Edvan Slick

Two weeks before Edvan Slick’s state championships, his father died. “The only thing that came to my mind was, ‘Why should I stop? I’m still young, and I’ve got quite a lot more years to learn. There’s no reason that I should just stop and not compete,’ ” says Slick, whose Navajo heritage — plus a love of carpentry and woodworking — helped him stay focused and determined.

“In all the years that I have been in teaching, I’ve had some great students come through my classes,” says his former instructor, Robert Nash of Monument Valley High School in Kayenta, Ariz. “Edvan was one of those students who wanted to learn, be a good student and be a good role model for others.

“When he came in as a freshmen, he didn’t know too much about carpentry or construction,” Nash adds. “His father worked as a construction worker most of the time, and his job took him away from home a lot.”

A resident of the Navajo Nation Reservation in Shonto, a 45-minute drive away, Slick often stayed after school to work on his carpentry skills. He also was on the football team, meaning he often wouldn’t get home until after 8 p.m. to take care of chores like chopping wood and checking on livestock. Then he’d have to get up around 4 in the morning to catch a bus back to school.

Having graduated in 2016, Slick now says SkillsUSA helped him with “learning other ways to do certain things and expanding my mind and experience, like learning from mistakes. It changed my life by giving me that confidence that I can learn if I fully apply myself.”

His instructor remembers Slick as being positive and motivated to do better. “He was also focused on what he wanted to do in school and in life,” Nash says.

“When Edvan’s father passed away, he dealt with it through his own traditional way of life. He knew he was now one of the persons his mom and siblings would depend on. I talked to him about life and what it means after someone close dies.

The person who no longer is with us expects everyone to move on. I think he understood that well.”

Soon afterward, Slick was competing in Carpentry at his state SkillsUSA event, where he caught the attention of Cindy Gutierrez, a program specialist at the Arizona Department of Education. “Watching him in the contest, he was focused and determined, and he had a high-quality product at the end,” she says.

To maintain that kind of focus, Slick points out, a contestant “can’t come in with an ‘I’m going to win’ mentality.

“I came to the competition knowing that this is a good learning experience. I’m still learning, and I’ve still got quite a few more years to go and learn. So the mentality when I first came to this competition was, ‘Just do what I know; do what I do best.’ ” Still, he won the gold medal and qualified for the national championships.

Homing in on his future

Slick planned to join the U.S. Marine Corps once he turned 18 in August, having qualified for its construction and engineering option. “I actually got denied because of a food allergy,” he laughs at the unexpected turn of events. So, Slick shifted his focus to a short distance from his family home.

“After graduating, I started to build my own house, learning the how-to’s and getting the hands-on,” he says. The work has been done “mostly by myself with my brother, and sometimes the help of some others for the hard labor. I actually laid the house out and framed everything.”

Once his house is finished, Slick adds, “I want to continue doing residential construction, because I love woodworking, and I still want to go to school, maybe for construction management.”

This love of learning carries over into his advice for the next round of SkillsUSA Championships competitors: “Expand your mind, and consider this a good learning experience. Even if you don’t win or if you place, you’re still at the national level, and you can still learn more.”