OREM -- Students from Utah Valley University have captured enough medals at the recent national SkillsUSA competition to garner the university second place overall. It is the 13th year that UVU has ranked in the top three colleges nationally.

"The faculty and staff involved in SkillsUSA do such a phenomenal job with the students," Ian Wilson, UVU vice president of academic affairs, said. "It is a tribute to the quality of our programs and faculty. It is also great experience for the students. What a resume builder."

The competition was held in Kansas City, Mo., and had 98 categories. Students at both high school and college levels from all 50 states, Guam, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands were eligible to compete.

Six students or teams from UVU took first place in their categories -- Rutger Hill in architectural drafting, Jon Holt in computer programming and Tyler Christensen in power equipment technology. In chapter business procedure, the team of Michelle Carbajal, Charles Davenport, Joseph Kitchen, Landon Nilsson, Brendan Schofield and Mark Stoutsenberger took first. In engineering technology and design, Ryan Fleenor, Valyeon Flygare and Eric Tasso took the top spot, while Jason Neely and Trezor Owens took first in robotics and automation technology.

Neely is a non-traditional student, 46-year-old father of three. He has gone back to school for further education.

"When they mentioned they were having this competition I volunteered to be involved with it," he said. "It was a chance to work with a robotic arm. It was a good experience to go to Kansas City and participate. During the competition, we were given a couple of tasks they wanted us to complete." The team didn't finish all the tasks, so they were surprised when they were called as national winners.

Neely plans on graduating in spring 2014.

"I hope to find a good job so I can possibly work with robotics," he said. "I am hoping I can use my skills, plus I have a degree in drafting and industrial design."

With the six gold medals, five silver and one bronze, UVU on its own had more honors than did 41 states with all their collegiate institutions combined.

"Year after year our students are proving that they are as good as, and arguably better than, any in Utah at applying their trades and skills under the pressure of real-job situations," Darin Taylor, department chair of Engineering Graphics & Design Technology and UVU SkillsUSA director, said.

"It is something we obviously brag about," he said. "It is not easy. It says a lot about our hands-on trade and technology programs."

And those programs have real-life applications for the students.

"I see too many students today getting a degree in something that does not lead to a job when they are done," Taylor said. "They find themselves back in school again. In our program, almost every one of those students has a job before they graduate. Probably 95 percent of our students already have a job lined up."

"The technological innovation that is taught here and pursued here is astounding," Jim McCulloch, the College of Technology and Computing communication specialist, said. "Utah employers are scooping up our graduates at an unbelievable rate."

"It may be the best-kept secret in the state of Utah," he said. "We now have the national champion in several fields. This is a big thing."

In most of the competitions, students are given a problem or problems to solve or a task to complete. High school and college students have the same challenges, but do not compete against each other. The questions are created and the solutions are judged by professionals in the fields.

"These are tough problems," Taylor said. And some of them are not only intense, but long. "This is eight hours of laying bricks or designing a house or solving computer problems." The various competitions are held over a five-day period in a location that occupies more than 16 football fields of floor space.

Being around professionals is not an unusual situation for the UVU students.

"It is part of our engaged learning," Taylor said. "We have professionals working side by side with the faculty. We work closely with industry. We keep our programs up to date."

"We're especially thrilled to see our students winning national championships in competitions that mirror what they'll be doing in their chosen careers," Michael Savoie, the dean of the College of Technology and Computing, said. "It's a clear reflection of the innovative and engaged learning which happens here at the College of Technology and Computing,"

Taylor said the competition was a mark of the university's prominence.

"SkillsUSA shows that we do something right," he said. "They are competing against the best of the best. There is nothing that makes me prouder than to watch these kids. They are humble and pretty quiet. They know they are good, but they don't brag about it. It makes you feel good about how they handle themselves. We are doing something right in the state of Utah and UVU. This isn't a fluke."

• Second place:

Criminal justice: Jennifer Nakai

Culinary arts: Taehwan Lee

Photography: Braxton Wilhelmsen

Related technical math: Matthew Cannon

Telecommunications cabling: Aaron Lott

• Third place:

Fire fighting: Jameson Bangerter

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-- Barbara Christiansen covers news in American Fork ˜ government, schools, residents, business and more.
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