WAUZEKA-STEUBEN - Like most middle-schoolers, Mallory McCullick has a lot on her mind: Homework, friendships, and… CO2 dragsters?
“I’ve always been interested in building and creating stuff,” said the eighth grader at Wauzeka-Steuben.
The model cars, powered by compressed carbon dioxide gas, can achieve speeds of up to 70 miles per hour. “It’s all about aerodynamics and engineering skills,” she said. “We do a lot of the design part on the computer. There’s a lot that goes into it. You create a design that basically you think will do the best and perform good.”
McCullick will get a chance to test her design in the real world this week at the fiftieth annual SkillsUSA Wisconsin State Leadership and Skills Conference, which takes place April 25 and 26 in Madison.
She’s one of about two dozen Wauzeka-Steuben students to participate in SkillsUSA, a national program that allows high school students to show their stuff in a variety of practical fields like engineering, welding, and woodworking.
“For kids who can’t express themselves through, say, math, it gives them something,” explains Paul Krachey, a junior in the program, who will compete in the welding category.
“It’s always a hands-on activity like carpentry or welding or cosmetology,” he said. “Basically, any kind of skills and trades you can think of.”
SkillsUSA, a national organization with local chapters, is a non-profit that aims to give students a leg up in the technical trades. About 331,000 students and instructors participate annually in the program, which is intended to teach not only practical skills, but also the “soft skills” like a professional attitude or how to collaborate.
The competitions work something like a track meet—students can participate in one of a few dozen activities, and over the years they can try out as many skills as they want to.
The gatherings also allow them to meet other students who share their passions, as well as faculty and industry insiders.
“A lot of industry experts come to the meets and give us the 411 of where things stand in their industry,” Krachey said.
Brad Gillitzer, Wauzeka-Steuben’s Technology & Engineering Education Instructor, who serves as the SkillsUSA, says the program provides invaluable real-world lessons for the students.A study commissioned by the organization found that SkillsUSA participants are more likely feel excited about school, getting first-hand work experience, and their chosen career.