The Thrills (And Skills) of Victory

The SPHS SkillsUSA national competitors included adviser Garrett Shorr (from left); delegate Mahal Montes; silkscreen competitor Jeffrey Oh; carpentry competitor Henry Balding; Occupational Health and Safety gold medalists Luyang Zhang, Jolene Lee, Talulla Chow; delegate Mollie Parker, computer-programming competitor Alex Parra and adviser Sandra Matson-Fennell. Photos courtesy of Sandra Matson-Fennell

The South Pasadena High “SkillsUSA’’ chapter recently brought home a number of awards from the national competition in Louisville, Ky., held June 24 through June 28.

SkillsUSA is a national membership association that prepares students for careers in trade, technical and skilled service occupations and for further education.

The SPHS Occupational Health and Safety team, comprised of Jolene Lee, Talulla Chow and Luyang Zhang, earned the gold medal with its work and presentation, the highest award in the country. As national champions, the team will go on to compete again in August.

Also, Henry Balding constructed a little house for his SkillsUSA competition and earned close to $1,000 worth of tools for his work. He was also offered a job by a national construction company and will be highlighted in an article in the magazine “SkillsUSA.”

Lee, Chow, Zhang, Jeffrey Oh and Alex Parra received Skill Point certificates for high level placement in their individual competitions. Team advisers included Sandra Matson-Fennell and Garrett Shorr.

Additionally, Micah Mekhitarian will serve as Region 3 vice president, Alex Mariano as state secretary and Ayush Pareek as state reporter for the 2019-2020 academic year.

The SPHS Occupational Health and Safety team members Lee (who will serve as chapter president in the fall), Chow and Zhang joined forces their freshman year and will be entering their junior year in August.

In the national competition, they showcased how they helped to improve the health and safety directly at SPHS. Their four projects included shop and lavatory safety, equipment and machinery safety, workplace safety and indoor air pollution. At SPHS, they investigated four different classrooms and constructed a survey that they passed out to students to gain their perspectives on whether they followed safety guidelines. They then met as a committee to discuss solutions.

The SPHS SkillsUSA Occupational Health and Safety team comprised of sophomores Luyang Zhang (from left), Jolene Lee and Talulla Chow won the gold medal in national competition in Louisville, Ky., held June 24-28.

At the competition, they presented to the judges a scrapbook portfolio of how they analyzed and improved the classrooms, included written paragraphs, evidence photos and industrial surveys of classroom inspections.

“The main purpose was to see what each classroom and program could improve on safety wise,” said Lee.

In their analysis, they also found that the student store had experienced ongoing flooding issues for years, with concerns with mold growing within the walls. They then crafted a detailed report and met with Alfredo Perez, director of facilities and maintenance for the district, to ensure the issue was clearly brought to his department’s attention. Work began in late April and was completed by the end of the school year to fix the issue.

In the SkillsUSA guidelines, competing teams must present documented reports in a scrapbook showing how they inspected and displayed the results of their findings. Chow noted that her team’s work went a step further when they took action.

“We wanted to solve the problem so I think that probably made us different from the other teams,” said Chow.

Chow also found the surveys of student safety habits illuminating.

“It’s really interesting to see the results of our surveys,” said Chow. “Some of them kind of bad, some of them kind of good, I know a lot of times teen-agers tend to neglect some certain rules, especially safety ones, because we kind of disregard those, so it was interesting to see if people followed them and which ones people didn’t.”

The final night before the competition, the team stayed up late polishing its presentation and practicing speeches. Zhang credited the skills of the other teams and noted she learned a lot from the high level of dedication they brought to their work.

“It was totally crazy that we won it,” said Zhang.

“I definitely didn’t expect that we would, because it’s a national competition and the best people in the entire country. I know all the other teams had been preparing really hard, so I was really surprised but also really happy.”

Ultimately, team members found that participation helped them to increase their confidence levels, encouraged growth of leadership initiative and bond more  closely with their school.

“I saw it as an opportunity to grow my leadership skills and really put myself out there to be included in skills and join the school community,” said Lee.