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CSI: Champion Success Investigation (Pt. 2)

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Find Inspiration Close to Home
Nick Johnson has won national gold medals in Automotive Service Technology for two years running. While studying automotive and diesel technology at Montana State University in Havre, he interned in the heavy equipment industry. “My training and familiarization with cars during the summer was very limited,” Johnson admits. So, how’d he win his string of medals, including four gold and one bronze in his state? Credit his father — “Without him, I would not have had the knowledge of the automotive industry that I do” — and instructors. His tip for competitors: “Keep cool and everything will be fine. Complete what you can, and don’t worry about the last station you just completed, because it’s over and there’s nothing you can do about it.” — by E. Thomas Hall

Take the Path Less Traveled

Attending different classes in Louisville, Ky., Brittaney Seidel, Laurie Stevens and Yehimy (pronounced Jamie) Gabriel, shown left to right, don’t mind being far outnumbered by male students. “Since I was little, I was always a ‘car-and-truck girl,’” Gabriel, a future auto designer, explains. “I never had Barbies.” Her auto service technology class allows her to learn about cars from the inside out. Stevens originally wanted to be an interior designer, but when classes weren’t available locally, she picked carpentry. “You have to know how to build a house before you can design it,” she says. Seidel, a welder, plans to continue her studies at a professional institute. All found the SkillsUSA national conference a natural stop on their career paths. — ETH

Remember, it's not just the Skills that Count

Troy Gilliam, who teaches welding and joining technology at East Central Technical College in Fitzgerald, Ga., knows a thing or three about competing at the SkillsUSA Championships. A 2003 contestant, Gilliam accompanied one of his students to the 2006 event. While he drew on more than 20 years of industry experience and worked diligently to help his student prepare, Gilliam also recommends that contestants pay strict attention to the official clothing requirements. They should behave in a professional manner. And, he adds, top-notch etiquette skills should become habits that contestants take with them for the rest of their lives. —by Ann P. Schreiber

Refuse to be Blown off Course

Steven Boomer, who placed sixth in Sheet Metal at the 2005 SkillsUSA Championships, was starting his senior year of high school when Hurricane Katrina devastated his hometown of Pass Christian, Miss. He moved in with relatives in Santa Barbara, Calif. Four months later, when his house was livable, Boomer returned with one goal in mind: to win his state contest and go to the nationals again, according to his instructor, Chevis Necaise (shown at right with Boomer) of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. “I wanted to come back. I wanted it bad,” Boomer says. He did just that, winning a national silver medal this time. —ETH

Trade Secrets Uncovered!

In four of the past five years, Washtenaw Community College in Ann Arbor, Mich., has won Welding gold at the SkillsUSA Championships.

At the state level, WCC has won nine times in 10 years. Even with the best facilities and dedicated, talented instructors, it takes a whole lot more to win this consistently. What’s their secret?

The secret is that there is no secret. These repeat winners have found a combination that, followed closely, gives the same results time after time and can be applied to any competition.

For WCC, the first step is getting into a position to recruit the best high school welders. “We host a regional open house for high school students, and now we have a statewide competition inviting each welding program to send us their best student,” says instructor Jake Holland (at left with his latest national gold medalist, Mo Farhat). “We offer a $5,000 scholarship to the winner and $1,000 and $500 scholarships for second and third place. This way, we can scout out the talent ahead of time.”

The next step is spotting potential champions among the incoming class. To do that, they look for certain traits:

  • Work ethic. How dedicated are the students to learning as much as they can about welding? Do they come to class? Do they show up to practice in the lab more than just at their scheduled class time?

  • Good grades. Students aren’t allowed to compete if they don’t maintain at least a B average. Mediocre students do not make national champions, WCC instructors say.

  • Skill set. Students can be taught how to weld, but champions come to the program with a natural ability. An innate talent for welding is the most important ingredient when making a champion, according to WCC.

  • Dedication. Commitment is huge. Instructors come in to work with future champions six days a week, above and beyond what their contracts stipulate. Students who want to compete are expected to do the same: They should be waiting at the lab door for the instructor to let them in.

Once the handful of students has been chosen, the rest is up to hard work and the knowledgeable and dedicated faculty. They advise training future champions separately, as each student brings something different to the mix and it’s unfair to pit one against the other, even in the lab.

These teachers also consider what SkillsUSA looks for. They’ve been taking students to SkillsUSA’s state and national competitions for decades. Knowing what impresses the judges helps to focus students on those tasks.

Finally, it’s no secret that practice is key. “We’re not looking for quantity, we’re looking for quality,” Holland says. “I’m not impressed with a student who can do 5,000 T-Fillets with mediocre welding. Once I find the quality I’m looking for, I make the student do it again and again until each time it is championship caliber. Perfection is the only thing that’s acceptable.”

The effort WCC instructors put into this program has paid off. Employers from around the state, even the nation, call them for students to hire.

“We’ve worked hard to make this the best program in the country, and we work harder every day to keep it that way,” Holland says.

—Contributed by Eleanor Shelton of WCC’s Office of Public Relations and Marketing Services

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