SPRINGFIELD - A group of 20 Rend Lake College students showcased their skills in the Illinois State SkillsUSA Competition, April 17-19, in Springfield.
Sarah Lee of Mt.Vernon, Derek Martin of Orchardville and Kati Johnson of Norris City won first, second, and third place, respectively, for Advertising Design.
Michael Mosler of Mt.Vernon, Zachary Collins of Dahlgren and Cory Dixon of Pinckneyville placed first, second, and third, respectively, in Architectural Drafting (CAD).
Josh Curry of Benton won first place in Criminal Justice. Amanda Mack and Max Williams, both of Mt. Vernon, tied for second place in 3D Animation and Visualization. Robert Kane of Mt. Vernon won second place in Welding. Other RLC students participated in the contest for Automotive Service and Diesel Equipment Technology.
First-place finishers Curry, Mosler and Lee – along with Mack and Williams – will compete at the National SkillsUSA, June 23-28, in Kansas City, Mo.
This year marked the first time students from four-year universities like the University of Illinois, Illinois State University and Western Illinois University competed at the state level. The SkillsUSA event was featured on the 8:30 a.m., segment of NBC’s The Today Show on April 21.
According to RLC Architectural Technology Professor Kevin Weston, students from four-year universities did not compete in the architectural component, but did in the technical component. Kevin Kirsch operated the technical component and had students from U of I and Illinois State competing. RLC did not have anyone competing on the technical side. Weston said an influx of four-year students into the architecture portion next year will make competition fierce.
“We’ve been competing at the national level against four-year institutions for several years,” he explained. “We’ve competed with students from Oregon and Washington, Utah, several universities in the western states. This year, Illinois is starting to get the four years in there too.
“One thing is for sure,” Weston added. “Every kid in Kansas City is the best of the best. They had to win first place in their state and that is why they are there.”
SkillsUSA is a national organization with chapters in all 50 states plus the Virgin Islands and Guam. Students join the chapter at their college first, then take a written qualification exam, and the state chooses how many will move on to the state competition.
Weston, 51, of West Frankfort coordinates the architectural part of the Illinois SkillsUSA each year. As a component director, he is responsible for bringing in judges, developing the problems contestants will try to solve and presenting a briefing ceremony the night before to tell students what is about to happen and answer any questions.
He started SkillsUSA on the RLC campus in March of 2001 and has headed it ever since. He also serves as the Regional Director of the Illinois Drafting Educators Association – a position he filled more than 16 years ago. In that role, he is responsible for competitions at 20 sites – everything from arranging for lunch and selecting judges to preparing testing packets and reporting the results to state officials. The Regional IDEA competition at RLC awards scholarships to the top finishers in architecture CAD and architecture board. This year, two students from Mt. Vernon Township High School advanced and finished first and third at the statewide competition.
Weston sees SkillsUSA as a chance for his students to show what they’ve got while experiencing life outside of their hometowns.
“It provides students an opportunity to compete in their chosen career area and show how good their skills are,” he said. “Some of the students have never been out of Southern Illinois. ... It is a very good experience for them. Those who get to go to Kansas City will get to meet kids from four or five different states who are staying at our hotel.”
While in Springfield, some students toured a number of historic facilities and captured much of the culture the State Capitol has to offer.
He said although mainly architecture students join the RLC chapter, it is open to students of other fields, such as nursing, carpentry, industrial electronics, wireless communications technology, cosmetology and culinary arts. Food for thought?
Weston is hoping RLC’s recruiter, Jason Swann, will be able to go and set up a booth at the event.
“Ten-thousand to 13,000 high school and college students and advisors will be in Kansas City for the competition,” Weston said. “We’ve got a captive audience. There are a lot of other colleges that set up booths there.”
In addition to educators, leading manufacturers have representatives there to show support and scout for potential employees, he added.
Weston said he sees himself continuing with SkillsUSA up until he retires from teaching.
“It’s amazing, some of the people who have done SkillsUSA at the state level and are still doing it,” he said. “I’ve got some friends that I have met over the years, like the national competition director who is an instructor of an architecture technology program outside of Detroit. He is there every year. He’s hard to compete against. He’s hard to beat.”
A few years back, RLC had its best showing at the nationwide SkillsUSA when Ryan Reu took second in architectural technology CAD. RLC typically has students place seventh to about 14th or 15th, Weston explained.
“We hold our own,” he said.