Four UAA gold medalists emerge from Alaska SkillsUSA competition

The UAA Community & Technical College and numerous local industry supporters took part in the judging and contest administration for the 2014 Alaska SkillsUSA contest hosted by the Transportation & Power Division in mid-March. The performance-based assessment conference showcases diesel equipment technology and automotive service students who are preparing for careers in the Alaska transportation and heavy equipment industry.

During the competition, students worked against the clock and each other, proving their expertise in competencies set by industry standards and recognized best practices.

Four CTC students put in gold performances in this year’s contest in the Alaska pin design, automotive service technology, diesel technology and job interview categories. Students in the automotive service and diesel technology categories have the opportunity to advance to the SkillsUSA National Leadership and Skills Conference in June.

Alesandra Westerholt

Alaska Pin Design - Students present their artwork and participate in an oral presentation regarding all aspects of the creation of their design, as well as explaining how the pin represents the state and its unique qualities.

Alesandra Westerholt
Alesandra Westerholt won a gold medal in the
Alaska pin design competition.
For Alesandra Westerholt, whether it be for life in general or a specific competition, winning is all about showing up. Her winning philosophy took root early from a simple desire to spend time with her dad. An aircraft worker in the United States Air Force, Westerholt’s father always seemed to have some project going on in the garage at home.

“I would spend as much time as possible with him, which meant a lot of time spent in the garage,” said Westerholt.

From there, taking wood shop as a “schedule filler” in high school sealed her vocational path in hands-on skills, which simultaneously delivers the joy of working with her hands and satisfies a practical bent for what will serve her best in life. Once she completes that last class she needs for her associate degree in heavy duty transportation and equipment, Westerholt will either find a job she loves or continue school in a new skill, or perhaps engage in both at the same time. Whichever path she chooses, her learning antennae are always on, and for her, winning doesn’t have to mean a gold medal. In her world, connecting is the true brass ring.

“Connecting with people is far more valuable than any sort of award,” she said. “Whether it be contact with an instructor, a business owner volunteering to help with a SkillsUSA event, or people who have field experience, knowledge and sometimes job opportunities— that you have the opportunity to gain from them is astounding.”

Dustin Jenne

Diesel Technology - Contestants cycle through fourteen stations testing and troubleshooting engines, a multitude of technical systems, and general shop skills. The gold medal winner in this category has the opportunity to compete in the national competition in Kansas City, Missouri, this June.

Dustin Jenne
Dustin Jenne won gold in the diesel technology
competition. He will compete at the national competition
in Kansas City, Missouri in June.
We can probably err on the side of nature when it comes to Dustin Jenne and the genesis of his mechanical aptitude and gold medal mettle.

“My mom said I took apart a clicker pen and put it back together when I was about two years old,” he said.

Combine that inborn curiosity with how things work with growing up in a rural farming community and an internal drive to improve, and it is little wonder that working on big pieces of equipment is second nature to Jenne.

This driven student wielded a wealth of experience in his SkillsUSA bid. His background includes a truck-driving legacy handed down by his grandfather, working for a Case and Caterpillar dealership, spending seven years as an Air Force mechanic, and his current job working as a mechanic at the Ted Stevens International Airport.

Enrolled in the Heavy Duty Transportation & Equipment Program, Jenne ultimately wants the responsibility of a field service truck as a master Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certified technician. The hard, gritty problem-solving on a daily basis fuels his passion for challenge and will, no doubt, aid him when he competes in the national SkillsUSA competition in June.

His motto? “Never admit defeat! Keep going until you figure it out.”

Jake Elliott

Job Interview - Contestants are evaluated on their understanding of employment procedures faced in applying for positions in the occupational areas for which they are training.

Jake Elliott
Jake Elliott took home gold in the
job interview competition.
If a student lacks the confidence to compete in a technical field for lack of skill mastery, Jake Elliott might try to convince him that there are more important criteria for success.

“I think all you have to do to win is show up a little early, uphold a professional appearance and attitude and try your best,” he said.

For Elliott, it is all about applying oneself to the utmost. A medal might come out of it, but even without placing in a contest, the experience itself teaches a person how to adapt to different situations and improve communication skills. Even further, Elliott attributes the competition experience with assisting him in getting his job with Cummins Northwest LLC.

Although he always took an interest in fixing things, including small engines, it wasn’t until Elliott attended a tour of CTC’s Heavy Duty Transportation & Equipment Program following high school graduation that the match among his skills, interests and diesel mechanics revealed itself. Having nearly completed his program now, the knowledge he has gained has only whetted his appetite for more training to expand his opportunities in the heavy diesel field. It turns out that he truly enjoys his work and is ready to reap its ability to provide a home of his own and the good life.

Randal Smith

Automotive Service Technology - Contestants demonstrate their ability to perform jobs and skills based on the task list outlined by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence and the National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation. The gold medal winner in this category has the opportunity to compete in the national competition in Kansas City, Missouri, this June.

Randal Smith
Randal Smith won gold in the automotive service
technology competition.
If you've ever shivered in your warm car as you drive by a roofer on a construction site swinging a hammer when it’s 15 degrees below zero, then you understand Randal Smith’s career change, at least in part. After five years of roofing in Alaska’s winters, his search for a warmer job venue led to a rediscovery of his knack for working on cars.

Even a pay cut could not deter Smith’s interest in the Automotive Technology Program. He was specifically interested in the General Motors Automotive Service Educational Program (ASEP) option, kindled by research that revealed its national reputation as a high quality training ground. When he moved to a job with a Chevy dealership and started the Automotive Technology Program in the fall of 2012, weathering the financial transition at first took a lot of fortitude. Enjoying the new routine kept him going, as well as working with his instructors.

“The instructors are extremely knowledgeable and strive for excellence and encourage excellence from their students,” said Smith.

He generously credits his instructors for his state gold and national ninth place wins in SkillsUSA in 2013, as well as his second Alaska gold this spring. He is disappointed that scheduling conflicts prevent his attending the national competition this year, as he highly regards the SkillsUSA organization.

“It’s an incredible group of people working to achieve a goal of keeping America working and keeping technical minds in technical positions,” said Smith.

He highly recommends participation in SkillsUSA to others. Although he seems reluctant to lay claim to the personal attributes that led to gold medals two years running in his new career field, it’s probably safe to assume that there is above average tenacity and talent involved.

Story by Clarice Dickess, CTC Grants & Research Specialist
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Four UAA gold medalists emerge from Alaska SkillsUSA competition
Four UAA gold medalists emerge from Alaska SkillsUSA competition
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