After winning a gold medal in last year's New Jersey state SkillsUSA competition, the team from the Thomas A. Edison Career and Technical Academy is ready to take team members' skills to the next level. These budding IT professionals have mastered a new curriculum, and have put in the time to ensure that their dreams turn into gold once more in the coming months.
"America is built on a level of competition," said Michael Chang, the SkillsUSA team instructor. "I think that SkillsUSA provides a measure of that, you know? Giving (the students) an outlet to compete, to grow and to improve their skill set."
The skill set that these students wish to improve involves the wide world of information technology, and IT certification has already played a large role in the lives of these young students. But what else are these students passionate about? What else makes them so outstanding? Well it's a mixture of a lot of things.
Bruno Mendes has a desire to someday be a network or computer engineer. One of Bruno's favorite things is to learn code, but when he's not doing that, he's playing sports or hanging out with his friends. Bruno plays soccer and participates in track, but his real love is technology. He isn't joking when he says he loves to code — in fact, Bruno will often get together with his friends and teammates to practice on CodeAcademy.
Daniel Ugalde has a passion for exploring and traveling. His favorite place to travel is Costa Rica, to visit and be with family. He enjoys spending time with his two sisters, as well as doing a wide range of things with his friends. Daniel and his friends enjoy paint balling, bowling, watching TV or just "chilling." Computers fascinate Daniel; he likes how everything works on the network and with security. He proclaims himself to have high standards, and will always try his best, not stopping until he gets what he wants.
Liliana Mejia enjoys hanging out with her friends and family, reading, watching documentaries and going to the gym. She revels in reading classic and romantic novels as well as biographies. As a hobby she participated in track and field until she got a part time job. In addition to SkillsUSA, Liliana is involved in the National Honor Society where she focuses on preparing her leadership skills. Her favorite piece of technology is a cell phone, because it has the ability to do almost anything.
Jonathan Martinez has gone through a lot to be where he is today, but he never gives up — which is a trait that makes him a good fit for the SkillsUSA competition. Jonathan is the self-proclaimed "oddball" of his family, because his father and brothers are all into cars: They either are mechanics, or want to become mechanics. He hopes to someday be a computer engineer for a major corporation. In his free time, Jonathan likes spending time playing racing or sports video games.
Bruno, Daniel and Liliana make up the career pathways team, and Jonathan will be competing in the computer maintenance competition.
All four are under the direction of Mr. Michael Chang, who began his career as a chemical engineer before transitioning into his current role as a chemistry teacher. The principal of the school saw the value of having someone with Chang's STEM background, and gave him the responsibility of developing a computer technology program at the school.
Teachers have the ability to make a difference in the lives of their students, which is why Chang was drawn to the profession. He felt there was something greater he could contribute to his community. A father of seven children, Chang welcomes the opportunities teaching provides — like having the summer off to spend time with his family.
The SkillsUSA competition is designed to "Empower its members to become world-class workers, leaders and responsible american citizens." This is accomplished through the unique SkillsUSA atmosphere of competition, sportsmanship and learning.
"I decided to go to SkillsUSA my sophomore year, because I am very competitive, and enjoy winning," said Liliana. "I also saw a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I took advantage."
Not only are the students able to get the excitement that comes with competition, but they are able to compete at something they have grown to love. "Technology has played a big part I guess in my life," Bruno said. "I’ve always been very competitive, and so I guess this brings competitiveness out of me and plus I’m doing something that I enjoy doing."
All four of the student's were a part of the competition in one form or another last year, and love to share their experience, whether that was winning the gold medal at the state competition or going to nationals.
"One of my favorite parts was when we were waiting to get called for our category," said Daniel. "And once they call your name it’s just like a release, cause you won first, second, or third."
The career pathways team is using software from TestOut to demonstrate their knowledge of the career path and how certification is imperative in that process. They have been asked to give an eight-minute presentation to a panel of judges who will give them an overall score based on their knowledge.
Jonathan is not a part of the career pathways team, but will be competing on his own in the computer maintenance competition. This is a hands-on competition that will provide him an opportunity to get A+ certified at the competition in April. Right now, he's been training by earning his PC Pro certification from TestOut.
"Mr. Michael Chang introduced me to the competition and I’ve worked on (TestOut's LabSim) every day and gotten a lot into it and I was like, 'You know, I’ll give it a shot,' " said Jonathan. "If its going to be given to me, then I’m going to take that shot, 'cause I really want to be A+ certified, like, very soon. This is what I want to do for the rest of my life."