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Giving Students a Chance
To Change Their Lives

Many people helped SkillsUSA break its national membership record, but one state’s decision — opening the door to 11,000 postsecondary students — put the organization over the top.

Listen to James King speak, and if you’re not convinced that SkillsUSA and college/postsecondary education go hand-in-hand, then you’re not listening.

King knows student organizations make a difference — from personal experience.

“I grew up poor. I grew up on a farm. And, if it had not been for National FFA and 4-H and my going to events on university campuses and attending state and national conferences, I probably would never have gotten off the farm,” says the Tennessee native. “The leadership skills that I developed through student organizations made my life.”

King was a vocational agriculture instructor from 1978 until 1982, when he began a career in administration. Under his leadership as director, enrollments increased significantly at each of the postsecondary technology centers in Crump, Jackson and Memphis. In 1999, King became vice chancellor of the state’s system of technology centers, which are governed by a board of regents.

Overseeing 27 centers, he conceived a postsecondary SkillsUSA concept that’s helped attendance grow systemwide. It started to come together when he was asked to judge a SkillsUSA regional competition. King says he was so impressed by these Job Interview contestants — the state’s top high school students in career and technical education — he couldn’t comprehend why campuses and technical colleges wouldn’t want them. “As I was mulling over this, I thought, ‘Why don’t we give scholarships to the state winners?’”

King now believes the Tennessee Technology Center system is the only one of its kind awarding full scholarships to all state SkillsUSA Championships winners. More than $2 million worth have been awarded, he says, and recipients can choose which technology center they want to attend. Aside from the state champions, all regional winners get the equivalent of a one-year scholarship; in shorter programs, that can translate into a full scholarship.

“The scholarship concept laid the groundwork for more SkillsUSA students coming into our postsecondary schools,” he adds. “I fostered interest in getting the postsecondary students involved, and we started competing at the regional and state level, and now the program has grown. So last year, we made a commitment to give every student the opportunity to be a SkillsUSA member at no cost to the student. We are funding every student in our system, which is now over 11,000.

“The key to it all is that student organizations changed my life, and I want to give the opportunity to all students, so they can change their lives.”

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SkillsUSA Champions | Fall 2008 | Volume 43, No. 1
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