This feature is Part 3 in a series about SkillsUSA participants from Thomas A. Edison Academy in Elizabeth, N.J. Click to read Part 1 and read Part 2.
"A champion needs a motivation above and beyond winning." — Pat Riley
As champions, the SkillsUSA IT career pathways team from Thomas A. Edison Academy in Elizabeth, N.J., have found true motivation. Their motivation beyond winning is seeking ways to improve the community that they call home.
"One of the things that’s extremely important in SkillsUSA is reaching back to the community," said Daniel Ugalde, member of the Thomas A. Edison career pathways team. "So I think that’s one important thing that we focus on."
The IT career pathways team did exactly what it had set out to do and had been focused on for months— it won the gold medal at the state competition on March 27. When asked what was next for the team, each member stated the importance of preparing for the national competition coming up in June. The team members will do this by getting more involved with the community of Elizabeth, reaching out to help those seeking employment become certified.
"Our goal is ... leveraging our knowledge of TestOut to make it more accessible to some of the unemployed people in our community and help them qualify for higher-paying jobs," said Michael Chang, the students' instructor. "That’s one of our goals now as we go to nationals."
With the state competition behind them, the IT career pathways team has now set their sights on the national competition in Kentucky. To take their skills and presentation credibility to the next level, the team has developed a plan to demonstrate their devotion to community outreach.
"We’re going to go into some of our local community centers and see if they can set aside a room, maybe where we can either bring some laptops in or even build or raise funds for some desktops, and then allow people to buy a TestOut license and start training," said Chang. "Our students can provide some of the expertise behind that."
Expertise indeed. The students had a computer with "all the bells and whistles" that they built from raw components as part of their display for the judges. Something else that surely impressed the judges was the fact that each of these students is currently working toward certification. Impressive to say the least.
"Our team was much more organized than any other team; we had a clear display and it was simple for people to understand," explained Bruno Mendes, another member of the gold-medal winning team. "What we were showcasing, TestOut, would also help millions of people around the world make more money in just a couple of months. People were really amazed at this, and so that's what made us different."
Many hours went into preparing for this presentation, and the team referenced the great support they received from the likes of Joseph Lin at Cerner, and Wendy Edwards of TestOut. The students' preparation allowed them to thrive under the pressure of the competition.
"My favorite part of competing is the feeling of going against others for something you've worked extremely hard on," said Liliana Mejia, the third member of the gold medal team. "And to be able to see how your hard work paid off."
"When we got to competing I got a little nervous because the judges are staring me down," admitted Bruno. "I was more excited to talk about TestOut with my teammates than anything; we had devoted many hours of our time to this competition, and I wanted to win."
The team did just that. They overwhelmed the judges both with the breadth of their certification knowledge, and the savvy application of that IT know-how. The students used their understanding of TestOut products to present a career pathways plan that wowed the judges. This must have left little doubt as to who should be the recipients of the coveted gold medal.
The team's focus and excitement now turns to Kentucky, where their goal will be to prove how an emphasis on IT certification can help an entire community for the better. This is a motivation that is above and beyond winning, that will hopefully be behind a national championship. The practice and preparation continues.
"The overall preparation is really, I think, where the students learn the most. And everyone benefits, you know, from thinking about the future," said Chang. "Now they’re really excited ‘cause they’re going to Kentucky to eat some real fried chicken! Kentucky Fried Chicken!"
And who wouldn't be excited about that?