Ask Tim

CSI: Champion Success Investigation (Pt. 1)

In our fifth annual Insider's Guide to the SkillsUSA Championships, contest authorities and seasoned competitors offer up their own personal clues to winning.

For more secrets from students and teachers who've had repeated success, click here for the second part of this feature.



Knowledge of building material sizes, shapes, and other properties is critical. Knowing your computer equipment and how it operates is very critical for successful completion of the contest.

The following questions form a "checklist" of skills that are not a part of the contest, but are necessary if there are equipment issues, plotter problems or software problems:

  • Do you have access to the computer (administrator access) so programs or printer drivers can be loaded?

  • Do you know if your "autosave" is on and where the files are being stored?

  • Do you know how to modify your plotting configurations making them different than those used in the classroom?

  • Since winning at your state level, have you removed the computer from its normal location and hooked it up at another site without any networking access?

  • Do you have a thumb drive, flash drive, or any device other than a 3 1/2-inch disk to move your files to the plotting station?

  • Have you ever plotted to a file?

  • Do you know how to create an Adobe PDF file and print it so the drawing scale is maintained?

  • Is your software provider providing technical support at SkillsUSA for you?

  • Do you know how to set your drawing and plotting configurations to black ink? The plotters are not loaded with colored ink and if the plot is not configured properly, the plotter may waste a long time searching for a color of ink that is not on the plotter.

 The contest includes a written test. Questions for this test are in the basic language of architecture. CAD and computer questions are not on the test.

 A free-hand sketch is required as a component of the contest. Students should have some basic skills in this form of written communication. The judges have no problem identifying the sketches that were prepared with the aid of a straight edge. You are required to bring your equipment with you.

The students have a requirement to set up their equipment the day before the contest. Advisors and teachers are welcome to assist in the setup. The technical committee, the education team and industry software experts assist in troubleshooting so your contest runs smoothly.

—Tom Bendorf, Laughlin Millea Hillman Architecture LLC


We are putting together another challenging contest for 2007. Basic Health Care Skills will continue to stress the fundamentals. Contestants who possess the best all around knowledge of the health sciences combined with solid math and communication skills will not only be ready for the national contest, but they will be well tooled to enter today's job market. The contest stations will continue to have anatomy & physiology, patient safety, culture diversity, nutrition, basic life support, and first aid.

—Terry Beasley, advisor, Hillyard Technical Center, St. Joseph, Mo.


I would train in all cleaning areas of building maintenance and pay close attention to the areas outlined in the Technical Standards. No changes in the next Technical Standards, but I plan on updating the individual contest areas.

—Marvin Miller, Findlay City Schools, Ohio


The teachers for the Cabinetmaking competition do a great job preparing their students for the SkillsUSA national competition. Currently, each student must turn in a résumé at their orientation meetings. They do not receive any extra points for this, but they will have points taken away if they do not turn it in.

 I do look at these résumés. Many of the students turn in very polished résumés that they could give to potential employers, but many obviously do not know how to put together a proper résumé. I would suggest that if all students have to turn in a résumé, that they create one that could also double as a great tool to gain future employment. I would hope that the teachers would guide them in this process, but if that is not an option, there are great websites that help one to write a good résumé.

—Jennifer Goff, Black & Decker (U.S.) Inc.


First, I would focus on reviewing the National Association of Parliamentarians practice exams to prepare for the written test. Although the written test is only used in the preliminary rounds, historically groups that score higher on the exam do much better in the presentation as well. So, study the exams. The higher your test score, the higher you place.

Then I would practice going through the agenda and getting it down pat. Practice each of the possible motions to demonstrate variety and ability for the judges.

In the next revision, we will be looking at a couple of things. One, we will still provide a time to prepare, but it won't be 24 hours, more like 15-30 minutes. We will also put in one or two random motions required by the tech committee to be performed.

—Mark Johnson, Pittsburg State University


I would have then focus on "file building" and "file processing." This will be new to the contest along with the normal building of screens to input data.

—Ken Morganstern, North County Technical High School, Missouri


Train following the updated score sheet. It should be posted (on SkillsUSA’s website) by now. Focus on procedure and the proper collection of evidence.

I was a crime scene investigator for the Conroe Police Department, and in 1994 I started training the Conroe High criminal justice students for contests. I truly realized the importance of the program when a few years later the students I trained became some of the best officers in the Conroe Police Department.

—Jimmy Chilcutt, retired investigator and consultant, Texas


As in all the automotive and truck industry areas, the need for electronic or electricity training is essential. The basic use of a DVOM is a tool that students need to have. The days of the test light are fading fast.

The instructions are the key to completing the tasks that are assigned during the contest. As in the past, the requirements for knowledge of electronics is ever present as well as computer skills. How to work with diagnostic software no matter who or what it is applied to, normally component repair through diagnostic software.

—Sam Turner, ArvinMeritor Inc.


This year, competitors should focus on logical troubleshooting of video, audio and servo circuits. I would also emphasize digital and microprocessor circuits.

 New additions for the next printing of the technical standards will include designing and installing home theater systems.

—Don Hatton, Hatton Enterprises


The Electronics Technology competition is based on the premise that today's technician must be well rounded in basic electronics knowledge; be able to use basic test equipment; be able to perform basic soldering tasks; and be able to read and interpret schematic diagrams. If I were preparing an individual to compete at SkillsUSA Championships 2007, I would focus on five areas, which include:

  1. Electronic Knowledge — basic theoretical knowledge of DC, AC and Digital

  2. Test Equipment — use a multimeter and oscilloscope

  3. Troubleshooting — recognize faults and determine logical resolutions

  4. Soldering — strip, tin, solder, and desolder basic components

  5. Read Schematics — construct a circuit by following procedures and using schematics

Electronics technology is evolving very quickly in the workplace and is evident by the consumer items that we all purchase. However, the technology of electronics or basic science of electronics hasn't changed at all.

The electronic principles from 1950 are the same principles that exist in 2007. The biggest change has come through the integration of electronics as TV, computers and telephones become one.

In the past, a technician might specialize in one field or another, but in 2007 the lines are very gray that separate one discipline from another. Understanding basic principles and knowing how they interact with each other is the best way to prepare a technician for a future in the world of electronics technology.

—Wayne Hawley, U.S. Postal Service


With the track record of results from previous years, an important area for competitors to focus on would be an understanding of production planning as covered in the graphic communications contest. This is a critical part of the contest.

A second area, and this is evolving, is preflight. Develop an understanding of creating the files that are going to rip to a proofer, imagesetter, platemaker or press. Preflight implies an understanding and the application of some kind of checklist before the files will fly to the devices mentioned earlier.

In the next technical standards. we will be visiting with the committee and will probably enhance the digital workflow of the contest. This was changed in 2006 and will continue to need tweaking.

—Jesus Rodriguez, Pittsburg State University


If I were training my students for this contest I would have them focus on (as the Web page indicates):

  • Detailed outline of content that is aligned to the National Health Care Core Standards: Academic Foundations (human structure and function & diseases and disorder, and common abbreviations & medical terminology), Communication, Systems, Employability Skills, Legal Responsibilities, Ethics, Safety Practices, Teamwork, and Health Maintenance Practices.

  • Text:
    Secondary: Use Diversified Health Occupation, 6th edition by Louise Simmers
    Post-Secondary (still working on a diverse resource to suggest for use as a study guide)

For new skills in the next edition of the technical standards, the team is exploring the possibility of using the NOCTI for the written portion of the contest.

—Sharon Galloway, Warwick Public Schools, Rhode Island


If I were preparing students for next year's industrial motor control contest, I would make sure they are familiar with everything covered in the technical standards, but most of all I would work with them to make sure they understand and can apply control logic, are familiar with how to use the National Electrical Code, and have studied past competition programs so they are aware of the various pieces of equipment/materials that have been used.

Too many times, I have found that instructors and students have their own focused and limited view of what industrial motor control is and have totally forgotten to address other aspects that we, in the industry, believe are important.

We are not currently thinking about adding a whole lot of new stuff to the contest. Students still have to learn and demonstrate that they know the basics.

—Bob Baird, Independent Electrical Contractors Inc.


Making a good first impression with the interviewers.

No spelling mistakes on résumé.

Telephone numbers have area codes.

Mailing addresses have ZIP codes.

—Mitchell Slemp, Mid-America Technology Center, Oklahoma


The first thing is to study the rules and the score sheet extensively before starting Job Skill Demonstration A or B. Basically, each contestant will need to (a) tell the judges and spectators what they plan to demonstrate (Introduction), (b) demonstrate skill and finally (c) tell the judges what they just did in their demonstration. Practice to stay within the time requirements in setting up for the contest and performing the demonstration.

—Sam Williams, Lamar Institute of Technology


If we have seen a consistent "problem" in past competitions it is that the participants do not fully utilize the provided technical materials and manuals to their fullest potential. Following the procedures in the service materials will guide them through the process in a logical, step-by-step manner to quickly and correctly diagnose the problem and complete the repair. This process helps to assure that the problem/repair will be "fixed right the first time" and guarantee a higher level of customer satisfaction.

The marine industry trend is moving toward more four-stroke and less two-stroke technology. We are also seeing the "average" engine horsepower increasing pretty dramatically. The technology is increasing in leaps and bounds. Digital electronic fuel injection, fly-by wire control technology, serial buss instrumentation, NMEA 2000 (National Marine Electrical Association) CAN network control standards and new material technologies are changing our products every year. Our technical committee will meet this June to discuss changes for 2007/2008 at that time.

—John Eaton, American Suzuki Motor Corp.


Reading and comprehension of the workstation needs to be focused on. I have witnessed that many times the student will assume what is to be done, when in fact the directions for the workstation are very clear on what to do. Try to avoid the "monkey see, monkey do" scenario. It is humorous and frustrating at the same time to watch one student take off on the wrong tangent at a workstation and another student will follow right along.

Study all areas of the motorcycle: the chassis, powertrain, drive line, electrical, fuel and ignition systems are all equally important. Our industry partners do, however, express a desire to have students well versed in electrical diagnostics.

—Michael O'Neil, UTI Corp.


Focus on the small details ... like finishing work, neatness, etc. Sometimes it is the little things that can make the biggest difference.

In the future, with the increase popularity in natural nail services, we hope to place more emphasis on these services.

—Teresa Lewis, OPI Products Inc.


Competitors should focus on the following:

  • Enthusiasm

  • Pronunciation and enunciation of words

  • Know where the commas and periods are in the pledges

  • Inflection of lines

  • When it says "in unison," everyone must start every word together

  • Not making any noises that would distract from the performance like a stomp on the floor to indicate to the team to turn

  • Talk slowly and distinctly

  • Be sure that the emblem handling does not take away from the performance — keep it simple!

  • Do not cover your face with the emblem piece

  • Eyes talk as much as your mouth, so keep your hair out of your eyes

  • Wear SkillsUSA clothing that fits and is appropriate for a business meeting

  • Look at the speaker; this is common courtesy

  • Have natural and normal movements that flow

  • Each student should understand what his or her part is all about so you can convince the audience what you are saying is true.

  • Have all coordinated activities be synchronized

—Lisa Romeiser, Eastern Monroe Career Center


I would recommend students focus in on the new digital technology that has revolutionized this industry. So, both digital capture and image processing using Adobe Photoshop is key to the national competition.

The Photography contest has seen major updates over the last three years. During the 2006 debriefing, I informed the gathering that we would "stay the course" for the 2007 contest and not make any major revisions.

—Bill Chenaille, Center for Digital Imaging Arts, Boston University


Students need to think and work independently using a common sense approach. Also, they should be aware that there may be a considerable difference in the equipment available at the contest site.

Concerning the future contest, we may want to look into basic EDM using RAM or wire EDM, but it would take a considerable effort due to the many variables involved.

—Paul Huber, Industrial Precision Components Corp.


I would have the students study the fundamentals first. Without an understanding of the basics, it is much more difficult to apply a logical sequence and follow-through process.

There is not a lot of new technology, just enhancements on what has already been developed. I would like to see the application of computer skills taught as more and more information is on computer based systems: especially parts look-up programs.

—Dave Worden, Kohler Co.


For the Prepared Speech contest, I would focus on giving the speech to enough audiences so the student could present their speech in a natural and relaxed manner. No new skills will be added to the revised standards, but we will eliminate the use of the note card.

—Craig Haugsness, Kansas State Department of Education


Students often fail to teach the topic they have been assigned, or they teach every topic they can think of using the particular material. A student may be assigned a topic area such as social studies. The student would need to present ideas for teaching an element of social studies including basic information and higher level thinking questions.

—Loxie Stock, Kansas City (Mo.) Public Schools, Head Start


If I were training a student for next year’s Principles of Technology contest, I would concentrate on two things:

  • First, I would have the students practice their presentation until they knew it forward, backward and sideways. How well the students present  their material really determines the winners at the championships.

  • Second, I would make certain that their presentation and technical paper talked about, not just the principle being demonstrated, but also the physics equations related to the principle. One of the most common comments at each year’s championships is, "Where's the math?" Normally, competitors whose papers and presentations are lacking in this area do not make it past the preliminary rounds.

The changes we proposed for next years contest revisions were simplification of contest scoring with more emphasis on the presentation and less on the technical paper. We also recommended revision of the contest eligibility rules due to changes in the name of the Principles of Technology course series to which the contest is related.

—Scott Watson, Granite School District, Utah


If I were training a student for the next Radio (Audio) Production competition, I would focus on the ability to follow directions.

The new skills for the next revision of the standards would be:

  • Critical thinking when it comes to directions

  • The use of controls on a mixing board

  • Vocabulary use and definition

—Mark Szczerba, Kent School District, Washington


To prepare for next year’s Telecommunications Cabling contest, I would make sure the students practiced the hands-on skills for this trade. Being able to properly strip cable and connectorize the cable using telecom safety practices will help to make this portion of the contest more familiar to them.

Our revision of the technical standards will include adding some fiber optics technology along with customer care awareness.

—Teresa Maher, ETA International


The quality of what we saw in our competition (last year) was quite good; however, we found many issues where simple instructions were not followed.

—John Fallon, Films Media Group


I would make sure they had good training in the basic welding skills and a good knowledge of drawings and welding symbols. For the next revision, use of the new technology in welding power supplies. (i.e., variable hertz GTAW power supplies, more use of pulse power supplies).

—Gene Hornberger, retired, Welding Consultant LLC

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SkillsUSA Champions | Winter 2007 | Volume 41, No. 2
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