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Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune Yesenia Avila, 18, works Tuesday on a robot during a robotics class at Eagle Point High School.
Eagle Point High School students earn medals for everything from robotics to cake decorating at SkillsUSA competition; headed to nationals later this year

In a workshop at Eagle Point High School Tuesday morning, student Yesenia Avila carefully constructed a robot small and light enough to fit on a table.

It’s the kind of thing the high school student — with sights set on obtaining a mechanical engineering degree at Oregon State University — loves to build.

“I just like seeing my vision come to fruition,” Avila said.

For the young woman who participated in the statewide SkillsUSA competition and took home a gold medal in the urban search and rescue category, that vision could be a robot that is designed to find and dismantle explosive devices in buildings.

“I think (robots are) important to take away the more dangerous and harmful jobs,” Avila said. “So I think it’s important to continue innovating robotics and finding new ways to do these things so that people won’t get harmed.”

She and four other young women at EPHS are looking forward to competing in robotics against their peers from all over the country in the national SkillsUSA event in Atlanta later this year. If they place well there, they could go on to a worldwide competition.

The students — part of a group of 28 EPHS pupils — qualified for nationals after participating in the Oregon State Leadership and Skills Conference April 14-15 at Camp Withycombe in Clackamas, where they took home 14 medals.

Eagle Point was not the only Rogue Valley school district that took home medals from the Camp Withycombe SkillsUSA competition, however. The Medford School District posted on Facebook a long list of winners from North Medford High School and McLoughlin Middle School.

In addition to Aliva, Eagle Point High School students Sasha Mitson, Rylie Fernandes, Reagan Hussey and Chelsie Ecker all gave their thoughts on what it’s like to be a SkillsUSA participant.

“We just had that mindset of, ‘no matter what happens, we’re here for the experience,’” Ecker said.

Fernandes added that “there’s always nerves” going into a competition, but as far as competing in chapter display, “we definitely placed better than we thought we were going to.”

As for the group as a whole, Fernandes recognizes it was a group effort, not a singular one, that made it possible for the team to walk away with numerous medals.

They all let out a laugh when asked whether they were surprised to win statewide.

“I was surprised when they called me up on stage because I feel like I could have got sixth, maybe,” said Mitson, who decorated a cake according to the theme of celebrating someone’s “happy retirement” from the office.

Hussey competed in chapter display — a poster board showing information around the 2022 SkillsUSA prompt “United As One.” She talked about what might have compelled judges to give her, Ecker and Fernandes a good review.

“I think a lot of it is our presentation skills,” Hussey said. “Our display might not have been the best, but then all of us getting up and explaining how it relates to the prompt affected how we placed.”

Fernandes said her team is “very grateful for the opportunity to go to nationals.”

“It will definitely be a very fun and meaningful trip,” she said.

SkillsUSA is known as a career and technical student organization, teaching youth technical and leadership skills across 130 industries. Since 1965, SkillsUSA has grown to 11 million members.

A YouTube video about SkillsUSA shared by Langston says the organization “complements technical training with leadership development so members can learn about their chosen field of study and about themselves.”

SkillsUSA has earned the endorsement of people such as Mike Rowe, a national television personality who leads the mikeroweWORKS Foundation, which provides opportunities for youth who want to pursue vocational training as opposed to a four-year degree.

“SkillsUSA has so much value and so much to offer to the jobs that are available today — the really good jobs that can pay upwards of six figures,” Rowe said in the video. “Somebody has to come in and celebrate the opportunities that are available and encourage kids to explore very specific kinds of careers; nobody else is doing that today.”

As for career goals, Fernandes has thought about going into real estate.

“I personally don’t feel like a four-year school is going to be my strength, which is totally fine; it’s not for everybody,” she said. “I think there are so many other options. You can literally do anything you want with your life. I don’t think one thing should be pushed on anybody.”

EPHS student Reagan Hussey said she believes a four-year degree is right for her. She is thinking about applying to Montana State University, where she might major in business and engineering.

Reach reporter Kevin Opsahl at 541-776-4476 or kopsahl@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @KevJourno.