No matter where you live across the country, you likely don’t leave often. In fact, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 72% of Americans live in or close to the city where they grew up. This is good news when it comes to local community strength, but it means many miss the chance to learn from new people with different perspectives.
For students participating in SkillsUSA, opportunities for statewide and national involvement abound. Not only do members gain valuable life and work skills for future careers, but they are provided invaluable connections with others across different schools, backgrounds, interests and viewpoints.
A path to personal growth
Austin Huddleston first learned about SkillsUSA within his first few weeks at Upper Valley Career Center (UVCC) in Piqua, Ohio. He was studying Exercise Science and joined because it seemed like something fun to do and it offered many unique opportunities. What he didn’t realize at the time was how much he would learn about how diverse his country and world truly are.
“I came from a small town, and I knew everyone in the community. Joining SkillsUSA allowed
me to see parts of the country I never thought I would see,” shared Huddleston. “SkillsUSA Ohio has taught me how to deal with so many different personalities and people. This will benefit how I deal with my future patients and hopefully students in my Exercise Physiology field.”
Two years ago, Huddleston attended the 2019 SkillsUSA National Leadership and Skills Conference in Louisville, KY. He had served in leadership roles with Skills USA Ohio, first as a Local Officer and then as Southwest Regional Officer. On his way to Kentucky, Huddleston was hoping to be elected as a National Officer at the Conference. Traveling to the event was exciting in multiple ways, including giving Huddleston the opportunity to connect with students from across the country he wouldn’t have otherwise met. And it served as one of his best memories with his chapter and newfound peers.
“I was close to stage, sweating with nerves—it was the moment I might be chosen as a National Officer,” said Huddleston. “I was surrounded by a sea of red blazers and potential national officers. Buckets of sweat were running down my head. I felt so nervous as they started. When I saw my name and heard it being announced, I also heard the voices of my friends shouting with excitement. I ran on stage and hugged the then current National Region 3 Vice President, Ulamila Uluiviti. We both were shaking with excitement and sheer joy.”
Huddleston became one of the few student at UVCC to serve back-to-back leadership positions. “There are 15 National Officer positions, and I was one of the lucky few who were able to serve,” he shared. “I think that’s what made it special—the students who trusted all 15 of us to serve SkillsUSA to the best of our abilities.”
A priceless foundation
Currently in his freshman year at Bowling Green State University pursuing Exercise Physiology, Huddleston is incredibly grateful for the positive impact SkillsUSA has had on his life and career journey. Much of the gratitude extends to his SkillsUSA Ohio Chapter Advisor, Sara Plozay, at UVCC.
“During my time with Skills, Mrs. Plozay—or as I like to call her, ‘P’—helped me and influenced me in so many ways,” he shared. “She inspires dedication and to strive to finish everything you start.” Plozay also supported Huddleston on his path to national leadership. At the national conference, “She was behind me and she was just as nervous. I would just like to thank Mrs. Plozay for showing me that people care about me and that I am important.”
More than just job skills
The SkillsUSA Framework impacts the development of the whole person, including technical, workplace and personal skills. When Huddleston started the program, he was nervous and unsure about everything he was going to need to do. But with incredible guidance from his advisor, the support of his peers and the strength of the program, he went on to become a national leader to best serve the organization and himself.
“My top three takeaways from SkillUSA were the leadership skills I learned as an officer, how to use my empathy skills to help others, and how friendships can help you grow as a human,” Huddleston said. “I would say the friendships you build with your fellow officers and team is one of the greatest rewards.”
Want to hear more stories from SkillsUSA Ohio members, both past and present? View our blog page.