Upcoming State Conference: Goodbye 2014-2015 Officers!

“A leader is someone who doesn’t just take charge by themselves and push over everyone else who doesn’t like their ideas. A true leader is someone who can let others help them take charge and let everyone participate in the events that are going on,” -Carley Moore

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SkillsUSA Indiana State Officers pose before their meeting with congressional leaders in Washington, D.C. From the left: Emily Stephenson, Jacob Weber, Olivia Huffman, Carley Moore

It’s been a successful year for the students who led SkillsUSA Indiana during the 2014-2015 school year, with accomplishments no other state officers from the Hoosier state have experienced yet. President Carley Moore, Secretary Olivia Huffman, Parliamentarian Jacob Weber, and Reporter Emily Stephenson will hand over their positions to the next group of state officers at the State Leadership and Skills Conference tomorrow.

“These four who followed through with all the ups and downs are truly the most awesome group of young people I’ve ever worked with,” said Lisa Firestone, SkillsUSA Indiana’s State Officer Advisor. “So much of what SkillsUSA stands for and empowers into each member has become part of these officers.”

All four of the state officers attended the 2014 Washington Leadership Training Institute (WLTI) in Washington, D.C. and made history for SkillsUSA Indiana. Moore, Huffman, Weber, and Stephenson were the first officers from Indiana to ever go. Before and during the trip, they completed various requirements to earn their SkillsUSA National Statesman Award and were the first team at WLTI to complete all requirements. These officers, plus Firestone, Baker, and SkillsUSA Indiana President Eric Cooper, met with the legislative aides of Senator Joe Donnelly, Senator Dan Coats, and Representative Jackie Walorksi on Capitol Hill to support the renewal of funding for career and technical education in the United States.

“WLTI was truly a week of humbling myself, especially seeing certain monuments and memorials. The congressional visits were almost surreal. I have never felt more proud to represent a cause in my entire life,” said Stephenson.

The 2014 National Leadership and Skills Conference in Kansas City, MO, was also an eye-opening experience. This was the first trip that the officers went on together. They helped put together the opening and closing dinners for participating members from Indiana. At the delegate sessions, they represented and voted on behalf of SkillsUSA Indiana.

“I loved nationals because it was so cool to be able to see everyone from all over the U.S. come together and be one team! It was amazing to be able to see everyone compete in what they are passionate about and put everything they have into it,” said Moore.

Huffman was also a huge fan of the national conference: “I loved being able to walk around all of the competitions and really be able to see all of the trade areas that SkillsUSA helps and how all of the students are passionate about their future careers.”

Being a state officer for SkillsUSA is has been a privilege and life-changing experience for these officers. From wearing the red blazer proudly to hosting events for large groups of people, these officers have been dedicated.

“Before I was a part of my SkillsUSA team I had low self-esteem and was very shy when it came to interacting with people,” said Weber. “I’ve never been a part of something huge before and I wish all schools would include this organization into their corporations.”

Said Huffman, “I just want to say thank you to my fellow teammates Emily, Carley, and Jacob for working as hard as you guys did. Thank you for staying as a team and thank you for helping make this year a successful one.”

The officers and some members of the SkillsUSA Indiana Board of Directors will travel to Indianapolis, IN, today to start setting up the conference. On Friday and Saturday, events included are an Opening and Closing Ceremony, leadership sessions for students and advisors, various student skills competitions, and more.

Kelley Baker, the Director of SkillsUSA Indiana, was a huge influence on the plans for this year’s state conference. Said Baker, “With so many changes this year and making strides to improve every year [I hope] that we are stepping in the right direction. That everyone involved and participating has an experience they won’t forget.”

Firestone, who has also put time and energy into the preparation, has positive expectations for this conference: “…I just have a vision of where I would like to see SkillsUSA Indiana moving towards and this is one BIG step that I am sure (and hope) will put us on our way.”

Each current officer has advice for the candidates who are selected to be on the 2015-2016 state officer team.

Jacob: “…follow through with your work and the goals SkillsUSA offers. Being apart of this can either be really fun or really hard depending on the effort you give.” 

Olivia: “My advice is to really submerge yourself into what SkillsUSA is and to learn as much as you can everyday but remember to have fun!”

Carley: “Make jokes out of the difficult times and brush it off when you fall down. You will ALWAYS have your other officers to pick you right back up and motivate you to try again!”

Emily: “Embrace every opportunity SkillsUSA gives you. Some things may seem unimportant or too difficult in the moment, but there is no doubt that your effort will pay off later.”

The SkillsUSA Indiana State Leadership and Skills Conference is April 10-11 at the Indianapolis Fairgrounds. Come out and see all that our students have to offer, including the Teamworks contest that is sponsored by a huge supporter of the conference- Lowe’s! We hope to see you there!

Note from the author:

Over the past year, I had the privilege to experience many exciting things as a state officer. Nationals and WLTI absolutely blew me away. I didn’t think there would be such a huge number of students who were as passionate about SkillsUSA and their trade area as myself. This organization has given me new-found confidence. I never imagined myself being inside the Senate and House buildings in our nation’s capitol, yet there I was in September sitting across the table from real congressional leaders. I also never imagined speaking well in front of large crowds, portraying myself in a professional way, flying by myself, meeting people from states and U.S. territories I have not even been to…The list goes on. I want to give a huge thanks to my fellow state officers, Kelley Baker, Lisa Firestone, and Eric Cooper. I couldn’t have asked for better people to share these experiences with. Another thank you goes out to all who have read my previous articles and these words right now. This is my final blog article. Writing has always been a love and talent of mine, so it is a great feeling to have so many people enjoy my work. I am a proud SkillsUSA member.

Signing off,

SkillsUSA Indiana Reporter Emily Stephenson

Champion of the Month: Craig Moore

“It’s one thing to visit a state, but it’s a whole different ball game to be inside a school in that state and see how the students and teachers make their programs better,” -Moore

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Craig Moore, a SkillsUSA “webmaster”, poses with his own camera at the national conference.

There is much to see through SkillsUSA- conferences, chapter meetings, competitions and more. Each event provides a great opportunity for SkillsUSA members to get involved. But what if these events weren’t advertised? How would the SkillsUSA community be impacted if no pictures were captured either? It takes a special team to cover the action.

Luckily there are dedicated and talented members among us in the Publication Department. Long-term SkillsUSA member Craig Moore is one of these “behind-the-scenes” individuals. Originally hired by VICA (now known as “SkillsUSA”), Moore has put in his fair share of time and energy.

“I actually started working here one week before the 1996 conference, if you can believe that,” said Moore. “Talk about a baptism by fire!”

For Moore, his SkillsUSA journey started off as a program manager for college/post-secondary programs. His job, over time, morphed to incorporate working on the SkillsUSA website, Champions magazine, and social media sites.

“You may also have heard my voice on some of our videos on YouTube and at our national conference,” stated Moore, who is clearly multi-talented.

From writing to photography to voice-recording, Moore can do it all. This so-called “webmaster” has spent much of his life in the Virginia and D.C. area. Moore graduated from Brigham Young University in 1990 for Advertising/Public Relations, which helped him score that first SkillsUSA job.

This June, Moore will be attending his 20th SkillsUSA National Leadership and Skills Conference. The Washington Leadership Training Institute, held annually in D.C., has also been a regular event for Moore. He has covered numerous director meetings, state conferences, and the Mid-America Conference once.

Moore’s passion remains strong. Traveling and forming new contacts from across the country has kept his profession lively and “never boring.” He has seen how others have greatly benefitted.

“You see so many people who have changed their own and other people’s lives thanks to their SkillsUSA involvement,” Moore observed. “SkillsUSA supplements the technical training a student receives and merges it with real-world work skills to make a well-rounded employee.”

What does the future hold for this technology master? Moore’s SkillsUSA journey is not quite over. After retiring from his current job, he plans on becoming a volunteer for the organization that has become a permanent part of his life.

“I think it’s important to stay involved. If you go to college, see about college/post-secondary membership at your college. If that’s not feasible, think about Alumni membership. We’re always looking for help at our national conference.”

SkillsUSA’s backbone is not only the students, but the staff who make all activities possible. The next time you look at conference pictures or read an article on the SkillsUSA website, keep in mind who may be behind the lens and computer screen. Champions like Moore often go without recognition.

“Not everyone can say they enjoy their job and really mean it. I’m lucky enough to be able to say it.”

Written by: Emily Stephenson, SkillsUSA Indiana Reporter

WLTI: Take Me Back to Washington D.C.

“…laying the wreath at The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was an out of this world experience.  I have never participated in such a moving and impactful ceremony before.” -Matt Carder, SkillsUSA National Officer 

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Matt Carder (left) and Ben Miller (middle) stand with a guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

It’s a September day in Washington D.C., with a clear sky overhead. The graves of fallen soldiers and veterans in Arlington Cemetery stretch on for miles. Over 400 people, all dressed in red, walk to the heart of this famous cemetery: the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, located on a hill overlooking our nation’s capitol. All gather around the tomb in complete silence; a feeling of respect is so strong that it’s almost palpable in the air. Two SkillsUSA members and a Guard of Honor walk in perfect unison towards the marble tomb. They proceed to assemble a new wreath, this one with “SkillsUSA” printed on its ribbon. Participating in this ceremony is an honor; it is a symbol of the sacrifice many have given for our freedom. In that moment, some of us cry, some are overwhelmed, and all are more proud than ever to call themselves SkillsUSA advocates and Americans.

What is the Washington Leadership Training Institute?

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SkillsUSA has a variety of events that students can participate in. Majority of the students involved in SkillsUSA focus on competitions. However, there are also leadership opportunities that are just as rewarding. The Washington Leadership Training Institute (WLTI) is one of those opportunities, held annually in Washington D.C.

WLTI has been a SkillsUSA tradition for many years. This year, it took place September 20-24. SkillsUSA students, advisors, and directors are all welcome to participate. The primary goal of WLTI is to build leadership skills that can be taken back to each person’s home state. WLTI consists of touring, leadership sessions, opening and closing ceremonies, congressional visits, and an opportunity to earn the SkillsUSA National Statesman Award.

SkillsUSA Indiana at WLTI

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From the left: Firestone, Weber, Baker, Moore, Huffman, Stephenson, and Cooper

Indiana was one of many states represented at WLTI. SkillsUSA Indiana had seven members attend WLTI: Kelley Baker (Director), Eric Cooper (Board President), Lisa Firestone (State Officer Advisor and Board Treasurer), Carley Moore (President), Olivia Huffman (Secretary), Jacob Weber (Parliamentarian), and Emily Stephenson (Reporter).

“I was so impressed that so many young people could impact the government and I hope that what we did at Capitol Hill made a lasting impression on these future leaders of America,” said Firestone.

This was the first time SkillsUSA Indiana has ever sent students to participate in WLTI. These four Indiana students earned their National Statesman Award and were the first team to complete all the requirements. In order to receive the award, they had to write an essay about Perkins funds, create a SkillsUSA brochure or poster and write short essays during WLTI. They were also checked off on SkillsUSA knowledge by the National Officers and interviewed.

Said Cooper, “My favorite part of WLTI was watching our state officers grow into a mature team.”

“I truly was so proud of our officer team and what they brought to the table.  Being our first year experiencing WLTI, we have not only exceeded all expectations I may have set but set the bar so high for our state officers to come,” said Baker.

From the left: Kelley Baker (Director), Olivia Huffman (Secretary), Tim Lawrence (SkillsUSA Executive Director), Carley Moore (President), Jacob Weber (Parliamentarian), Emily Stephenson (Reporter)
SkillsUSA Indiana State Officers and their Director, Kelley Baker, posed with SkillsUSA Executive Director Tim Lawrence. The officers had just been awarded their National Statesman Award. From the left: Baker, Huffman, Lawrence, Moore, Weber,  Stephenson 

Preparing for WLTI

The National Officer team understands the dedication it takes to host an event like WLTI. Their training began in July at the SkillsUSA National Headquarters in Virginia. They learned the skills of writing and presenting speeches and workshops. In between training and WLTI, plans were made.

“…we had to find a way to communicate how we were going to get the workshops done. Since a majority of our officers live all around the country, we use email and Facebook messaging to discuss the workshops,” said Alex Bruin, a SkillsUSA National Postsecondary Officer and Parliamentarian.

Upon arrival in D.C., the National Officers began the work they had spent months preparing for. They helped lead the Opening Ceremony and check off National Statesman Award requirements. Each night consisted of a team meeting. On Monday during WLTI, the day before congressional visits took place, leadership sessions were held for students. The National Officers facilitated those sessions.

“I had never spoken in front of more than 400 people in my life until the Opening Ceremony of WLTI.  I had also never led or delivered a workshop before WLTI, so that was a huge boost to my leadership skills,” said Ben Miller, a SkillsUSA High School National Officer and Region 2 Vice-President.

There is no doubt that WLTI needed the National Officer Team. Each of these officers contributed much time and energy into making this event a success. They even made the effort to be friendly and sociable every chance they got.

Said Miller, “I know that the National Officer Team wanted to show that even though we hold such a high position in SkillsUSA, we are still personable.”

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Arlington Cemetery in Arlington, VA, is home of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Arlington Cemetery in Arlington, VA, is home of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Several of the National Officers were granted special opportunities while at WLTI. Matt Carder, a SkillsUSA High School National Officer and Region 3 Vice-President, joined Miller to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. This famous memorial is located in Arlington Cemetery. Carder and Miller each submitted an essay, then were picked by SkillsUSA’s National Staff.

“As I was participating in the ceremony, I kept thinking about my grandfathers who were pilots in the Vietnam War, one of which was shot down. I also was thinking of my brother who has experienced loss during his time with the Army in Afghanistan last year,” explained Carder.

“I was holding back tears the whole time from the emotions that I was feeling. It was such an honor,” described Miller.

National Officers Matt Carder (left) and Ben Miller (right) pose with the SkillsUSA wreath before the ceremony.
National Officers Matt Carder (left) and Ben Miller (right) pose with the SkillsUSA wreath.

The Pentagon 

Bruin was also chosen by the SkillsUSA National Staff to participate in a unique ceremony. She spoke during the ceremony at the Pentagon Memorial. In order to be selected, she submitted a short essay.

“In my essay I wrote about how it would be the most honorable thing I would ever get to experience,” said Bruin.

This opportunity was particularly special to her. Bruin started out in SkillsUSA as a firefighting student. She also has a close family member who is a firefighter: her dad.

“9/11 is a day we hold near and dear to our hearts…My father works with men who lost family and friends that day,” said Bruin.

“When I walked up to the podium at the Pentagon I was immediately overwhelmed. It was a struggle to get through the short excerpt in front of me.”

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Bruin spoke during the Pentagon Ceremony, before WLTI participants entered the memorial.

Congressional Visits

WLTI participants traveled to Capitol Hill, where congressional visits took place. Since Congress was out of session during the week of WLTI, many members of Congress were not available to meet; however, some legislative assistants were available.

“We were there to talk to big leaders of America…and let our voices be heard. We really did achieve everything that we wanted to,” said Jacob Weber, a SkillsUSA Indiana State Officer and Parliamentarian.

The participants from SkillsUSA Indiana met with Nick Catino, legislative assistant of Senator Joe Donnelly; Stephen B. Davis, legislative director of Congresswoman Jackie Walorski; Mark Shultz, legislative correspondent of Congresswoman Jackie Walorski; and Sam Blevins, legislative assistant of Senator Dan Coats. Following their second meeting, they were given a private tour of the Capitol Building and the underground tunnels.

Huffman, SkillsUSA Indiana’s Secretary, was impressed by her team’s visits.

“Indiana’s congressional visits went extremely well and I am very proud at how our officer team did speaking on behalf of our organization…Visiting Capitol Hill was an amazing experience and showed me that everyone has a voice,” said Huffman.

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SkillsUSA Indiana participants at WLTI met with Representative Jackie Walorski’s legislative assistant and correspondent in her office.

Brooke Long, a SkillsUSA Ohio State Officer and Parliamentarian, met with aides who were familiar with “Perkins Funds.” These funds exist through the Carl D. Perkins Act and financially support career and technical education (CTE) and career and technical organizations (CTOs). This act needs to be renewed by Congress, or many CTOs and CTE as a whole will be in jeopardy.

“I got a lot out of visiting Capitol Hill, and it was especially nice hearing that renewing the Perkins grant and supporting CTE was a goal of all of theirs,” said Long.

SkillsUSA Idaho’s President, Cody Larios, was one of few SkillsUSA members that had the privilege of meeting with a Congress member. Larios visited Idaho Senator Mike Crapo in his office.

Larios exclaimed, “Senator Crapo said he was happy SkillsUSA Idaho was being led by me! Made me feel very accomplished and proud of myself!”

Idaho Senator Mike Crapo and Cody Larios
Left to right: Idaho Senator Mike Crapo, SkillsUSA Idaho President Cody Larios

The Impact of WLTI

WLTI is more than a trip to D.C. This event is primarily about promoting leadership and pride for America among SkillsUSA members.

Participants had the opportunity to win an award other than the National Statesman Award. This additional award was given to five students for creating outstanding promotional designs. Jordan Dossey, SkillsUSA New Mexico’s Secretary, was one of the winners. He had much praise to give WLTI.

“I really enjoyed conversing with others about what they do in their hometowns, what their competition is, why they joined SkillsUSA, and how SkillsUSA has made a difference in their lives,” said Dossey.

“Overall it was just a welcoming environment that pushed you to get out of your comfort zone and expand your horizons!”

Promotional Design Winners with Jordan Dossey
From the left: Alexis Pratts, Jordan Dossey, Emily Reynoso, Punya Mardhanan, Marcelo Francia

Moore, SkillsUSA Indiana’s President, also praised WLTI: “WLTI strengthened my leadership skills by teaching me that you become a better leader when you work together with everyone…”

Whether a monument, memorial, congressional visit, or leadership session was the most inspirational, each person who attended the Washington Leadership Training Institute was impacted. This special opportunity is a key part of the SkillsUSA organization.

Written by: Emily Stephenson, SkillsUSA Indiana Reporter

Champion of the Month: Tammy Brown, Olivia Weidner, Ramon Moreno

“SkillsUSA has been a big part of my life for over 32 years. I could not imagine life without it. I know so many people in Michigan and from across the country. I feel like we are one big family!” -Tammy Brown

From the left: Tammy Brown (SkillsUSA Michigan State Director), Olivia Weidner (SkillsUSA Michigan President), Ramon Moreno (SkillsUSA Michigan Vice-President)

Whether we realize it or not, inspirational people are all around us. Some are famous figures in society, such as political leaders or celebrities. Others may not be famous, but still play an important role. Examples of this type of discreet leader are several SkillsUSA Michigan members: Tammy Brown, Olivia Weidner, and Ramon Moreno.

These three individuals have proven themselves to be dedicated members of SkillsUSA. Each has unmistakable passion for this organization.

“Being involved in Skills has helped me develop better leadership skills and also has helped me to become more open to talking to new people,” said Weidner.

Weidner, currently a senior in high school, is the student president for SkillsUSA Michigan. This position involves overseeing the work of other state officers on her team and running meetings. In September of 2013, Weidner ran for a local officer position at a SkillsUSA pep rally and was elected. This year, she made the decision to run for her current state officer position.

Explained Weidner, “Being the President means a lot more than ‘being in charge.’ It actually means I need to set forth a good example to my team and, when making decisions, keep their well-being and options in mind.”


Along with being on the SkillsUSA Michigan team, Weidner is a second year Culinary Arts Tourism and Hospitality Management student. Through SkillsUSA, she has competed in the Job Skills Interview competition at the local level and the Team Banquet competition at the state level.

Moreno is also a Culinary Arts student, senior in high school, and member of SkillsUSA Michigan. He assumes the responsibility of president in Weidner’s absence and helps other officers on his team with their responsibilities when needed. He began his SkillsUSA involvement in 2013 when he was elected by his instructor to attend the SkillsUSA Michigan Fall Leadership Conference. He has competed in the Culinary Hot Side competition. Moreno ran for his current position on the Michigan team this year.

“I’ve always wanted to be a leader and inspire others to do great things. But what really pushed me even more (to run for state officer) was to fulfill my parents’ dream of their children doing great things,” said Moreno.


Both of these students have demonstrated career and leadership skills. So, who has helped them with their SkillsUSA journey so far? Brown, their SkillsUSA Michigan State Director, has influenced them greatly.

Brown has been involved in SkillsUSA for 32 years, since first joining in 1982. When she first started, SkillsUSA was still formerly known as VICA (Vocational Industrial Clubs of America) and she was a high school student in Advertising Design. During her senior year of high school, Brown began her first SkillsUSA leadership position.

Said Brown, “I was a state officer my senior year and have wanted this job (state director) ever since. I volunteered for 25 years before the former state director retired.  I then applied for the job and was hired in 2006.”

Currently, Brown is the head of SkillsUSA Michigan. She uses many years of experience to lead SkillsUSA Michigan. Weidner even labeled her as a mother-like figure. Brown feels the same appreciation for her officers.

“They are responsible, on top of things and go getters.  I am looking forward to working with them all year,” exclaimed Brown.

In September of this year, the SkillsUSA Washington LeadershipTraining Institute took place in Washington D.C. Weidner, Moreno, and Brown attended this week of touring and training together.

“Never in my life would I of thought I was going to Washington D.C. I have always seen the monuments on TV but never pictured myself being there,” said Moreno.

This was Moreno and Weidner’s first time attending this SkillsUSA event, also referred to as WLTI. Both students, another state officer from their team, and Brown were ecstatic to participate.

Said Weidner, ” I have met Representatives and Senators and shared my view on important subjects. I have gone to Washington D.C. to learn more about how SkillsUSA and our government works, and I have met over 600 people during the process. How many 18 year olds can say that?”

For Brown, this was one of many WLTI experiences; she has attended several times as a student, several times as a volunteer, and eight times as a state director. While at WLTI, Brown and her participating officers met with Michigan Senator Carl Levin. Over the years, Brown has had the opportunity to meet with Levin multiple times.

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Tammy Brown (second from left) meets with Michigan Senator Carl Levin (third from left) in 1982 as a SkillsUSA Michigan State Officer.
Tammy Brown (far right) meets with Michigan Senator Carl Levin (middle) again in 2013 as a SkillsUSA Michigan State Director.

Each of these three SkillsUSA members- Brown, Weidner, and Moreno- are not only doing great things currently, but have promising plans for the future. Moreno wants to further his culinary skills by studying abroad, especially since he loves to travel. Weidner has been accepted to the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in New York for fine pastry arts and business management. She wants to start a SkillsUSA chapter on the CIA campus and potentially run to be a SkillsUSA National Officer. Brown plans on continuing her position as the SkillsUSA Michigan State Director.

Being on the SkillsUSA Michigan team has provided all of them an abundance of memories, skills, and friendships.

“I don’t think I could have asked for a better group to work with this year. All the officers are well-mannered, follow all the deadlines, respect one another, and are just fun to be around. Each officer brings a different personality to the table,” stated Weidner.

Moreno also had words of praise for SkillsUSA Michigan’s team: “This team has showed me business etiquette, how to hold meetings, how to be the first one to step in and start something. It has also taught me that friendships are great and can be made with anyone.”

Brown, Weidner, and Moreno are SkillsUSA champions. They prove that anyone can be noticed and appreciated by their peers if they put forth effort and follow their passions.

Champion of the Month: Crystal Sandoval

“Being a part of SkillsUSA has influenced my life in every aspect; it has helped me overcome many obstacles, given me the motivation to strive  towards my goals, challenged me to surpass my limits, helped create a network unlike any other, and it has shaped me into the individual I am today.”

Crystal Sandoval, a former  SkillsUSA National Officer, waves to the crowd  at Kemper Arena.

To be a SkillsUSA National Officer, special characteristics are necessary: passion for the organization, motivation to contribute to the organization, and true dedication. These characteristics describe a young lady from Texas named Crystal Sandoval; she is SkillsUSA’s 2013-2014 National High School President.

Sandoval’s journey in SkillsUSA started off with some encouragement: free pizza. Although the reason for attending her first SkillsUSA meeting as a freshman in high school was not anything spectacular, this meeting was the beginning of great opportunities.

Several people in Sandoval’s life acted as inspirations. Sergio Cavazos, a 2012-2013 SkillsUSA National High School President, was her student role model. Sandoval’s criminal justice advisor, Joe Valdez, was also a driving force behind her SkillsUSA involvement.

“[Valdez] introduced me to the organization and always went above and beyond for his students to excel in leadership and hands on competitions…this criminal justice teacher saw the potential in me that I did not even know existed,” said Sandoval.

Although she never held a state officer position, Sandoval was the 2012-2013 SkillsUSA Texas District 13 President. She also competed in multiple competitions: Opening and Closing Ceremonies, American Spirit, and Community Service. With the support of many people in her life, Sandoval decided to take her role in SkillsUSA to the next level by signing up as a national officer candidate.

After many days of preparation, her moment of truth  finally came, during the Closing Ceremony at Kemper Arena in June of 2013. This arena hosted SkillsUSA’s National Leadership and Skills Conference for many years, including the year Sandoval was elected into the national officer team.

“In what seemed the longest two minutes of my life, I heard the words, ‘From Texas,’ and all that was felt was pure joy and excitement…with the thousands of SkillsUSA members surrounding me as I made my way up to the stage, I felt the SkillsUSA pride in Kemper Arena,” Sandoval proudly stated.

As a national officer, Sandoval’s leadership skills were challenged. The SkillsUSA National Officer Team, SkillsUSA National Staff, and industry partners worked together to host several large events. SkillsUSA’s 2013 Washington Leadership Training Institute (WLTI) was the first big task: a week of leadership training, touring, and congressional visits in Washington, D.C. Her next and last substantial event as a national officer was the 2014 National Leadership and Skills Conference (NLSC).

Said Sandoval, “Planning these events began the previous year or so, and our national staff worked tirelessly to ensure that the execution of every event was done at the highest tier.”

The 2014 NLSC served as an amazing experience for Sandoval, with much emotion attached; Friday, the last day of the conference, was her last day as a national officer. During Friday’s closing ceremony in Kemper Arena, she and the rest of the team passed on their positions to the next round of elected national officers.

“Tears of joy ran down our faces as soon as we hit the gavel to mark the end of our 2014 National Leadership and Skills Conference, but these were all out of love for this organization, for each other, and for the journey we embraced,” Sandoval described.

“With every end, there comes a new beginning, and this was this beginning to many new adventures for everyone.”

SkillsUSA’s National Executive Director, Timothy Lawrence, plays a significant role in the success of SkillsUSA. Sandoval noted him as, “a fun person to lessen the stress in a room while establishing the fact that our task must be accomplished.” Lawrence told the  2012-2013 National Officer Team during officer training that their year together would go by fast. Sandoval did not want to accept Lawrence’s words at the time, but her busy year of many lasting SkillsUSA memories did seem to speed by.

Sandoval recognizes and appreciates those who have supported her, from her first pizza-motivated SkillsUSA meeting up until now: her family, friends, advisor, SkillsUSA acquaintances, and school district.

“…shout out to my mother who was the one individual who had to listen to my speech over a million times,” Sandoval joked.

“Last but not least…Brownsville Independent School District supported me in every endeavor…without their support, I would not have been able to travel to national officer events, run for office, and be involved in SkillsUSA.”

Sandoval also described working with her national officer team.

“Being surrounded by the best of the best in the nation makes a person want to not only reach their limits but surpass them.”

Although her national officer term has passed, Sandoval’s achievements and dreams have not stopped. She is currently a freshman at the University of Texas at Austin, aspiring to earn a bachelor’s degree, get accepted into law school, and become a corporate attorney. She can see herself one day as a politician, or working closely with a politician as Chief of Staff. Also envisioned in Sandoval’s future is more SkillsUSA involvement, but as an Alumni.

Sandoval concluded, “We are America’s future, and one by one, we are creating our own successes. With our growing membership, the world is realizing that SkillsUSA is making an impact in our communities, and it is helping students excel in every way.”

The following pictures captured key moments of Sandoval’s journey.

Written by: Emily Stephenson, SkillsUSA Indiana Reporter


Nationals: Take Me Back to Kansas City

“I was honored just being apart of SkillsUSA in general, but to be apart of the 50th anniversary is more than I could ask for. I’ll never forget the competition, the people I met, or the experience overall and for as long as I’m around I will support SkillsUSA 100%.” -Jesse Tindle

Throughout downtown Kansas City in late June 2014, red and blue took over the streets.  Thousands of students, teachers, and industry representatives of SkillsUSA gathered in this Missouri city for what some would describe as an experience of a lifetime, while proudly wearing their SkillsUSA colors.

The 2014 National Leadership and Skills Conference proved to be another success for the nation-wide SkillsUSA organization. This conference was particularly meaningful, being the 50th annual national conference and the last year held in Kansas City, MO. Louisville, KY, is next on the list in 2015 for this unique week of competitions, delegate sessions, and an abundance of entertainment.


SkillsUSA Indiana had many contestants and advisors at Nationals this year, plus state officers and directors. A total of 6 contestants brought national titles back to the Hoosier state (see our page: SkillsUSA Indiana’s 2014 National Medalists). Among those contestants is Gianna Mesarina, a graduate of Area Career Center and current freshman of Purdue University.  Mesarina won a bronze medal for early childhood education.

“My competition was to pick out a story book and read it as if you were reading to a child or children, and then we had to create an activity based on a certain subject and teach it to young children,” described Mesarina.

The national competitions were designed to be challenging. This competitive aspect was enjoyed by Jesse Tindle, a former student of Washington High School’s building trades program and a 2014 national competitor for Teamworks.

“The Teamworks competition is very competitive overall and everyone there was more than capable of a gold medal,” stated Tindle.

Tindle competed as a team with Fabian De Leon,  Quentin Marvin, and David Carlson; they scored 12 out of 31 teams in the nation. These four team members worked together to construct a fully equipped building and are looking forward to competing again in the postsecondary division.

“We had to build an 8’×8′ building along with every component that comes with building a house, such as: electrical, plumbing, masonry, and of course framing.”

 “Leverage was an awesome experience. I loved working with all the State Officers and I’m excited to see the growth they each experience.” -Andrew Neujahr

 Activate, Engage, and Leverage Training

Before Nationals Week officially started on Monday, June 23rd, national and state officers, advisors, and student leaders from across the country gathered for the Activate, Engage and Leverage Training. This involved a variety of sessions, geared towards improving leadership skills and promoting teamwork. SkillsUSA Indiana flew 3 of its state officers to Kansas City for the Leverage Training: Austin Bolyard, Olivia Huffman, and Emily Stephenson. Kelley Baker (SkillsUSA Indiana Director) and Lisa Firestone (SkillsUSA Indiana State Officer Advisor) participated in Activate.

Many others also benefited from this “pre-Nationals” training, including McKayla Jude. Jude is one of SkillsUSA Kentucky’s state officers and a senior in the business technology program at Martin County Area Technology Center.

“Leverage was an amazing experience that brought me way out of my comfort zone…But it felt so much like we were just one big family that it didn’t bother me if I messed something up,” said Jude.

In order to put together a conference for over 15,000 people, many volunteers were needed. Andrew Neujahr volunteered as a huddle and session group leader for the Leverage Training and Delegate Training. Neujahr is currently a sophomore at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, studying Agricultural Economics.

Along with his leadership roles, Neujahr enjoyed the opportunity to talk with industry representatives who participated at Nationals.

“All the businesses/colleges really surprised me. I didn’t think there would be as many as there actually was…”

 “Everyone was so friendly and close that it didn’t feel like there was 15,000 people! They did a great job on promoting friendship and getting us to meet new people. I made memories with people there that I will have with me for a lifetime.” -Gianna Mesarina

Social Events

The National Leadership and Skills Conference promoted skills and leadership strengthening, while also hosting events to get participants excited. These events include the opening and closing ceremonies, Champions Night, a trip to the Worlds of Fun Amusement Park, and more.

Some of Tindle’s favorite parts of the conference included the Champions Night and trading state pins.

“The [Champions Night] concert was awesome and being able to meet everyone from all over… I came home with 20 pins so completing the collection is another thing to look forward to.”

A crowd favorite was the Opening Ceremony on Wednesday night, in which all SkillsUSA participants gathered in Kemper Arena.

“My favorite part of nationals week was definitely the opening ceremony! It got me so pumped up for everything that was coming up that week, and the energy from everyone in there was phenomenal,” exclaimed Mesarina.

The Closing Ceremony on Friday night, which featured a surprise appearance from Mike Rowe and the distribution of awards, wrapped up Nationals Week. Rowe, the star of the popular TV show Dirty Jobs and a huge supporter of SkillsUSA,  engaged the crowd by filming a clip in Kemper Arena for his upcoming show Somebody’s Gotta Do It. Rowe and his camera crew also captured other parts of the conference for an exclusive episode on SkillsUSA. In honor of his efforts, Rowe was awarded the SkillsUSA Torch Carrier Award during the Closing Ceremony.

 To see pictures from the 2014 SkillsUSA National Leadership and Skills Conference, visit the following websites:

Written by: Emily Stephenson, SkillsUSA Indiana Reporter

Champion of the Month: Mackenzie Stephens

“[SkillsUSA] has given me an experience I’m never going to forget. It’s given me an opportunity to really show myself what I am capable of.” -Mackenzie Stephens

Mackenzie and the other medalists from his competition celebrate their win. Mackenzie is fourth from the left.
Stephens- fourth from the left- and the other medalists from his competition celebrate their win.

He was patiently sitting in the Indiana section of Kemper Arena, surrounded by an abundance of students, families, advisors, and directors- all waiting for answers. Countless competitions and medalists were announced, one by one, as he still waited for his own results. The longer he waited, the longer time seemed to pass. It was several hours later, towards the end of the Closing Ceremony, when his category was finally recognized. His anticipation grew even stronger. Third place….not him. Second place…again, not him. Thoughts bounced through his head; could first place be his?  Suddenly his name was called on the speakers and shown on the big screens for thousands of people to hear and see. He jumped out of his seat, immediately hugged and congratulated by nearby friends, then proudly walked down to the stage, where he accepted his first national title. 

As I sat across from Mackenzie Stephens, recapturing for him this moment of winning a gold medal, a smile of clear pride and joy appeared on his face; I had seen this same, uncontainable smile when his name was called at Kemper Arena.

“I stood up and was almost tackled from behind by Jason…Everybody was jumping up and down…It really felt good that everyone else around me was that pumped,” said Stephens.

Stephens, 18, competed in the college/postsecondary division of the SkillsUSA National Internetworking Competition. This, along with many other competitions and events, was held at the 2014 National Leadership and Skills Conference (NLSC) in Kansas City, MO. He had tried both his junior and senior year of high school to win a national title without success. His senior year, he had barely missed it with fourth place. Luckily, Stephens remained persistent and gave a third try, which got him the gold. 

To my surprise, Stephens claimed that he was relatively calm throughout the Closing Ceremony.

“I really wasn’t that nervous…I went and I competed and if I won, I won. If I lost, I lost.”

I prompted him to elaborate on this claim. He explained that although the competition was definitely tough, a mistake he had made at the NLSC in 2013 with a technical assistance call was not repeated, putting him more at ease. 

“I knew I did it right, but just as a little bit of assurance the judge gave me a thumbs up at the end [of the competition]…I was feeling good about my chances of maybe top three, definitely top ten,” Stephens said with a proud grin.

So, where did Stephens acquire these computer skills that are advanced for his age? Prosser Career Education Center in New Albany, IN, became much more to Stephens than his first public school (having come from homeschool methods all of his life). Prosser also became the start of  his computer networking skills, many friendships, and a career that he is still actively pursuing. Mark Robinson was his instructor there for both his junior and senior years in the Network Systems class. Robinson, often referred to as “Rob” by his students, was praised by Stephens:

“No matter who it was…If you had a problem, you could go to Rob and he would fix it for you…I probably wouldn’t have been where I am without him letting me take off.”

Currently, Stephens is starting his sophomore year at Ivy Tech Community College in Sellersburg, IN. Although he decided that competing through SkillsUSA won’t be on his to-do list next year, Stephens wants to give back to this organization that has given him short-term and long-term benefits.

Now that he has contact with Cisco- one of the top corporations for computer networking supplies- Stephens is considering working with them to judge next year’s internetworking competition at the NLSC. In 2015, the NLSC will be moved to Louisville, KY; this is located right across the Ohio River from southern Indiana, where Stephens lives. Stephens’ current workplace, RCS Communications, is located in Louisville. He is looking forward to the national conference being close to home.

“I might help judge…if not, I’m definitely going to be working with Rob and the students there to see if we can get a gold out of high school,” exclaimed Stephens.

Participating in SkillsUSA is something Stephens believes has been worthwhile. As a result of his work through SkillsUSA since first joining, he has earned multiple medals, certificates, a cash prize, equipment for his field, contacts and experiences that have helped pave the way for a lasting career. 

Stephens noted, “The business field- they’re getting to know SkillsUSA a lot better. Ten years ago, it wasn’t as prevalent…[now] more businesses know what it is. So being able to put that on a resume, whether you won or lost, puts you ahead of someone who has the same credentials but hasn’t done that (SkillsUSA).”’

What does Stephens plan on doing in the future? Currently, he is waiting to see if he will qualify for the WorldSkills competition, being held next in Sao Päulo, Brazil, in 2015. This would involve an interview process and a lot of training, but he is certainly considering the opportunity. Also, a big career goal of Stephens is to earn the CCIE (Cisco Certified Internetworking Expert) certification- the highest certification Cisco offers. More than anything, he wants to enjoy wherever he is working.

Stephens has advice for anyone wishing to compete at Nationals:

“Don’t take the competition too seriously. Focus on the week. Focus on the experience. Focus on making the connections, friends, the memories…Those are what are going to last forever.”

By serving as an example of overcoming defeat and becoming successful with determination, Stephens is a SkillsUSA Champion. 

Written by: Emily Stephenson, SkillsUSA Indiana Reporter