More than 300 SkillsUSA students, teachers and state leaders from 19 states traveled to Washington, D.C., this week to participate in the Washington Leadership Training Institute (WLTI) advocacy conference. Many WLTI attendees described the annual event as nothing short of “life changing.” Students learned to become effective leaders and gained a broader understanding of how government operates. Members then had the opportunity to share their SkillsUSA and career and technical education experiences with elected officials. They also explored the monuments and museums of D.C. and saw first-hand some of the inspiring history that helped shape the United States.
The group gathered on Saturday, Sept. 18, for a welcome dinner at the Hilton Alexandria Mark Center hotel. The national officer team kicked off the conference, which officially began with separate student and teacher training the next morning. At lunchtime on Sunday, students left their training sessions (called huddle groups) and joined advisors for a legislative panel discussion led by national high school president Ambuja Sharma of Georgia. The panel let students know what to expect on their virtual or in-person congressional visits and discussed how to make their visits effective. Speaking to the students were Nick Pennington, legislative assistant for Rep. Jim Lanvegin (D-RI); advocacy expert Caleb Wright, chief operating officer of Versant Strategies, Harrisburg, Pa.; and college student Brianna Vanderlaan, an alumni member who shared information gained from her previous WLTI advocacy visits.
Students spent Monday exploring D.C.’s incredible monuments and museums in smaller state groups, followed by a twilight bus tour highlighted with narration by the national officers.
On Tuesday, a CTE Kickoff to Congressional Visits was held to build excitement for the advocacy meetings. Sharing video messages to the SkillsUSA members were CTE Caucus chairs Rep. Jim Langevin, who represents Rhode Island’s 2nd congressional district, and Rep. Glenn “G.T.” Thompson, who serves the 15th district of Pennsylvania. The elected officials praised SkillsUSA students for their efforts and said there is no group of advocates more convincing than our future skilled workers, and no one better equipped to demonstrate the value of SkillsUSA than those whose lives have been changed by it. Speaking in-person at the kickoff was executive director Chelle Travis, and Rep. John Rose from Tennessee’s 6th congressional district joined the kickoff via Zoom. States then headed off to meet in small groups with their elected officials, and more than 35 visits were held virtually or in-person (state reports are still coming in). Delegations wrapped up the day with a trip to Arlington National Cemetery for a solemn wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns.
The four-day leadership conference for high school and college/postsecondary students was SkillsUSA’s first in-person national event since 2019. Sessions focused on three Essential Elements of the SkillsUSA Framework, including professionalism, communication and leadership. Work sessions included Advocacy in CTE, Preparing for Legislative Visits, CTE Hot Topics and Communicating Using the POWERR Formula.
As they received their national Statesmen Awards at the closing breakfast, students were challenged by SkillsUSA executive director Chelle Travis to take their new advocacy knowledge home and share it with other members in their states. Most important, students learned their voices matter, and that they have the power to change communities, states and the nation. The legacy WLTI conference has been held for more than 50 years — and the legacy continues.
For WLTI photos, go to: www.skillsusa.org/events-training/washington-leadership-training-institute/wlti-photos/.
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