We all know that this has been an extremely unusual year with incredible challenges. This month marks the 57th Skills USA Virginia State Leadership Conference. As fitting for an unusual year, this year’s conference is different in that spans multiple weeks and is a virtual event.
The conference gives approximately 1,500 top high school and post-secondary students from across the Commonwealth, who have competed on a local and district level, a chance to showcase their skills and leadership talents. The contests are supported by various business and industry sectors, along with SkillsUSA Alumni, all of whom volunteer their time. I am very much looking forward to this year’s event, and so are the teachers and students in trade and industrial programs throughout Virginia.
I first got involved with SkillsUSA when Bob Jett, a drafting teacher in Stafford County, approached me about joining the Student Board of Directors for the Virginia Chapter. I had no idea what I was getting into, but my father, an important influence in my life, encouraged me to join and do what I could to help the organization. At the time, I saw it as a business move rather than something I would be passionate about. I sat in on meetings, I watched student competitions, and gradually realized that this was an organization that, not only had I grown to love, but also was providing essential opportunities for student and workforce development in Virginia.
I remember hearing Chad Maclin, a former president of the board, speak once at a meeting about why SkillsUSA was so special. Chad shared that the organization is often made up of students who may not be as successful with traditional academic disciplines. Many of the students who participate with SkillsUSA have lackluster grades and have been teased by their peers. It is inspiring to see these students, who felt that they didn’t fit in or couldn’t do anything right in a traditional school setting, find encouragement at a tech center to explore new learning opportunities. These students are able to discover what they are truly good at, then put those skills to work, all to culminate into showcasing their achievements at the State Leadership Conference.
Chad’s words really resonated with me this week. I missed hearing the sounds of competition and seeing the joy and pride in the faces of these students. I’m hopeful that these students will keep those passions alive through digital engagement during this time of social distancing. I’m looking forward to seeing the work and effort that this year’s students have committed to making SkillsUSA successful in 2021.
Stay safe and thank you for your continued commitment to technology in education.