For Jesse Connell and Luis Angel Melendez Novas, a gold medal in the national SkillsUSA competition in June began months ago when they convinced instructor Ron McGary to help them get the software needed to compete.
“They told me they never had somebody do this for Lanier Tech,” Novas said. “So when we went to first meeting for SkillsUSA, they said, ‘We don’t have anything for robotics here ... The school doesn’t have the right software.’ We talked him into it.”
McGary, who teaches industrial systems technology and was the adviser to Novas and Connell in the work for the competition, said the two students proved they were worth the effort, winning at both the state and national competition.
“These guys did extremely, extremely well,” McGary said. “It’s very exciting. They did a great representation of Lanier Technical College and did a great representation for the industrial systems technology program. They performed way beyond expectations.”
Novas and Connell won the robotics and automation technology category at the SkillsUSA championships, held in Louisville, Ky., which featured more than 6,000 students from around the nation. They were required to program a five-axis robot along with a set of sensors and motorized devices to deal with a simulated problem given to them.
“The general theory is they show up for the competition; they’re given a blind task (that) they don’t know what it is,” said Christian Tetzlaff, dean of applied technology at Lanier Tech. “They have to program the robot. They have to complete separate tasks like an assembly line would have to.”
Connell said he got interested in the competition after hearing Novas and McGary talking about it.
“We just jumped on it and went at it,” he said. “When we went to state, that’s when we mentally got set back. It was a lot different and a lot tougher than what we expected. But we still came out on top. With a little bit of practice between state and nationals, we learned a lot more.”
At nationals, Connell said, “We thought we had done really well, but we didn’t know if it was good enough to get gold. When they announced it, we were extremely excited about it.”
The two students are not allowed by SkillsUSA to compete in the same category next year, but they may choose another category. McGary said they will also mentor other students in the robotics competition.
“We’re real proud of them,” Tetzlaff said. “Ron went above and beyond to make sure that these guys got the training that they needed. In Hall County we have a huge manufacturing base here. And these guys are the future of manufacturing in Hall County. They’re not only here to support the base. They’re going to become leaders.”
Cody Brown, who graduated in May from Johnson High School, won a silver medal, finishing second in the graphic communications competition for high school students at the SkillsUSA event.
Brown finished second in the state a year ago and said he worked one to two hours a day, five days a week for more than a year to try to win the state and compete in the national event this year. He said the preparation was worth it.
“I was able to meet some actually big-name people from the industry and from the area, and make those connections and get the experience,” he said. “I have something that you can put on a resume to prove that you’re actually ready to go out there and learn and strive to be the best.”
Scott Porter, Brown’s teacher at Johnson, said the two-day contest was “pretty intense.”
“Cody is very focused,” Porter said. “I expected him to place well, and I am very pleased that he placed second.”
A team made up of three Lanier Tech students won a bronze in the American Spirit category at the Skills competition. Karen Ballew, Richard English and Jennifer Remillard put together a scrapbook of service projects their SkillsUSA chapter did during the year.
“It was a wonderful learning experience,” Ballew said. “Regardless of what we came away with, we had an experience we wouldn’t get anywhere else.”
Three other Hall County Schools students also received Skill Point certificates. The students and the category they received the certificates in are: Anna Avila, Flowery Branch High, esthetics; Abigail Aguilera, Lanier Charter Career Academy, nail care; and Dillon Landers, East Hall High, power equipment technology.