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By Alex Ross 

Competitors at Northern for SkillsUSA state conference

 

April 11, 2018

Havre Daily News/Ryan Welch

Justin Ardoin, a junior from Great Falls High School, moves connecting wires around a test circuit board during the automotive service technology contest Tuesday on Montana State University-Northern's campus.

Students from high schools across Montana and two Universities are spending the first half of this week at Northern in the 47th Annual SkillsUSA State Leadership and Skills Conference, the 46th time Northern has hosted the event.

SkillsUSA is a career and technical service organization aimed at complementing technical skills training provided by high schools and colleges.

SkillsUSA state association director Cassie Huntley said that this year students from 32 schools and Montana State University-Northern and Montana State University Billings are at the conference.

Since 1972, the SkillsUSA's Montana chapter has held their state conference at Northern, Huntley said.

Contests this week included business procedure, photography, extemporaneous speaking, architectural drafting, carpentry, welding, job skills demonstrations, diesel equipment technology and a quiz bowl.

The three days of competitions then culminate in an awards ceremony, held this morning, where winners in each competition received a gold medal.

Winners in each category are then able to compete at the national level against students from chapters in the other 49 states and four U.S. territories at the national conference in Louisville, Kentucky, in June, she said,

Huntley added that she thinks of the state conference as the last qualifier before the Olympics, and it provides the students a chance to get exposure and showcase their skills.

Kassidy Geehan, a senior at Billings Career Center and first year SkillsUSA member, said since September when she decided to compete in the prepared speech category she has been practicing for it.

Monday she gave a seven-minute speech in front of three judges about what SkillsUSA has done for her.

She said that she would practice after school anywhere from 30 minuets to three hours. Geehan said that during the months before the competition, she would practice writing her speech, also maintaining eye contact, speaking clearly and how to present herself.

She said that the seven minutes went by quick.

"It really goes by quick because of that adrenaline rush," Geehan said.

At Billings Career Center she mostly takes medical classes, but SkillsUSA has also opened other career possibilities in welding, diesel technology and other areas, she said.

Throughout the week, 20 students were in a hands-on competition for automotive technology, seven college students from Northern and MSU Billings were also competing.

The competition consists of eight work stations based on the eight ASE areas of automotive technology including suspension, steering, breaks, electrical, manual transmissions and automatics.

Northern diesel and automotive technology Professor Kevin Ruby said activities include taking accurate measurements and using scan tools to diagnose a problem.

Students are judged based on how many correct answers they get on a station, he said. At the end of the contest, the person with the most points wins.

Contestants spend 10 minutes per station and they rotate to the next station.

Caden Hilliard, a junior from Great Falls who takes classes in automotive technology, competed in the automotive technology contest and is a first-year SkillsUSA member.

He said the competition was tougher than he thought.

"So far, I am having a lot of fun, learning some new stuff, too." Hilliard said.

He said the competition has given him the chance to work with transmissions, something he did not get to do before.

Ruby said the skills are those meant for professionals.

"These are basically your advanced-type skills, things that your normal person off the street would not necessarily be aware of," he said.

The national competition also provides rewards for champions, such as scholarships or $10,000 to $20,000 worth of tools.

He added that it also looks good on a resume.

Winning a competition requires more than just completing a task or successfully diagnosing a problem.

Contestants typically must document their project through photographs and writing, laying out what procedures they used, explaining the creative and technical decisions they made, how they reached their conclusion, a list of materials used and how much they cost, Huntley said.

She said the competition aims to prepare students to get a job in their technical area after they graduate from high school, attend a two-year community college or a four-year college.

SkillsUSA is also about giving competitors the soft skills needed that employers are currently seeking such as social skills and customer service skills, speaking clearly, punctuality and a strong work ethic, she said.

To compete in a given category, contestants must be registered and meet a host of guidelines, requirements, specifications and objectives.

"We are providing the future workforce," Huntley said.

She said the motto for this year's state conference is Job-Ready Day One.

The work force is in need of employees with technical skills, and those jobs pay well, she said.

The competitions are just part of what SkillsUSA offers.

Individual chapters throughout a given academic year work within the framework of career and technical education to meet the SkillsUSA goals, Huntley said. Other chapter activities include fundraising and community service projects.

Huntley said projects show students that their community is important, and they should give back.

Huntley said Northern's 46-year partnership with SkillsUSA benefits both.

Northern has the equipment and facilities to do the competition, and some of the competitors have already enrolled at Northern or could be drawn to Northern for the programs, she said.

Havre Daily News/Ryan Welch

Siera Gallagher, a junior at Bozeman High School, uses a welding torch during an intermediate welding contest Tuesday on Northern's campus. The contest, hosted by SkillsUSA Montana, was one of 24 that were going on that day.

"It's a recruitment tool for them to have us here," Huntley said.

Not all who are at the competition are competing in an event.

Some students, like Jeremiah Stinson, a freshman at Butte High School, had other duties. Stinson stood off to the side in the welding workshop, taking pictures of his chapter members working.

This year is his first as a SkillsUSA member. Stinson said he joined SkillsUSA because his older brother had been a member and encouraged him to join.  

"He thought it would help me with a lot of different activities and it would influence me to do different things, like step out of my comfort zone," Stinson said.

Stinson said he is interested in auto tech, but this year is at the competition to offer support to his chapter by taking pictures of their work and offering constructive critiques. The pictures will then be made into a slideshow.

 

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