SkillsUSA brings more than 300 middle, high school students to UW-Stout for leadership, technical competitions

Industry, educators work together to prepare young people for future careers, solve skills gap
Abbey Goers | February 26, 2024

More than 300 students from 36 middle school and high schools across the state participated in the SkillsUSA Regional Competition at UW-Stout, gaining hands-on skills in leadership and technology to prepare for their future careers in industry and business.

Students competed in 28 events hosted by the College of Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Management on Feb. 22-23. Using CSTEMM labs’ industry-standard machinery, devices and software, competitors caught a glimpse into the Stout student experience and the polytechnic advantage.

Event winners and their schools are listed at the end of the story, with multiple students from Eau Claire, Chippewa Falls, Hartford Union, Oregon, Slinger and Unity winning gold standings.

Events included 3D Printing, Automotive Service Technology, Carpentry, Entrepreneurship, Precision Machining Technology, and Welding, and were coordinated and judged by UW-Stout faculty, staff and students, SkillsUSA advisers, technology educators and alum.

Skills USA students in the Welding event
A SkillsUSA adviser and student competitor in UW-Stout’s Fryklund Hall welding and foundry labs / UW-Stout

“SkillsUSA plays a vital role in helping young people to prepare for their futures, developing leadership skills, meeting with local industry partners, developing budgets and learning the value of community service through projects,” said Dodgeland High School technology education teacher Anna Vitale. “They participate in competitions that have been vetted by professionals, which helps them gain the skills necessary in their chosen field.”

Although Dodgeland in Juneau, northwest of Milwaukee, is quite a distance from Menomonie, Vitale prefers attending UW-Stout’s event because of the “variety of competitions offered and the long legacy of UW-Stout's affiliation and support of our organization,” she said.

Dodgeland sophomore Leila H. was one of 11 classmates to participate. She loves the environment of SkillsUSA and how invited she feels. “I was on the edge about competing, but SkillsUSA is all about taking risks and helping you succeed,” she said. “I chose to go to the UW-Stout competition because of the countless opportunities it can give me in leadership and social skills.”

Skills USA Technology Education teacher Anna Vitale and students
Dodgeland High School technology education teacher and SkillsUSA adviser Anna Vitale meets with students / UW-Stout

UW-Stout has hosted SkillsUSA for more than 40 years, and for many years it was the only four-year university in Wisconsin to host it, with other events held at high schools and two-year colleges, said engineering technology Program Director Abhi Ghosh, adding that UW-Stout’s may be the largest SkillsUSA Wisconsin event outside of the state competition in April. 

Ghosh coordinates the UW-Stout event with biology Lecturer Tiffany Hoage, CSTEMM project coordinator. They believe hosting SkillsUSA is a great way to bring dedicated middle school and high school students into UW-Stout’s labs and classrooms.

“Our polytechnic roots mean that we have the capability to offer a full four-year college experience while also consistently being as hands-on and applied as any two-year college,” Ghosh said. “We are on the right track for the future, and we always have been.”

Bringing attention to the need for skilled workers

Machine tool technician Mike Berry is SkillsUSA state director for the Wisconsin College/Post-Secondary Association. He is an instructor in the precision machining technician program at Mid-State Technical College, Wisconsin Rapids campus and coordinated the Precision Machining Technology event. 

Skills USA students in the Urban Search and Rescue robotics event
A student team completes their robot in the Urban Search and Rescue event / UW-Stout

“Being a journey worker machinist and educator in the machining field, I am always excited to see students embrace a trade that has been such a big part of my life,” he said. “Knowing there are students interested in a career in the trade and seeing the skills these young people bring to the table continues to bring excitement. The future for these students is bright.”

Berry, a 2011 career, technical education and training UW-Stout alum, has taught at technical colleges for 23 years and has served as a SkillsUSA adviser for a decade. He believes it provides students an opportunity to showcase their skills through competition. 

“Additionally, the organization is playing a role in bringing attention to the need for skilled workers and what pathways can be used to gain employment in those careers. This is a way for students, industry and educators to work together to solve the skills gap,” he said.

A profound experience that cannot be duplicated in the classroom

Vitale, Stanley Phillips and Bob Morehead have more than 63 years of teaching experience between them and have been SkillsUSA advisers for 44 years combined. Phillips and Morehead are technology education teachers at Menomonie High School and Chetek-Weyerhaeuser Area School District, respectively.

Vitale coordinated several leadership events and Morehead the welding events, while Menomonie High School hosted the Automotive Service Technology competition, the only competition held off campus.

Skills USA students in the Electrical Construction Wiring event
SkillsUSA students compete in the Electrical Construction Wiring event / UW-Stout

“As an educator, SkillsUSA helps validate the content I teach,” Morehead said. “The events push students to showcase their skills and knowledge and force them out of their comfort zone. This oftentimes leads to a profound experience that cannot be duplicated in the classroom. It is a great lesson in problem-solving, time management and teamwork.”

The competitors rarely have a flawless performance, Morehead added. “This is part of the learning process. We learn more from our mistakes than we do from our successes. If they do have enough perseverance to make it to the awards podium, it is a tremendous feeling of pride and accomplishment.”

Cedar L., a senior from Chetek-Weyerhaeuser, enjoys SkillsUSA because “it allows me to gain valuable experience I otherwise would not be able to get. It allows me to see and use other shops, which means I gain experience with different types of welders and equipment. It also puts me in contact with people who aspire to follow the same or similar path as me.”

Skills USA students competing in the Power Equipment Technology event
Students work on small engines in Power Equipment Technology event in a Jarvis Hall Science Wing lab / UW-Stout

Twelve of Phillips’ students were required to participate as part of their senior internship. “I see it as a way for the students to gauge their knowledge and skill set to students at other schools around the state,” he said. “I enjoy watching them get excited about being at UW-Stout. It's a nice experience for them, and they take the competitions pretty seriously.”

Vitale loves seeing the students develop and hone their leadership skills year after year. “I love seeing their confidence increase, watching the shy introverts blossom out into leaders or seeing how the ‘Type A’ student who likes to take control learn that the best way to be a leader is to help others become leaders,” she said.

Vitale earned her technology education license through UW-Stout’s Distance Learning Program in 2014. Morehead is a 2001 technology education alum. Vitale and Morehead have served on the Wisconsin Technology Education Association board of directors.

UW-Stout students helped coordinators with judging and developed and set up many of the technical events. Some events were run independently by student organizations, like the Student Construction Association and the Technology Education and Engineering Collegiate Association student club.

“The technology education students enjoy judging the contests, as once they are licensed teachers, they will be in charge of running SkillsUSA chapters in their schools,” said technology education Program Director Barb Bauer, TEECA club adviser. “This is a huge opportunity for high school students to see Wisconsin’s Polytechnic University.”

Skills USA students in the Welding event
A student competitor in the welding and foundry labs / UW-Stout

The 51st annual SkillsUSA State Leadership and Skills Conference and state competition will be held April 9-10, at Alliant Energy Center and Madison Area Technical College, in Madison. There are two contests, in leadership and technical skills.

SkillsUSA Regional Competition winners and their high schools:

  • 3D Printing and Design: Logan Marksteiner, Florence
  • Additive Manufacturing: Chunche Tsai, Oregon High; and Simon Braeger, Slinger
  • Advertising Design: Sam Gnatzig, Slinger
  • Automotive Service Technology: Adrik Dix, Memorial
  • Carpentry: Trent Schmitt, Hartford Union
  • Cabinetmaking: Mason Lipenski, Hartford Union
  • CO2 Dragster: Stanley Lang, New Auburn
  • Electrical Construction Wiring: Silas Cronkrite, Lincoln, Wisconsin Rapids
  • Electronics Technology: Carson Brown, Chippewa Falls
  • Extemporaneous Speaking: Christine Bertsch, Unity
  • Facilithon: Carson Brown, Chippewa Falls
  • Job Interview: Abigail Weiterman, Slinger
  • Job Skill Demonstration: Ellen Lehman, Unity
  • Medical Math: Rene Wright, Webster
  • Medical Terminology: Alexander Loff, Slinger
  • Photography: Jadyn Lallensack, Slinger
  • Power Equipment Technology: Logan Pagliaro, Holmen
  • Precision Machining Technology: Samuel Schumacher, Wausau West
  • Prepared Speech, silver winner: Sawyer Melchert, Winter
  • Related Technical Math: Morgan Spindler, Oregon
  • Robotics - Urban Search and Rescue: Morgan Spindler and Jackson Walsh, Oregon
  • Team Engineering Challenge, middle school: Brock Buchholz, Silas Hake-Gregerson and Travis Hendrickson, Black River Falls
  • Team Engineering Challenge, high school: Neva Clarke, Brooklynn Gross and Oliver Melson, Clinton
  • Technical Drafting: Brandon Bork, Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau
  • Welding: Hayden Koch, Eau Claire North
  • Welding Fabrication: Ty Agen, Guyton Patrow and Aydon Perkins, Chippewa Falls
  • Welding Sculpture: Callie Mackyol, St. Croix Falls


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