SkillsUSA competitors learn teamwork, communication at UW-Stout

SkillsUSA competition at UW-Stout draws about 380 competitors. UW-Stout photo by Brett T. Roseman
Pam Powers | February 23, 2018

SkillsUSA competitor Saria Vaughn shared a simple secret she uses to get her Co2 Dragster car to go faster.

“I put the canister under my armpit,” she said. “You don’t want it to be cold. You want it to warm up, so it goes faster. I think it worked.”

Vaughn, a senior at Barack Obama High School in Milwaukee, was one of about 380 students from high schools across Wisconsin competing in the Regional SkillsUSA event Thursday and Friday, Feb. 22-23, on the University of Wisconsin-Stout campus.One of the search and rescue robots on the course at SkillsUSA

For the event, Vaughn said students built race cars and used Co2 cartridges to race them. Vaughn also competed in interviewing, in her third year with SkillsUSA.

“It taught me a lot about communications and making eye contact,” she said of SkillsUSA. “That’s good experience.”

This is the 35th year for SkillsUSA at UW-Stout, said Brian Finder, a professor in the operations and management department.

Students participating in SkillsUSA get career information as well as learn about technology and develop leadership skills, Finder said.

In a new competition this year, students used remote control robotic vehicles with a mechanical arm they built to search in a simulated building to locate, secure and dispose of artificial ordnance.

Cameron Pilgreen, a UW-Stout freshman majoring in mechanical engineering, built the course with his father, Mike. Cameron Pilgreen competed in SkillsUSA for five years when he was in middle and high school at Watertown.David Craig works on his search and rescue robot

The robots had cameras connected to cell phones or computers to allow students to see around the building. Ordnances were hidden in mailboxes that had to be opened with the robotic arm and found within six minutes.

“It builds a lot of teamwork,” Pilgreen said. “You need to know where to put your camera, so you can see. We tried not to make the course super difficult, but we wanted to make it challenging.”

Benjamin Jimenez and Cheyenne Mensch from Arcadia High School built their robotic vehicle with wheels that could move the machine at 90-degree angles. In their first run they had difficulty because the camera was not connecting well to the cell phone, creating choppy video.

Jimenez, a first-year high school student, said he enjoys competing at SkillsUSA.

“I like learning new things and new things for the future,” Jimenez said.

Mensch, a sophomore, said she just enjoyed working with the robot.

Jarrod Zemaitis works on drafting at SkillsUSAArcadia High School technology education and engineering teacher John Peterson said students develop not only technical skills, but also learn to communicate and work in teams during the competition.

“The problem solving they do is huge,” Peterson said. “They have to come up with their own ideas. They do this on their own time outside of class. It’s good to see them persevere.”

Maddie Tengel and Bjorn Mortenson, both juniors at Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau High School, competed in the search and rescue event finding one ordnance in their first run. They ran into trouble when the roof of the lower part of the structure was too low for their robot’s arm.

“I like the challenge and all the options you can do with your robot,” Tengel said. “I like seeing other competitors’ robots.”

Mortenson said he enjoys making changes with the robot and seeing the results.Azarria Martin reacts as her CO2 car races down a course at SkillsUSA

Another competition held had students design a coupler shaft and print it on a 3D printer and then put stress on it to see how many pounds it could withstand.

Ryan Van Dyck, a junior at Ashwaubenon High School, was part of a team that created a coupler shaft that survived about 13 pounds of pressure before twisting.

“It is fun to do the competition,” Van Dyck said. “You get to meet new people. It’s also fun to make something out of nothing and see if it works.”

Van Dyck said he plans to pursue a career in inventive engineering.

UW-Stout’s College of Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Management sponsored Regional SkillsUSA. Approximately 75 UW-Stout students and 25 faculty and staff volunteered. The regional event helped competitors prepare for state and national SkillsUSA events. SkillsUSA is based in Virginia and has more than 13,000 student chapters in the U.S.


Winners are listed at First place winners are yellow, second place gray and third place orange.




Photos: UW-Stout photos by Brett T. Roseman

One of the search and rescue robots runs the course looking for an ordnance at the SkillsUSA competition.

David Craig of Oregon High School works on his search and rescue robot during the SkillsUSA competition at UW-Stout.

Jarrod Zemaitis of Chippewa Falls High School works on drafting skills at the Skills USA competition.

Azarria Martin, Barack Obama High School of Career and Technical Education in Milwaukee, reacts as her Co2 car zooms down a course.



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