Laura Gouillon

One thing Laura Gouillon could never be accused of is misrepresenting herself. When she ran for SkillsUSA national office in 2013, her campaign posters championed “Laura the Explorer.” Spend some time speaking with her, and it’s clear that description comes with a lifetime warranty for accuracy.

“What am I interested in?” the college junior, 21, asks rhetorically. “The intersection of technology, culture and design.”

A computer science major at the University of Southern California, Gouillon has already completed internships at Autodesk, Microsoft and a music industry startup called Stem Disintermedia. She sets sail for a new adventure this summer: a TPM (technical program management) internship at Facebook.

Gouillon’s also the creator of an award-winning virtual reality app, a writer/director of short films, even a mean piano player. That list isn’t designed to impress (although it does); it’s rather an honest expression of a seemingly inexhaustible hunger for exploration and its natural by-product: discovery.

Gouillon discovered SkillsUSA while at Petaluma (Calif.) High School, where she signed up for her first drafting class. The hands-on learning environment provided by instructor and advisor Chris Jones gave her an edge she’s come to appreciate.

“I see people in college in mechanical engineering, and they’re doing the exact same thing I was doing as a high-school freshman,” she explains. “That’s a big reason why SkillsUSA and career and technical education courses are so successful and essential.”

Encouraged by Jones to run for regional then state SkillsUSA office, Gouillon honed what’s become another crucial skill in her arsenal: public speaking. “Once you’re a good public speaker, you’re a good convincer, very good at summarizing points and pitching ideas,” she says.

As a national officer, Gouillon’s SkillsUSA involvement was further vindicated by an acceptance letter from Harvard University. It cited “the leadership skills you demonstrated through your national office” as the key factor in the decision. However, Gouillon says a full scholarship — and the promise of an elite multidisciplinary education in engineering and film — from USC was an offer she “couldn’t pass up.”

Looking back, she’s also glad she didn’t pass on SkillsUSA.

“Some of the biggest takeaways are teamwork, public speaking,” this explorer reflects, “but more importantly, the confidence to know who you are. I’ve learned a lot, but I’m also very honored to have the opportunity to learn even more.”