Growing up in a small town in Western Ohio, McKenna Murray labeled herself early on as a shy kid who typically didn’t speak out or try new things. She was cautious as she started high school and was timid when it came to meeting people and becoming involved in activities. In fact, she was just fine with staying in her own, comfortable groove and keeping her confidence tucked away for safekeeping.
But thankfully, there were some incredibly caring teachers out there who wouldn’t let her hide her potential forever. During McKenna’s junior year of high school, she began taking classes in Cosmetology at Upper Valley Career Center in Piqua. That’s when McKenna’s teacher, Sara Plozay, introduced her to the concept of SkillsUSA Ohio.
Head held high with no regrets
“Mrs. Plozay introduced our class to SkillsUSA Ohio, as she serves as the Chapter Advisor. We didn’t have anything like it at my small high school, so I was very hesitant to fully immerse myself into the organization,” shared McKenna. “I wasn’t entirely sure what I was getting myself into!”
Although she was nervous to try something new, McKenna joined SkillsUSA shortly after attending her first Fall Conference, as a junior in high school. “Mrs. Plozay convinced me to run for my local and regional chapter, as well as join my chapter’s Opening and Closing Ceremony competition team. It was amazing competing with my teammates and placing 1st at our Regional Competition,” said McKenna.
Her budding courage didn’t stop there. During her senior year, McKenna’s advisors—Mrs. Plozay and Mr. Jeff Bertke—persuaded her into trying Prepared Speech. “I placed 3rd at the Regional Competition and 2nd at the State Competition,” she said. “After receiving my medal on stage, my advisors gave me the biggest hugs and I knew my fear of letting them down didn’t matter. I could tell how proud they were, and I honestly wouldn’t have been able to do it without either of them!”
Without a doubt, SkillsUSA Ohio advisors are one of the reasons students come back year after year. McKenna’s advisors were no exception. “During my time in SkillsUSA, my advisors pretty much changed my life,” she said. “They were the ones who always had my back. Whenever I felt I couldn’t do something, they never let me give up. I will always be grateful they never stopped pushing me to be better.”
What’s another top reason students choose to re-engage with SkillsUSA each school year? Because of the friendships and camaraderie! SkillsUSA Ohio gives its members the opportunity to meet new contacts through conferences and contests. McKenna shared, “As someone who had a hard time making friends in school, SkillsUSA made it so easy to have a conversation with someone new. I have made so many new friendships and connections from all over Ohio, as well as the United States. When I was a voting delegate at the National Leadership and Skills Conference in Louisville, I met many new people and was able to help one of my closest friends (and fellow Regional Officer) run for a national office and become Region 3 Vice President!”
More than just your typical education
Even with its dynamic Framework of skills and educational programming, SkillsUSA provides so much more to each student that is intangible and incredibly powerful. “SkillsUSA doesn’t just teach you the essential elements; it teaches you how to put yourself out there and be someone you may have never thought was possible,” said McKenna. “SkillsUSA has taught me so much about not only the different soft skills I use every day at my job, but also myself that I would have never known had I not joined.”
McKenna continued, “If there was one thing I could have done differently with my SkillsUSA experience, it would have been to get involved sooner than I did. I am a whole new person I never thought I’d be because of it. I have so many incredible memories and friends who I still talk to because of the opportunities I had while being in SkillsUSA.”
Prepared and ready for what’s next
Now two years out of high school, McKenna is employed as a hairstylist with The Styling Company. SkillsUSA helped her to establish the career of her choice and demonstrate confidence as she has grown her client base. “My chapter prepared me for my future in Cosmetology by teaching me how to open up and have conversations with clients, as well as handle business meetings and not be afraid to put myself out there and try more new things,” said McKenna.
Even though she is now forward focused on her career, McKenna will always hold special the time she spent as a member of SkillsUSA Ohio. “From training in Washington, D.C. to helping with conferences, there are so many amazing memories I have of my time in SkillsUSA,” she shared. “My top three takeaways would definitely be all of the essential elements I learned about, the many fantastic opportunities I had the chance to take, and all of the wonderful friends and memories I’ve made.”