By Tim Leeds
Students from the area and from around the state descended on Montana State University-Northern yesterday for the start of the 30th Annual SkillsUSA-VICA State Leadership and Skills conference.
Students from 25 high schools will compete in different categories of skills and leadership competitions, and Northern students on competing on the post-secondary level. The winners of the some of the competitions will qualify to compete at the national conference in Kansas City, Mo., June 25-29.
More than 300 students are entered in the competition. There are 31 skills and leadership contests listed on the secondary level, with six listed on the postsecondary level.
Lynn Stilger, coordinator of the event at Northern, said that typically, any high school with a VICA program and advisor prepares for and comes to the event to participate. He said there is some new participation this year, with two high school students entered in diesel competition, possible for the first time. Stilger said there are some instructors out there doing work with diesel technology on the high school level.
"I hope we can encourage some more high schools to get involved in diesel," he said. "That's really good for us."
Stilger said Northern is offering a $500 scholarship to all of the gold medal winners at the conference. The Helena COT is offering 16 scholarships and Dawson college is offering two.
"They're good students, you know, and show some leadership qualities and do some extra things," Stilger said. "If you can attract them its a good thing."
Stilger said there are some instructors and students from the Helena COT helping with the conference, as they did last year. The Helena students are not competing yet, but Stilger said they plan to compete next year.
State SkillsUSA-VICA Director Don Michalsky said that there is a lot of support for the conference. Northern, the Helena College of Technology and Dawson Community College are all offering scholarships as prizes for the conference, and businesses are also offering prizes.
Stilger said there are many businesses helping out with the conference itself, too. The conference has a history of businesses sending staff to help and loaning or donating equipment to be used during the competitions. Automotive Service Technology Travel Scholarships, Snap-on® tools and toolboxes, prizes from Miller welding and DeWalt® High Performance Industrial Tools are all listed under major industry sponsorships for the event.
The conference began Sunday, April 8, with the state officers coming on-campus and setting up. On-site registration started at 8 a.m. Monday, with the first competitions beginning at 1 p.m. The last contest, finals for the Job Skill Demonstration Contest, begins at 7:30 a.m. tomorrow. The awards assembly for this year's conference begins at 10 a.m. in the university gymnasium.
Stilger said they began work setting up the conference about the first of the year, but have actually done most of the final work in the last two or three weeks. He said he has been coordinating the preparations for the actual competitions on campus, while Michalsky, working out of the Office of Public Instruction, handles the high school end.
Stilger said each competition has its own chairman, and part of his job is to make sure the chairs are in place, working with them to solve problems, set up contest locations, resolving scheduling conflicts and so on.
"Just a lot of little details," he said.