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Students put skills to the test in hands-on competition

By Catherine Hawley, Reporter, @CatherineH_WFMZ, chawley@wfmz.com
Published On: Feb 01 2012 03:12:44 PM CST
Updated On: Feb 01 2012 04:41:20 PM CST

Future chefs, electricians, hair dressers and mechanics from across the area strutted their stuff Wednesday.

ALLENTOWN, Pa. -

Future chefs, electricians, hair dressers and mechanics from across the area strutted their stuff Wednesday. 

It was all part of the annual SkillsUSA championships at the Agri-plex in Allentown.

Six career and technical schools from across the region pitted more than 400 of their best and brightest in the District 11 competition. 

Scholarship money, career opportunities and gold medal status were all on the line.

"This is a really big deal for our students," said Melinda Stumpf, executive director of SkillsUSA Council.

They're competing in more than 50 different hands-on categories, including nursing, carpentry, computer technology and automotive services.

"Most of these kids are juniors and seniors," said Stumpf.  "They've had some experience in the shops and they're the best in their class and that's why they're here."

About $64,000 in scholarship money and a chance to compete on the state and national level is at stake.

"I don't think I'll win, but I'm hoping to at least place," said Damain Chunko, a junior at Lehigh Career and Technical Institute.

"Last year, I placed second and I was really excited about that but this year I'm going for first place," explained Ariel Karo, a senior at Bethlehem Area Vocational Technical School.

Karo is strutting her stuff in the masonry competition. She's the only female, but said it drives her harder.

"I'm going to be constructing a brick and block combination project," explained Karo.  "I have to lay it to specific specifications that the judges give us."

Whether they're building with brick or sculpting in sugar, it's tough competition. Students get to shine or find out what they need to work on.

"We have PTI, pre-trip inspections, engine diagnostics, brake diagnostics, transmission diagnostics, and just basic shop performance," said Chunko.

The SkillsUSA organization also partners career-tech co-eds with local businesses.  The resume of each winner will be handed off to prospective employers.

Gold, silver and bronze medals will be handed out at Parkland High School in South Whitehall Twp., Lehigh Co., at 6 p.m. Wednesday.