Joshua Brunk

It’s not every day — or year, actually — that someone meets the requirements for SkillsUSA’s highest individual honor. Joshua Brunk is the latest to be awarded the International Degree, the pinnacle of the Professional Development Program.

Brunk’s achievement highlights 12 years of SkillsUSA involvement, from student member to state officer to chapter co-advisor. He also serves his state and national alumni associations.

“SkillsUSA is my life, and it’s been the best thing that’s ever happened to me,” says the Hershey, Pa., resident. After graduating from the Milton Hershey School, which serves low-income students, he now works there. With another job at the Hershey corporate visitors center, Brunk puts in around 60 hours per week.

To meet the degree requirements, he had to start on the documentation about two years ago. He submitted it to his state SkillsUSA association and the national headquarters — “I had to redo the paper several times, but it got done,” he says — and ended the process with an interview at the national conference in June.

In his presentation, Brunk drew on experience as a food service coordinator at Hershey’s Chocolate World. With a focus on safety and sanitation, “I made Hershey’s Chocolate Barbecue Chicken Pizza in front of the judges,” he says.

Later at the conference, Brunk received his degree before an audience of thousands and, in recognition of making significant strides in his profession and community, was also honored as outstanding SkillsUSA alumni member for 2014.

“Had you met me 12 years ago, I’d be hiding in the corner, not wanting to do anything,” he remembers. Before going to the residential boarding school, “I didn’t have a bad life, but I wasn’t able to do a lot of the activities and things back at home, and then also having different disabilities didn’t help me in other sports and stuff.

“I have cerebral palsy,” he points out. “I also have a mild to moderate hearing loss, and I am visually impaired in my right eye. Put all those three together, and some people would make fun of me growing up. But I used my experiences in SkillsUSA to let that just roll off my shoulders.” 

Advisor Michael DeAcosta “showed me what SkillsUSA could do, and I took full advantage of everything that it offered, from leadership to contests. I could be around other people who didn’t care what I was like. I was able to show that I was a leader in my field of study and in SkillsUSA, and that’s all that matters. 

“It’s amazing that people look at people with disabilities sometimes, that they can’t do anything. Well, I’m on the top of my world right now.”