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More Than 300 Students, Advisers Head To SkillsUSA's 50th Annual National Conference

More Than 300 Students, Advisers Head To SkillsUSA's 50th Annual National Conference

Oklahoma SkillsUSA officers for 2013-14.

June 17, 2014

More than 350 individuals will represent Oklahoma at the 50th annual SkillsUSA National Leadership and Skills Conference this month in Kansas City, Mo.

The group of 251 students and 113 advisers will join more than 15,000 students, teachers and business partners from across the country at the weeklong event, said Darren Gibson, Oklahoma SkillsUSA director and program specialist in the Oklahoma Department of Career and Technology Education’s trade and industrial education division.

More than 6,000 students who won state contests will compete in 99 hands-on trade, technical and leadership contests run by industry, trade association and labor organization representatives help run the contests, with test competencies set by industry representatives, he said. Oklahoma SkillsUSA’s record number of medals is 51 (earned in 2012), but advisers and students hope to set a new record this year, Gibson said.

The conference is valuable to students, advisers and professionals, said Cheryl Cooksey, graphic arts instructor at Autry Technology Center in Enid and Oklahoma SkillsUSA northwest district director.

“The conference provides a great platform for students, advisers and business and industry to network,” she said. “Part of the conference is called TECHSPO, where employers set up in an area to talk with competitors about employment opportunities. I’ve had graphics students receive offers from big industry players, including Hallmark and Heidelberg.”

Students will also attend training sessions, participate in a community service project and elect national officers. Oklahoma has two national officer candidates this year, Gibson said.

Bailie Henry, Owasso, will give up her national officer spot this year. Henry, an Owasso High School graduate who studied pre-engineering at Tulsa Technology Center, served as the national parliamentarian this past year. The 2013 national conference was her first.

“It had to be the most incredible experience I ever had, with so many students all striving for the same goal -- to be the best at what they were doing,” she said.

Henry recommends that all SkillsUSA members attend the NLSC because they can meet other students in the same fields of study and also professionals in their fields.

“It’s an opportunity to make connections with business and industry. At the trade show, hundreds and thousands come in, and you can make connections with potential employers,” she explained. “It’s a huge leg up.”

SkillsUSA itself helps students become better workers, leaders and citizens, Gibson said, by teaching leadership, teamwork, citizenship, character development, self-confidence, positive work attitudes, superior skills, high ethical standards and communications skills. Cooksey, who has served as a SkillsUSA adviser for almost two decades, said she has seen the CareerTech student organization change lives.

“Many of my graduates have found a great deal of success in their field,” she said. “But a common thread that appears when they return to talk to my current students is how much impact this organization made on their lives.”

Henry, who plans to study business management and leadership at Hellenic College in Brookline, Mass., this fall, said SkillsUSA offers students opportunities to improve their skills in their chosen fields, but also the chance to improve other skills as well.

“You can better your soft skills, the skills you need to be a leader in the workplace, to work with a team, to be a better speaker,” she said. “You can get practice you might not get somewhere else.”

She hopes to use her degree and the skills she learned at Tulsa Tech and in SkillsUSA to pursue a career as a project manager for an architecture or engineering firm.

SkillsUSA is one of seven CareerTech student organizations affiliated with CareerTech programs. It is affiliated with trade and industrial education. The other six are Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (family and consumer sciences education), FFA (agricultural education), DECA (marketing education), HOSA (health careers education), Business Professionals of America (business and information technology education) and Technology Student Association (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).

For more information about SkillsUSA, visit For more information about Oklahoma CareerTech, visit

The Oklahoma Department of Career and Technology Education provides leadership and resources and assures standards of excellence for a comprehensive statewide system of career and technology education. The system offers programs and services in 29 technology center districts operating on 59 campuses, 393 comprehensive school districts and 13 Skills Centers campuses that include three juvenile facilities.

The agency is governed by the State Board of Career and Technology Education and works closely with the State Department of Education and the State Regents for Higher Education to provide a seamless educational system for all Oklahomans.

Laura Wilson, Writer/Editor

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