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Competitions at Indiana County sites test area students' career skills

| Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014, 8:55 p.m.
Bruce Siskawicz | The Dispatch
Cosmetology student Kristina Pizer paints the nails of model Kristin Glance as part of the SkillsUSA District 8 competition Jan. 20 at Indiana County Technology Center. Both girls are juniors at Blairsville High School.
Bruce Siskawicz | The Dispatch
Electrical student Weylon McGeary, a senior at United High School, works on a wiring project during the SkillsUSA District 8 competition Jan. 20 at ICTC.
Bruce Siskawicz | The Dispatch
From left, WyoTech diesel instructor Joe Pavlic of Derry talks to seniors Casey Crum of Greater Johnstown High School and Robert Mahan of Forbes High School as they prepare for a SkillsUSA competition Jan 20 at Wyotech automotive school near Blairsville.
Bruce Siskawicz | The Dispatch
Taylor Kolesar, a junior at Blairsville High School, serves chef instructors Andrew Nutter of Indiana (left) and Martha Jo Rupert of Punxsutawney, both members of the Indiana University of Pennsylvania culinary arts faculty, during a restaurant service event — one of a variety of SkillsUSA District 8 competitions held Jan. 20 at the Indiana County Technology Center.

An estimated 350 students from 10 career and technology centers throughout the region gathered at the Indiana County Technology Center and nearby sites Monday for the District 8 SkillsUSA competition, which had students facing off in more than 60 career-related categories. First-place winners qualified to represent the district and their school at a state competition in April in Harrisburg.

The competition is held annually at one of the vocational schools in the District 8 western region, which includes ICTC and the Eastern Westmoreland Career and Technology Center. Sandy Zulick, a cosmetology instructor and skills adviser at ICTC, helped ready the Indiana school for its first time playing host to the competition in a decade.

“It was a pretty big undertaking,” she acknowledged. “But I think everybody has been pleased with it.”

The local vocational school was responsible for finding sites and judges for each category of the competition, including ones such as criminal justice and firefighting that aren't included in the ICTC curriculum.

The Indiana Fire Station was able to accommodate the firefighting competitors, while WyoTech in Burrell Township was the location for several automotive events. Other competition sites were the Indiana Area Senior High, the Kovalchick Convention and Athletic Complex and a local site operated by the Indiana Armstrong Builders Association. Some events were held outside the county, at McKeesport and Forbes Road career and technology centers.

“We're very pleased with all of the help that we had from the community members,” said Carol Fry, director of ICTC. “This wouldn't be possible if we didn't have those connections with the business and industry that we do.”

Judges for the events included Indiana County Sheriff Robert Fyock, who helped rate competitors in the criminal justice category.

Taking on the role of a law enforcement officer, two students were tested on the correct procedures to follow for a felony traffic stop. The steps included using a broadcast system to order the driver out of the vehicle; using the car's door as cover to help keep the officer safe; and getting the “felon,” who was found to have simulated drugs and a weapon on him, to the ground and cuffing him.

“I think it's very good,” Fyock said of the competition. “We stress officer safety, and for them to get into something right off the bat, they need to see and experience what needs to be done.”

ICTC cosmetology students Kristin Glance and Kristina Pizer, both juniors at Blairsville High School, came out of their competition feeling fairly confident about how they'd performed.

Glance was tested in nail care. Using Pizer as her model, she performed nail wraps, applied acrylic nails and implementing nail art. Glance was chosen to compete by her instructor at the beginning of the school year.

“It was nerve-wracking,” Glance said. “It's pressure, and you've got to know what you're doing. But I feel like I did good.”

And rightly so. Glance and Pizer took first place in nail care, which was one of the larger competitions. There were 16 students taking part — eight competitors and eight models.

Weylon McGeary, a senior at United High School, tested against six other students in the electrical construction wiring competition. His test consisted of working with a lighting branch circuit and a bell circuit — a regular doorbell, he explained — as well as completing a written test.

McGeary devoted two weeks of his ICTC classes to practicing the circuits. That work paid off, earning him a first-place spot in the district event and a ticket to the state competition.

“It teaches you to work fast, so it takes less time for the job,” McGeary said.

As the only competitor in the welding sculpture division, ICTC student Jacob Shank was an automatic state qualifier with his metal tableau of stick figures in a welding shop.

The Marion Center High School senior started the sculpture at the beginning of the school year, working at it each day during the two hours he spends at ICTC.

Helping him plan out the project was his welding instructor, Jim Allshouse.

Also taking first place in her division was ICTC photography competitor Morgan Johnston, a junior at Penns Manor.

Setting up lighting and a backdrop and directing a model for a portrait were part of the components of her event, as well as editing, printing and mounting the resulting photos. The students also were asked to bring in one example of work they had already finished.

Johnston said she sees the competition as a way to receive constructive criticism through the scoring by the judges, one of which was local photographer Jennifer McKendrick, who operates Jen McKen Photography from her Black Lick home and studio.

“We got to see (the students' work) from their original conception to how they finish it,” McKendrick said. “It's important for them to know why they're doing what they're doing. It's really well-rounded for them.” 

Taylor Kolesar, a Blairsville junior and ICTC student, tried her hand in the restaurant service competition, which had students present menus, serve food, clear the table and check up on the “customers.” The students were asked questions about the menu, so Kolesar spent a week studying the menu and the table settings, looking up recipes and making sure she knew the required vocabulary.

Kolesar is enrolled in the culinary arts program at ICTC and is leaning toward a career in baking.

“It helps you prepare for a job — if you don't know how to do it, you can get experience,” Kolesar said of the skills competition.

Kendra Voorhies, a junior at Penns Manor, competed in the commercial baking division.

With a month to prepare, she practiced baking the various treats she knew would be included in the testing: banana nut bread, puff pastries, a white pan bread and a pie — all of which had to be completed within three hours.

“Just by practicing all of this, by the time I'm actually in college, I'll know exactly what I'm doing,” she said, noting her dream is to become a pastry chef,

Voorhies also was inspired by the baking competitions that have become a prominent part of reality TV programming. She said such shows gave her ideas for designs and techniques to apply to her baking.

She also received some tips from her ICTC instructor, Dennis Gehly, who said events like SkillsUSA give students a glimpse at the competitiveness they may find in their careers.

“It gives them a sense of the competition out there,” he said. “They get to see what other students bring to the table.”

Only two students from each school could compete in each category. To participate in the event, students may have volunteered, been chosen by their instructors or earned a spot through in-class competitions.

“All of the skills that the students are doing right now in these various competitions are actual skills that they need in the workplace,” from general leadership skills to ones that are specialized in their program areas. Zulick said. “So they know what's going to be expected of them out in the workplace.”

The competition can even serve as a networking event for the students, who are being judged by employers in the community who may look to them in the future.

“It's just one more opportunity that they can put on their resumé to highlight what their skills are, even if they just say they were a competitor,” said Fry.

“It's all performance-based,” said ICTC Principal Michael McDermott. “It's the students being able to physically demonstrate that they have the skills and can apply the skills. If they can do that in these competitions, they can certainly do it in the workplace.”

Gina DelFavero is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-459-6100, ext. 2915 or

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