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Local students show off hands-on skills at national conference

Emily Christiansen and Isaiah Caswell didn’t spend their second week of summer break relaxing at home or lounging at the pool.

Instead, the Medford students spent the week designing and creating a solution for a wounded veteran who lost his thumb and wanted to play video games using a typical controller.

“It’s fantastic to use the different skills that we’ve learned in school and get to apply them to real-world problems and projects,” said Christiansen, a recent graduate of North Medford High School.

Utilizing their skills of reverse engineering, designing and manufacturing with 3-D printing, Christiansen and Caswell, a North Medford High School senior, worked together on the project during the SkillsUSA National Leadership and Skills Conference in Louisville, Kentucky.

A national organization that serves students preparing for careers in technical, skilled and service fields, SkillsUSA’s mission is to empower its members to become world-class workers, leaders and responsible American citizens.

“Because of SkillsUSA and my engineering classes at North Medford, I decided that I wanted to go to OSU to major in engineering,” Christiansen said. “It’s been a great experience.”

The 54th annual National Leadership and Skills Conference brought thousands of middle school, high school and college or post-secondary students to compete in a wide variety of subjects, including cosmetology, culinary arts, technical drafting and web design.

Christiansen and Caswell were among 10 participants representing North Medford High School, led by teacher and SkillsUSA coach Kirstie Christopherson.

“Kids who get involved in leadership organizations like SkillsUSA tend to enjoy high school,” Christopherson said. “I can tell you that every student of mine who has earned the right to compete at nationals and has gone still talks to me about the experience.”

Christopherson, who has been teaching at North Medford High School for 26 years, said students who take part in SkillsUSA leave high school prepared with valuable experience and leadership skills for the future.

“They have real skills that can allow them to provide for themselves and their loved ones,” she said. “Most go on to college, but many get jobs immediately.”

Piper Messer, another North Medford student, competed in job demonstration open where she taught a recipe for energy bites for long distance runners. Another, Gwen Mortensen, made a fully functioning cabinet from minimal supplies in seven hours.

Three students from South Medford High School participated at the conference as a team in engineering technology and design, led by South Medford teacher and SkillsUSA coach Wade Kadrmas. Students from McLoughlin Middle School, and Eagle Point, Grants Pass and North Valley high schools also participated.

“Doing SkillsUSA and going to nationals is a great thing to put on your resume, so I’ll definitely have a lot more opportunities in the future because I’ve done this,” Caswell said. “And it’s been so much fun.”

Reach Mail Tribune reporting intern Morgan Theophil at mtheophil@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4485. Follow her on Twitter @morgan_theophil.

Left to right: North Medford High School students Tyler McConnel, Charles Curl, Cody Smith (back), Tanner Stach and Malcolm Tracy participate in the SkillsUSA National Leadership and Skills Conference.{ }Photo by Kirstie Christopherson.
A cabinet made by North Medford High School student Gwen Mortensen during the SkillsUSA National Leadership and Skills Conference. Photo by Kirstie Christopherson.