ohio

Region IV Vice President: Alyssa Erwin, Texas

Region V Vice President: Hans Rodriquez, Arizona

College/Postsecondary Division 

President: Ben Morris, Washington

Vice President: Jonathan Garcia, Texas

Secretary: Mary Kamuiru, Tennessee

Treasurer: Craig Swanson, Georgia

Parliamentarian: Mark Roark, Tennessee

New Mexico Board Training

December 1st, 2012

On November 1-2, I was in Albuquerque, N.M. to conduct board training and to facilitate the state association’s strategic planning. My events began with a speech to the technical committees of the New Mexico SkillsUSA Championships. The dinner was catered by a local chapter. It was great to see planning for the spring conference taking place this early.

On the second full day, I reviewed with the 23 board members the roles and responsibilities of non-profit boards of directors, and we got a good start on a strategic plan. Their biggest issue is how to serve and recognize high school students and college/postsecondary students separately and they wrote objectives to address their goals of membership services, fiscal integrity and marketing and promotion.

Thanks and congratulations go to Saundra Castillo, New Mexico state association director, and to her board.


December 1st, 2012
  • On November 7, a staff member and I took the train to West Orange, N.J. to meet with the CEO, two group VPs, the marketing director and the business development director of Lincoln Educational Systems, the parent company of Lincoln Technical Institute among several other colleges. We were joined by Pete Carey, New Jersey state association director, three of his advisors and two of his state officers, both from the Gloucester County Institute of Technology.
  • The Alumni Coordinating Committee met at the national center for a three-day meeting, November 9-11. They reviewed their FY13 objectives, did some FY14 planning and put together plans for the national conference.
  • We recently received some good news on sponsorship. 3M Company, which was a sponsor years ago, has pledged in-kind support for the SkillsUSA Championships and pledged $36,000 to support our WorldTeam Cabinetmaking contestant. And, Interstate Battery System of America has already pledged $25,000 for next year. Interstate is pleased by the response of our chapters to the fundraising plan calling it the “best early response by any organization.”
  • Two staff members represented the national office during the recent Mid-America Conference in Columbus, Nebraska. They report it was a highly successful experience for all of the students and teachers attending and that Greg Stahr, Nebraska state association director, did a great job leading the event.
  • Welcome to our newest board member representing NASDCTEc, Scott Stump, Colorado associate provost for career and technical education. Scott is currently serving as NASDCTEc’s secretary/treasurer, and he knows student organizations having worked for National FFA and served as state FFA advisor.
  • And, finally, the board will be meeting by webinar, December 3-4. The spring board meeting will be held on March 13, hosted by Nick Mastrone at IRWIN corporate headquarters in Huntersville, N.C.

Learning from Our Membership

November 1st, 2012

Recently, members of the Membership, Marketing and Sales team traveled to Rhode Island and Massachusetts to meet with students, teachers and administrators for informal focus groups to gather data about SkillsUSA’s customers.

This effort is a kick-off to an additional five-state formal focus group planned for late fall and winter. Research will be conducted with both high school and college/postsecondary customers with a formal report to be compiled next spring.

This effort aligns with a key objective for the organization in the upcoming year to better understand the needs of SkillsUSA professional and student members. SkillsUSA is working to define the status of our integration into local career and technical classrooms. To help meet this objective, profiles of SkillsUSA advisors will be developed which will enable staff to better understand the needs and issues facing SkillsUSA as they integrate SkillsUSA into instruction. Additional data is also needed on why students join SkillsUSA and become engaged in the organization and what local chapter operations currently exist.

The research will drive future products and programming designed to meet the needs of our current and future customers. This will also help provide additional revenue sources for the organization to sustain operations and grow programming. Thanks to state association directors Karen Ward and Josh Klemp for hosting our team during their visits in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

State Board Training in Minnesota

August 15th, 2012

On July 29 I traveled to Fargo, N.D., and then drove across the border into Detroit Lakes, Minn. to work with the SkillsUSA Minnesota board of directors in a training session on the role of non-profit board members. Jennifer Polz, state association director, and Marlys Bucher, SkillsUSA corporate member, and immediate past national board member representing Region 4, put on an outstanding training conference for board members and advisors over a three-day period.

The conference was held on the beautiful lake front of Detroit Lake and featured cookouts, picnics and outdoor games for the participants and families. Following board training, I took the board through a strategic planning exercise, and we developed a quality two-year plan with measurable objectives for the state association. Marsha Daves also attended and did an excellent job conducting a Chapter Management Institute for teachers, including five new advisors getting their first exposure to SkillsUSA. I heard nothing but great comments about the training and the conference overall. Congratulations to Jennifer Polz for her excellent work.

Summertime is Connection Time

August 1st, 2012

As we wrap up our NLSC each year and then enjoy the July 4 holiday, our next big opportunity comes as summer professional development conferences kick off for our teachers and administrators across the nation. I’ll be participating in three this summer and they offer an opportunity to connect with teachers, state directors, state agency staff, administrators and supporting business partners.

My first summer conference for 2012 was the Georgia Education and Economic Development Summit held in Atlanta, July 15-18. It was interesting to see that our good friend Bill Symonds from the Pathways to Prosperity Project at Harvard was the keynote speaker for the opening plenary.

It was invited to present a workshop on business and industry driven assessments and our Work Force Ready System and Skill Connect assessments fit the bill nicely. My presentation was well received and I got excellent feedback from the schools currently using our assessments as end of pathway exams. I received some excellent comments from teachers, administrators and university faculty and the workshop received consistent rankings of 4 to 5 on a 5-point evaluation scale.

In addition to the assessment presentation, I was kept busy with several other assignments and opportunities. The first was my participation in the commencement ceremonies of the Georgia SkillsUSA University. State Association Director Gayle Silvey and her team did an outstanding job of chapter management training for a packed house of advisors on July 15. I was honored to speak to the group and to present their completion diplomas at the end of the training.

My next step was the TIEGA Awards Luncheon where I brought greetings to nearly 300 of our instructors and administrators. I spent some quality time with our corporate member Carol Burke and learned more about her passion and support for SkillsUSA. At this activity, Gayle Silvey was honored with farewell accolades and gifts from her peers as they wished her well in her new role with the national organization. Incoming state association director and former national officer Ashley Hopkins was introduced and did a great job of orientation for the coming school year. Ashley has completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Georgia and is nearing completion of her Masters in Workforce Development. Although Gayle will be a tough act to follow, I am confident that Ashley will do a tremendous job as our new director in Georgia.

I also spent some quality time with the regional conference and Championships coordinators and discussed the challenges of regional operations. It was a great time of sharing our national perspective on the importance of regional events and discussing new ideas. Georgia high school competitions are held inside technical colleges and this offers not only a neutral competition arena, but a great opportunity for college recruitment and for our high school members to experience a day on campus.

I also attended and spoke at a Construction Education Foundation of Georgia (CEFGA) dinner event to honor construction technology instructors. CEFGA is a major partner of SkillsUSA Georgia. I was also able to spend some time with CTE Director Richard Turner at this activity. He attended NLSC last month as part of the VIP program and he was thoroughly impressed.

The final activity of the conference was the Award and Recognition Brunch on July 18 where I heard State Superintendent Dr. John Barge speak to the full conference of nearly 3,000. John is a staunch supporter of CTE and SkillsUSA. He had just returned from three national meetings, including the meeting of Chief State School Officers in Idaho. His remarks included information about the big nationwide buzz and discussion regarding CTE as a key component of education reform in America. He and Georgia are doing great things in CTE and in SkillsUSA. I believe we can count on continued support from John and the Georgia Department of Education and also have confidence that Georgia’s CTE and SkillsUSA model will be a part of the larger national dialogue on education reform.

I’ll also be attending summer conferences in Minnesota and Washington State.

Last stop on the State Conference “Mega Tour”

June 1st, 2012

Pensacola, Florida, April 28 – May 2, was the final stop on my State Leadership Conference Mega Tour. State association director Tyler Kercher and his team managed a phenomenal conference, in fact, the largest conference in Florida history. Other state associations have been experiencing their largest conferences ever, too. Membership numbers and conference attendance seem to rise together.

When I spoke to the VIP reception, I added the word “community” to our SkillsUSA core statement as a partnership of students, teachers and industry because it seemed the entire community of Pensacola stepped up to support Tyler and SkillsUSA Florida. The anchor sponsor of the conference was Pensacola State College and a veritable Who’s Who of Northwest Florida provided support. The vast majority of Championships competitions were held at the Pensacola Civic Center. It was also the venue for the Opening and Awards Ceremonies. There were approximately 2,200 competitors and 3,000 SkillsUSA attendees. Surrounding the Championships was an impressive Career Expo called “The World of Possibilities,” and over 3,000 middle school students toured the competitions and participated in the Expo. The downtown streets of Pensacola were closed down for a big block party following the Championships.

Visiting dignitaries included the Mayor of Pensacola, State Senator Greg Evers, the president of Gulf Power and officials from the Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development officials. I met with Loretta Costin, vice chancellor, Division of Workforce Education. I had lunch with SkillsUSA Corporate Member Eric Owens, interim director, Career and Technical Department of Education. And, to top off my experience, I was thrilled that SkillsUSA’s 1993-94 national college/postsecondary division president – now state congressman – Jimmy Patronis attended the conference. Representative Patronis shared his SkillsUSA (VICA) story with the voting delegates.

While there, I also delivered a presentation on the Skill Connect Assessments to over 120 teachers and administrators, and I saw the Blue Angels fly over Pensacola Beach. Awesome! Big congratulations to Tyler Kercher and his team for completing his first state conference and thanks to the city of Pensacola for its wonderful support.

Tennessee was the Next Stop on the State Conference “Mega Tour”

May 15th, 2012

I attended a wonderful Tennessee state conference that filled the downtown Chattanooga Convention Center and several satellite sites, April 23-25. The high school and college/postsecondary associations run parallel conferences in the same facility, but hold separate opening banquets and awards ceremonies. On Monday evening, Carol Myers, SkillsUSA Tennessee high school association state director, and corporate member, Sue Tucker, managed a banquet for nearly 1,400 high school participants. The state officer team did a great job running the show. Carl Creasman, college/postsecondary state association director and his officer team hosted an opening banquet the following evening for nearly 500 participants. Board member James King, and national officer, Jeremy Ballentine, were both key parts of the ceremonies. James King certainly had everyone’s attention when he presented a brand new car to the outstanding student of the year.

I keynoted both banquets. Also speaking was Bill Prince, a native of Tennessee, a former national staff member and special advisor to President Reagan. Bill spoke about his participation at the founding of VICA in Nashville in 1965 and the founding of the postsecondary division in 1969. He was truly inspirational. It was also great to hear Danielle Mezera, the new assistant commissioner for CTE, speak at the high school division banquet. I had dinner with her and then toured the Championships floor – a mini national Championships in an exhibit hall – with her the following day. She promised to come to NLSC.

It was great to see Chip Harris at the conference. He is recovering well and promises to be at NLSC to chair the national Quiz Bowl contest. And, a giant thank you goes to Carol Myers and Carl Creasman for the excellent job at this year’s conference.

I also visited Columbus, Ohio for SkillsUSA Ohio’s 60th anniversary state conference. Mike Cowles said it was Ohio’s largest conference ever with 5,000 attending – including 2,200 competitors – and the event takes up the entire Ohio State Fair Grounds. I had lunch and great conversation with Steve Gratz, Ohio state CTE director, and met with Stan Heffner, state superintendent of education. Stan said the SkillsUSA Ohio conference is the “number one event on his calendar every year.”

Ohio had 50 state officer candidates and a huge delegate assembly. The election process was exciting and very intense. Ohio also had a run-off for several national officer candidates. Being elected as a state officer in Ohio is a very prestigious position and one that garners a lot of attention. The current state and national officers on the Ohio stage did a magnificent job of running the show. A big thank you goes out to State Association Director, Mike Cowles, and his management team for their leadership and for such a high quality event.

State Conference “Mega Tour” Visits Kentucky and Idaho

May 1st, 2012

On April 3-5, I was in Louisville for the SkillsUSA Kentucky State Leadership Conference and Skills Championships held at the Galt House Hotel, the Indiana/Kentucky/Ohio Regional Council of Carpenter Joint Apprenticeship Training Center, two local community/technical colleges and a high school. There were 88 leadership and skills contests and lots of industry support. There were prizes for all medalists in all contests both high school and college/postsecondary. That’s a rare occurrence, and I know it required considerable work, not only to secure the prizes but organizing them as well. A highlight of the conference was the presentation of scholarships from the Steve Phillippi Scholarship Fund with checks presented by none other than  …  Steve Phillippi, recently retired Kentucky state association director. Congratulations go to Fran Dundon, interim state association director, for holding such a successful conference.

My next stop on the mega tour was in Boise, Idaho on April 11-13. First stop was a trip to Dennis Professional Technical Education Center with Dr. Irene Vogel, state association director. Dennis is a high school tech center and has 100 percent SkillsUSA membership. The school is full of SkillsUSA banners, posters and student recognition. There’s even a wall of fame for national winners, and many of our national partners have their logos displayed as well including Lowe’s, State Farm and Caterpillar. If there’s a “Disneyland of SkillsUSA,” I believe Dennis Tech is in the running.

I spoke during the opening ceremony early on April 12 and then met with the advisors immediately following the ceremony. I also spent time with Ann Stephens, the current state CTE director and with Todd Schwarz, the incoming state CTE director, effective June 1. I’m hoping Todd can be with us for the national conference in Kansas City. I also got to meet with the SkillsUSA Idaho board of directors and former SkillsUSA national board president, Dr. Don Eshelby. Contests were held in 17 different locations.

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