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Energy. Enthusiasm. A passion for teaching. Julise Clement, national Advisor of the Year, pours her heart into her students and embodies the best SkillsUSA has to offer.

Julise Clement loves the first day of school.

“Our technical school serves nine high schools,” she says. “They’re all competitive in sporting events and things like that. And they walk in the first day and everybody’s just giving each other the eye.” Then she tells the students that their rivals—now classmates—are going to be their best friends by December. “And they’re all going, ‘Mm-hmm, mm-hmm, mm-hmm,’ and they’re just sitting there.”

But Clement, a SkillsUSA advisor for 12 years, is prepared for their disbelief. “We go through some orientation and things they should expect to learn, and then we go on down the road and talk about what they’d like and things that they like to do.”

That’s where it begins, what Clement calls a “remarkable change from the beginning of the year to December.” At Dekalb County Technology Center in Rainsville, Ala., she’s seen “a lot of kids with no guidance. They just really need somebody to help them coach them along, to teach them how to act and teach them what to wear and what to do for interviews and things like that.”

So the first-day chat leads into “opening up to find out a little bit about them and where they come from, and maybe why they are the way they are. And all of a sudden, you know, they steal your heart, and then you begin that relationship that goes on forever,” she says.

Clement’s classes are always full, and the reason is easy to see. “I think it goes back to the advisors and the enthusiasm that they have themselves for their job,” she says. “And I myself am very enthusiastic in my classroom and in my school.”

She describes herself as “a real project person” who, through SkillsUSA, loves to see students get involved in the community and grow from the experience. In one project, they help mentally challenged children. “It may be reading to them. It may be doing their hair, because I’m a cosmetology teacher, and teaching them how to do certain things to better themselves, teaching them communications skills.”

Another project is sending letters and packages to the soldiers in Iraq. “Their involvement in that really impressed me, the way they changed,” she says. “Everything went from ‘me, me, me’ and the prom to ‘Ms. Clement, when are we gonna write our letters again?’ ”

She involves students in what they do best. The quiet ones write the letters, and the “drama queens” are in front of the camera, in videos to the soldiers or to promote enrollment at the school.

“I love to take pictures at the beginning of the year,” Clement says. “Then at the end of the year, we have this bulletin board that’s kind of ‘before and after.’ And the students look at themselves and go, ‘Did I really look like that when I came here?’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah, but you looked fine; you’ve just gotten a little older.’ But you know, just watching them change in that one year and then maybe in the second year, that motivates me. …

“My two children are grown, and you know, these are my kids. I love to see them, I love to see them achieve, and I love to spend time with them.”

As SkillsUSA’s national conference approaches, local businesses call and offer to pay for the plane tickets. The chapter’s activities are well known, “because when they come back, kids will spread the word better than I will,” Clement says. “They will go back to their home schools and they will be the first ones to say, ‘You need to go to the tech school. You have got to go, and they go on this trip …’ They talk about fun stuff, but then they come back years later, maybe five years later or 10 years later too, and they say, ‘I promise you it’s gonna be the highlight of my life, going to states, going to nationals, learning all the things that we did.”

Some come back in the summer, soon after graduation, she adds. “And I’m like, ‘What are ya’ll doing here? You’re supposed to be at the pool!’ …

“They’re just so eager to give back, and I really think it’s because my passion is there for them and they know it. And if everybody just put into their job in the classroom, or maybe their chapters, a little more enthusiasm, a little more fun, they’re gonna love it.” End of story

Region 1 Advisor of the Year John Fernandez, a printing instructor at L.A. Wilson Technological Center in Huntington, N.Y., began his career with SkillsUSA as a student member 31 years ago. “I’m a product of it; I believe in it 100 percent,” he says. He won a medal back then in Printing and now empathizes with his student contestants today.

“Just to see them in the competition and the joy that they have, that’s the bottom line,” he explains.

Fernandez , a SkillsUSA advisor for 16 years, uses the Professional Development Program and also manages his state’s officer team. During his career, he’s survived “tremendous” funding cuts and kept up a positive image for career and technical education. Outside the organization, he’s a volunteer firefighter and once delivered a baby in the hallway of his school. He’s a father of five himself.

“Everything I’ve done is for the kids,” he says. “It’s not for me, it’s not for the advisors, it’s not for my ego. It’s for them.”

Region 3 Advisor of the Year Tina Hummel, a drafting instructor at Licking County Joint Vocational School in Newark, Ohio, is starting her sixth year as a SkillsUSA advisor, but her involvement goes back much further. Hummel was a student member and medalist, which “really started me in that direction and gave me the focus that I needed,” she says.

Today, Hummel provides that focus to SkillsUSA members as a mentor and gets a lot back in return. “Students, always, they motivate me,” she explains. “There hasn’t been a day yet when I haven’t found motivation … because you can watch students, what they go through, either in competition or every day.”

Hummel has strong industry and professional development committees at her school. “We need to embrace change,” she says. “We need industry to help us focus and to promote what they’re looking for in their employees,” as well as lobby state officials for support of career and technical programs.

Region 4 Advisor of the Year Anthony Woodside, a collision repair instructor at South Technical High School in Sunset Hills, Mo., says he’s dedicated his life to SkillsUSA since becoming an advisor 14 years ago. “My wife and I don’t have any kids, so I have a large extended family.” An admitted perfectionist, Woodside—who started teaching after more than 25 years of working in his field—runs a highly respected program in a school district largely known for having special-needs students.

“I really think if you want to do something, you ought to do it right, do it correctly, or at least to the best of your ability,” he notes. “But if you’re doing the best you can, then you’ve done a good job. There’s no reason why you can’t get better at it if you do the best you can.”

It helps to have an active advisory committee of industry people, parents and graduates. Woodside also stresses community service, including activities to combat street racing.

Region 5 Advisor of the Year Jim Burke, a computer-assisted drafting instructor at Reno, Nev., Regional Technical Institute, has been a SkillsUSA advisor for 14 years. His students have achieved Top 10 ranking every year they’ve competed in the SkillsUSA Championships, including his son, who won a gold medal. But Burke says achievement as an advisor doesn’t begin and end at the national conference. It begins at home.

“To me, that’s where I excel, at my home base,” he explains. “It gives me an opportunity to give something back to the community.” And the best reward is having a student who “gives back not only in the classroom but out in the community, and the fact that I instilled the idea of getting involved in the community, some part of it.”

By both of his sons being in SkillsUSA, “it’s done so much for my immediate family,” he adds. “But then there’s all my other children [his students], and if you count them, they’re in the hundreds.”

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SkillsUSA Champions | Fall 2003 | Volume 38, No. 1
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