Approximately 1,600 students competed in more than 140 events at the SkillsUSA Nebraska Championships on Friday at Fonner Park.

Tony Glenn, career field specialist for skilled and technical sciences with the Nebraska Department of Education, said the competitions included architecture and construction, audio/video technology, health science, public safety, hospitality and tourism, leadership, manufacturing, information technology and transportation.

This is the third year the state SkillsUSA competition has been held in Grand Island. Glenn said it has continued to grow every year.

“For a lot of these kids, this becomes their basketball court or football field,” he said. “This is their opportunity to showcase what they can do with their skills. Unlike other areas, they are showcasing skills that are going to create a great career for them when they get done with school.”

At Friday’s event, James Severson, a junior at Papillion-LaVista High School, competed in the drone technology competition. This was his first time competing in drone technology.

During the competition, Severson said he had to research information about drones, such as FAA flight restrictions and terminology, and take a written test over the information. After he took the test, he had to fly a certain path where he flew his drone up, down and sideways.

“The last one (task) is to fly cargo where we have to pick up a tiny box and fly through hoops that are 24 inches high,” Severson said. “My drone is kind of lightweight and cheap, so it is going to be difficult to pick up weight. The rest should be pretty easy because the hoops are really big for our drone and really small for the more expensive drones.”

Rebecca Maring, a senior at Anselmo-Merna High School, showcased her art sculpture in the welding sculpture event. This is her third year competing in the event.

Maring said her sculpture was a stainless steel marionette with double rotation in his tips and shoulders. The marionette had shackles around its feet.

“I probably put about 200 hours into my sculpture,” she said. “It is made from 100 percent scratch. It is built up with more stainless steel welding and grinding. I polished it up, put shackles on him and called it good.”

Maring said she likes SkillsUSA because of the variety of competitions that allow students, like herself, to showcase their skills.

“SkillsUSA makes it so you have to focus on your actual skills,” she said. “These are skills that you are really going to use. The welding is something that I can make a career out of. There are so many things going on out here that everybody can take with them, whether it is for a career or a hobby.”

Brett Forsman, construction instructor at Career Pathways Institute and a SkillsUSA adviser, said 55 CPI students competed at the SkillsUSA Nebraska championship.

“The students did not necessarily have to win anything to get to compete here today, but we require practices at CPI, so they have been practicing for the last few months to prepare for this contest,” he said. “The students all do various things, but it is all very hands-on. When you are in a construction contest, you are doing exactly what you do in the industry. They are building a small garden shed and have to do the plumbing, wiring and framing.”

As a SkillsUSA adviser, Forsman said he enjoys seeing his students compete because they must work independently and cannot rely on him or other instructors.

“They are on their own and have to use their knowledge and skills they have learned. It is a lot of fun to watch,” he said.

State Senator Dan Quick was one of many state and community leaders who attended Friday’s Skills USA Nebraska championship. He said he previously attended the SkillsUSA conference, but only attended the awards ceremony. This is the first year he was able to see the competitors in action.

As a plant mechanic with the Grand Island Utilities Department for 28 years prior to being elected state senator, Quick said he realizes the importance of a skilled labor workforce and the need for students to gain the experience to enter the workforce.

“For me, there are so many jobs in the skilled labor trades and opportunities for kids to make good money. We need to be promoting that a lot more,” he said. “Grand Island Public Schools does a good job with CPI. They are not only teaching the skills, but also give them the soft skills that go along with that to do job interviews, resumes and how to work with an employer in the workplace.”

Matt Blomstedt, Nebraska state education commissioner, also attended Friday’s championship. He said he enjoys seeing business and industry come together with education at the event to give students real-world experience.

“I am just amazed by this competition,” Blomstedt said. “When I went through school, we had limited experiences with these types of industries. The connections between kids, teachers and industry is really important, so I am fascinated to see the talent level of kids and teachers. I love to see all the creativity here and the application of technology and skills. Creativity is really an opportunity to engage students in a meaningful way.”

Tim Lawrence, the national executive director of SkillsUSA, also attended the SkillsUSA Nebraska championship Friday. This is his second time at a Nebraska SkillsUSA competition and his first in Grand Island.

Lawrence said Nebraska is unique in its business and industry partners coming together to support education.

“There is not a more viable or dynamic business partnership than in SkillsUSA and it really comes to light here in Nebraska,” he said. “Here in Nebraska, you do it (SkillsUSA competition) as well as any other state in the nation. I look around and see the business partnerships with education here and they are dynamic and vibrant. I am thrilled with what I see in Nebraska.”

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