Brittany Velez

Brittany Velez has already faced more than her fair share of uphill battles, so it’s good that she takes them in stride.

Whether it’s an Advanced Placement course workload, a technical program in dental assisting, or being captain of her school’s varsity basketball and soccer teams, the Fitchburg, Mass., student is always willing to do a little more.

“I like to take on challenges,” she says — something learned at a very early age.

Her Spanish-speaking family moved to Massachusetts from Puerto Rico when she was just 2 years old. While Velez says “coming and trying to integrate into the English language was very difficult,” she also had to overcome a learning disability. “I’m dyslexic,” she explains.

Finding it hard to grasp subjects, Velez was sent to special education classes throughout elementary and middle school. But “I didn’t really want to use that as an excuse as to why I’m not successful in the future,” she says. With a lot of hard work, the student was back in regular classes by her freshman year of high school.

“I wanted to do big things,” she explains. Not coincidentally, that was also the year she joined SkillsUSA at Montachusett Regional Vocational Technical School. Her older brother was a member, and Velez had heard his “great stories.” So she said, “OK, I really want to get involved.”

Velez jumped right into the mix, first as a voting delegate and later as SkillsUSA secretary for her school. Gaining confidence, she ran for state office and was elected SkillsUSA Massachusetts president during the 2012-13 school year.

Last June, Velez became a SkillsUSA national officer and now serves as the high school division’s secretary. That’s a long way to come for a self-described “special-ed kid who wasn’t smart.”

She describes the change this way: “Through the [SkillsUSA] experience … I’ve been able to do a 180-degree transformation.” Velez credits her chapter advisor, Anne Marie Cataldo, and state association director, Karen Ward, with helping shape her life by continuing to provide her with the encouragement she needs.

Now at the top of her senior class of more than 360 students, the aspiring oral surgeon might make it look easy, but schoolwork is still challenging for her. Good time management is a must.

“I have to try more when it comes easier to other people, but I don’t mind,” Velez says. “I’m not going to use any challenges that have found their way into my path as an excuse not to be successful.”

Her next goal? College. “I want to go to Harvard. That’s my dream. That’s why I’m working so hard to stand out from the rest of the crowd.”