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NMHS enjoys SkillsUSA haul

Jamie Lusch / Mail TribuneNorth Medford outgoing senior Piper Messer placed fourth nationally in the SkillsUSA National competition in Architectural Drafting.
Five students crack top 13 in national CTE competition

Piper Messer wasn’t exactly brimming with confidence after completing her architectural drafting challenge for the SkillsUSA National competition, so when she received a text from the organization encouraging her to check to see if she placed in the top nine, she scoffed.

“I was like, pffff, I’m not one of the top nine,” she said. “And so I went to look and I was like, ‘Oh, I guess I am.’ So I was not expecting to (place high), but I was very happy I did.”

The recent high school graduate was one of five North Medford High students to place in the top 13 in the SkillsUSA Nationals, which was held remotely this year after being canceled in 2020. SkillsUSA is a nonprofit education association whose state and national competitions are designed to help middle school, high school and college/postsecondary students prepare for careers in trade, technical and skilled service occupations.

Like all the national qualifiers, Messer, who is headed to Oregon State to study chemical engineering, won the Oregon state competition to advance to nationals, where North Medford was well represented. Tai Adams, a soon-to-be senior, placed seventh nationally in cabinetmaking; recent graduate Ammon Ormerod placed eighth in related technical math; and recent graduate Cole Pillardo and junior-to-be Katelynn Balsiger teamed up to place 13th in additive manufacturing.

As always, North Medford’s SkillsUSA competitors were prepped for their various state and national tests by career and technical education teacher and SkillsUSA advisor Kirstie Christopherson, who earned SkillsUSA’s Oustanding Career and Technical Educator award in 2019.

“Well, obviously I’m just incredibly proud and stoked,” said Christopherson, who’s been teaching at North Medford since 1992. “It’s just affirmation of my program. What I love is when a kid has a good day competing. No matter where they placed, if they do well on a problem, then that’s a good feeling. So if you get beat and you had a good day on the problem and you feel like you did your best … then it is what it is.”

Christopherson said in her time at North Medford, the school has placed 26 students in the top 15 in different categories nationally. Messer is the first North Medford student since 2013 to crack the top four at nationals.

For the architectural drafting remote challenge, Messer had eight hours to design a house and orient it on a site plan that included several trees and a creek. In the first-ever SkillsUSA national competition conducted remotely, Messer logged in to the Zoom session from a North Medford High classroom and completed the task while a proctor sat nearby and watched her every move to ensure she didn’t cheat.

As the clocked ticked, Messer used the program Chief Architect to design a three-bedroom, two-and-a-half bath home, closely following specifications for what would be contained in each room, including furniture.

“They didn’t give you a size, they didn’t give you what the house should look like or an already drawn plan,” she said. “It was just completely up to whatever you thought best.”

Messer, who doesn’t consider interior design a strength, decided she needed to make the most of the creek view, so she placed the house so that the master bedroom, family room and kitchen would have that line of sight. Orienting the house in that way was part of the challenge, but Messer said she also had the trees to contend with. She could have chosen to break out the ax, but in the end she decided the trees should stay.

“There were a lot of trees on the site plan and you were trying to save as many as you could,” Messer said. “It was kind of nice the way that I did mine — you wouldn’t have to cut down any trees. So that was pretty nice. I thought that was the best option. Save as many, don’t cut any down.”

Tough decisions like that are part of what make the architectural drafting competition so challenging, Christopherson said.

“This is not just a how-good-are-you-at-the-software contest,” she said. “It is also how skillful are you in architecture — drafting and producing the drawings that are associated with your solution.”

Messer has competed in architectural drafting every year at North Medford, but this year marked the first time she qualified for nationals in that category. Previously, she qualified for nationals three times in job demonstration. She was so surprised when she found out she had placed fourth, her first thought was that some of the other competitors must have struggled uploading the site plan. Her next thought was to snap a screen shot and send it to her mother, Medford School Board Vice Chair Suzanne Messer.

Christopherson was less surprised.

“What I most like about Piper is she’s game,” Christopherson said. “She’s willing to try new things. She’s a little bit competitive. She’s kind and generous with her time and knowledge with other students, and she’s got an incredible work ethic. I mean, what more can you ask for? And she’s bright. She’s naturally gifted in this area.”

North Medford’s other SkillsUSA placers also stepped up at nationals. Adams made an octagon box with a lid and a bottom, and also had to build a jig, on which he was also judged. Ormerod, who’s only 16 years old, had to use higher-end math, including calculus, to complete his project.

Pillardo and Balsiger used one of North Medford’s 3-D printers for their task, which involved designing a product that included a company logo which would fit within certain parameters. They used SolidWorks software to build their design and had to give a PowerPoint presentation and pass a three-hour test.

Christopherson said her students’ resiliency came through at state and nationals.

“What I’m most proud about is in this whole weird year-and-a-half of COVID, where a lot of kids and people kind of shrunk back, these kids were willing to stick out their necks and compete and take that extra step forward with their things, and I totally respect that,” she said. “It’s really just comfortable in your own home, but to step up and in and stick your neck out a little — I am so proud of them for that.”

Joe Zavala can be reached at 541-821-0829 or jzavala@rosebudmedia.com.