FAIRMONT — More than 1,200 students from across West Virginia will gather at Fairmont State University to participate in the annual SkillsUSA West Virginia State Leadership and Skills Competition Friday and Saturday.

On March 24-25, the Falcon Center and Feaster Center will host over 85 competitions ranging from welding to cosmetology to advertising design and everything in between. SkillsUSA WV is a nonprofit organization that collaborates with students, teachers, and administrators in Career & Technical Education.

At the annual competition, middle school, high school and secondary school students are able to compete, SkillsUSA West Virginia Executive Director Melissa Wilkinson said Thursday during exhibit setup on campus.

Wilkinson, from Ripley, West Virginia, has served as executive director for four years, but served as advisor for 10 years prior. She said planning the event takes a lot of work and collaboration, but it’s something she loves being a part of.

“I say every year that I’m going to give this up and I’m not going to plan it anymore, but when I see the kids on stage be awarded as a state champion in their trade, knowing all of the hard work they put in, makes it worth it to me,” Wilkinson said.

During the competitions, students will have access to food at Fairmont State and a game room, which will be set up in the Falcon Center. There will also be five guest speakers — SkillsUSA Executive Director Chelle Travis, Interim Fairmont State President Dianna Phillips, West Virginia State Treasurer Riley Moore, West Virginia Del. Jonathan Pinson and West Virginia Department of Education Office of Educational Innovation Manager Timothy Elliott.

Competitions begin 8 a.m. on Friday and run until 4 p.m. There will be a delegate session on Friday night. Competitions will continue on Saturday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. and the awards and closing session will begin at 6:30 p.m.

The 2023 competition is the largest it’s ever been and the West Virginia chapter of SkillsUSA has seen the membership in its history, with over 5,000 members, Wilkinson said. Students are looking forward to the competition, but some will also run to serve as a state officers. This year, they had 21 applicants for the eight positions.

Chloe Spears, 16, a student at the Mason County Career Center, is competing in a scrap welding sculpture competition. For the competition, she created a flower sculpture with a floating butterfly that took two weeks to complete. She learned to weld last August and said she loves it, even though she’s the only girl in her class.

She holds a leadership position in her school’s chapter and is also running for a state officer position.

“I’m one of the presidents of my chapter already, so I would like to just explore my horizons. I’m very keen, I like to communicate and I’m a big leader, so I feel like I would be a very good asset to SkillsUSA State,” Spears said.

Robbie Hall, 17, a student at the Mason County Career Center, has served as state Parliamentarian for the 2022-23 year and is running for re-election. He is also competing in the pin design competition, but has experience in welding and machine shop. Hall is looking forward to the pin design competition because the winner has their pin made and everyone takes their state pin to the national competition to trade “like Pokemon cards.”

“A lot of people in my family have just worked in the trades and do very hands-on work. I personally learn best from hands on work. I just love creating things and I like having a little workshop,” Hall said.

Hall said his dad is a blue collar worker and his sister served as a SkillsUSA member and state officer, so he had a legacy to uphold.

Both Hall and Spears agreed that they are most eager to the see the competition results.

Wilkinson thanked everyone who has volunteered to judge or help with the competitions. She said it is a huge collaborative project she starts planning in October.

“It literally takes a plethora of volunteers and Fairmont State University has been wonderful, as far as being welcoming to the kids. So it’s good experience for the kids — lots of these kids have never have stepped on a college campus before. So that’s what I enjoy about it, getting to bring them up here and see Fairmont. I love the campus,” Wilkinson said.

Anyone who receives a gold medal in the competition will compete in the SkillsUSA National Conference, which is the last week of June and held in Georgia. For more information about how to become a member of SkillsUSA WV, visit their website.

Reach me at sshriver@timeswv.com or 304-367-2549.

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