Naselle SkillsUSA team goes to Atlanta
June 29, 2023
Two Naselle High School juniors traveled to Atlanta, Georgia last week to join thousands of students from across the United States in a national SkillsUSA competition.
Alia Leibovitz and Lewis Hoff were one of 22 teams, which included six at the college level, participating in the robotics automation and technology events, but students could compete in a variety of specialties including automotive, diesel, drafting, culinary, cosmetology, mobile robotics, urban search and rescue, and more.
Their work the next few days would include a test of knowledge on electrical theory and coding and a practicum with robots and control hardware, where they would have to wire and code a robot to complete a challenge.
"It appears that our students were okay in the big picture of how things need to go together, and with the coding, but there were interminable fiddly details for this version of robot and controllers that we had a lot to learn about," Coach Ron Wright said about the practicum.
Lebovitz and Hoff had mixed feelings going into the competition. Leibovitz didn't feel fully prepared, but expressed enthusiasm for the challenge while Hoff was feeling a little more prepared.
"It's a lot more involved than I thought," he told his coach. "Most of the software is coming easy, it's really the hardware that is the challenge, because we had limited material to prepare for it."
It has Wright already thinking about how to prepare for next year.
One of the unexpected benefits of the event was learning the value of making connections and talking with people, as the team spoke with local manufacturers, other advisors, and judges to improve what they were doing.
"My overall impression is that this is a very serious business," Wright said. "Kids are working hard and vendor reps are judging with a critical eye. Very impressive. High standards. Overall, you cannot help but feel that there is really good stuff going on here."
Hoff and Lebovitz eventually took seventh place in Robotics Automation. Four teams in their division got the first task completed, but no team even attempted the second task.
"Nearly all teams struggled with the wiring," Wright said.
The big event was also an opportunity for future employees to make connections with tech companies.
Wright was certain that Lebovitz was going to be offered a job on the spot. He was able to talk with that company, Nissan, about the robotics program in Naselle and Wahkiakum and they offered to do some virtual meeting with local students, he said.
"They have internships, summer programs for college kids, pay moving expenses, paid employee training and college," Wright said.
Last year, Washington state came home with six medalists. This year, they had 15.
Wright believes this event is worth attending.
"We really should consider looking at several more events and taking a shot at getting kids to nationals in more events," he said. "The exposure of our kids to the vendors and companies is priceless. And the exposure of the district to the world is even more priceless."
"I would most definitely do this competition again," Hoff said. Going to Georgia and meeting and competing against people from all around the U.S. was an eye opening opportunity, going back next year is absolutely my goal. No matter what I decide to do after graduations the skill set that I've learned and will continue to learn is very practical and relevant to the industry today. I think there is a high possibility that I will use what I've learned throughout my experiences and competitions in robotics in my future studies and career."
Lebovitz will absolutely participate next year, and while she's keeping her options open for a future career, this is a possible route.
"The National SkillsUSA robotics and automation competition is a test of real world skills pertaining to industrial robots being used today," she said. "There are a lot of people who want to help you succeed and they'll be happy to help if you can put aside your pride and ask. Be confident about what you know and ask for what you need."