DUSD celebrates achievements of SkillsUSA students

DOWNEY –Providing opportunities for Downey Unified students to be college and career ready, as well as globally competitive, on June 1, the Downey community gathered to celebrate the students who competed at the SkillsUSA State Championships in April. 

The second annual SkillsUSA Banquet was held at the Rio Hondo Event Center on Monday evening, with the support of the Downey Unified Board of Education, Career Technical Education (CTE) staff, and Downey Unified’s industry partners from McCarthy Building Companies, Inc. and the Masonry Industry Training Association (MITA).

The banquet opened with president of the Board of Education, Tod Corrin, addressing the crowd of approximately 300 people. The Mistress of Ceremony, Warren High School senior Debora Jeong who will attend Cal State Long Beach in the fall, and Master of Ceremony, Downey High School senior Aron Ramirez who will attend Stanford University after graduation, next took the stage welcoming guests and illustrating to the crowd their journey through the SkillsUSA experience. 

Both moving on to the national championships at the end of June, these two young individuals said they have been changed by competing in SkillsUSA.

“SkillsUSA gives us [students] a chance to compete in what we love and it teaches us things you can’t learn in a text book,” stated Jeong.

Continuing the evening, Jeong and Ramirez called upon each teacher advisor to congratulate their students in specific areas of competition. Downey and Warren high school students competed in categories such as: Robotics Technology, Crime Scene Investigation, Electrical, Plumbing, Masonry, Photography, Principles of Engineering Technology, Criminal Justice, Firefighting, Esthetics, Extemporaneous Speaking, and the list continued.

Following the applause of the SkillsUSA student recognitions, keynote speaker Kris Nordbak took the stage. Currently the Project Director at McCarthy Building Companies, Inc., one of America’s premier construction companies, and a Warren High School alumni, Nordbak said he is passionate about SkillsUSA and what it provides to students, telling the students that SkillsUSA “puts you ahead of the competition.” 

Nordbak illustrated his own career journey after high school and shared with students that finding a career you are truly passionate about is worth the wait.

“SkillsUSA gives students the opportunity to find something they love before graduating from high school,” expressed Nordbak. “Don’t be afraid to try new things and keep looking for what you love.”

Downey Unified has a partnership with Nordbak and the McCarthy Building Companies, Inc., providing hands-on and interactive opportunities for students. McCarthy professionals communicate with students continuously, visiting classrooms as guest speakers and acting as mentors, giving Downey Unified students the competitive edge that will help them succeed after high school.

CTE and STEM director Phil Davis with Downey High School’s SkillsUSA Student of the Year award winner Yamato Sasaki.

CTE and STEM director Phil Davis with Downey High School’s SkillsUSA Student of the Year award winner Yamato Sasaki.

Honoring a student from each of the comprehensive high schools, the awards for SkillsUSA Student of the Year was next to be announced. A senior at Downey High and a Downey Unified student since elementary, Yamato Sasaki was called to the stage. Beginning his SkillsUSA journey as a freshman and attending UCLA in the fall to study Engineering, Sasaki received a gold medal at the state level and will be representing California in the category of Related Technical Math. 

CTE and STEM director Phil Davis with Warren High School’s SkillsUSA Student of the Year award winner Edgar Munoz.

CTE and STEM director Phil Davis with Warren High School’s SkillsUSA Student of the Year award winner Edgar Munoz.

Already holding two certifications in construction technology and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) certified, Edgar Munoz, was also presented the Student of the Year award. A senior, Munoz is currently the construction technology project manager for Warren High School’s SkillsUSA Chapter, heading a variety of student lead construction projects across Downey Unified.

To conclude the second annual SkillsUSA Banquet, CTE and STEM Director Phil Davis called the gold medal recipients to the stage. Finishing out the state championships with a total of 26 gold medals, these Downey Unified students will be traveling on June 22, 2015, to Louisville, KY, to represent the state of California. 

In addition to this great fete, two students from Warren High School were elected by their peers to serve as SkillsUSA state officers for the coming year. Gregory Garcia and Anayansi Rodriguez are the first two SkillsUSA students from Downey Unified to be elected as SkillsUSA student delegates representing the state of California.

Sending these dedicated and passionate individuals off to Louisville with some final words, Superintendent Dr. John Garcia took the microphone and expressed how proud he was of each student competitor. With the vision that all students will graduate college and career ready, students of strong character and globally competitive, he faced the students and stated that they were enacting this vision.

“What’s better than to show the national competition that Downey Unified is globally competitive? Challenge yourself and your teammates and let’s bring home our first National Champion.”

Currently with over 15,000 school chapters, DUSD is the largest chapter involved in SkillsUSA, with one or more students qualifying for Nationals every year since 2009. Last year resulted in 350 students competing in the Regional Championships, 145 qualifying for the State Championships and seven making it to Nationals.

Now having 500 compete at the Regional level, with a total of 225 high school students qualifying for the State Championship and 26 competing nationally, it is Downey Unified’s goal to have one or more students attend the international WorldSkills Competition.