Tommy Nguyen, a structural welding major, wasn’t excited or nervous for the SkillsUSA California conference that took place at the Los Angeles Trade Technical College (LATTC) last weekend.
Nguyen was too tired from having to wake up at 4 a.m. to get to the conference on time, but by the end of the day the welding student who hadn’t come to the competition with high hopes was walking away with the gold. And along with him, several of his peers from PCC’s Flux n’ Slag welding club also managed to place.
This was the first year that the Flux n’ Slag club, under the direction of engineering and technology instructor Misty Henry, participated in a SkillsUSA conference. With conferences across the nation and competitions that support leadership and technical education, SkillsUSA might seem daunting to a new team looking to win some medals. But the club stepped up to the plate.
“I was surprised,” Nguyen said, recounting when his name was announced for the gold in the shield and metal art welding (SMAW) division. “I thought I did bad.”
Michael Chong, a welding major, was also surprised when he placed first for his metal sculpture featuring a hand holding a skull and a scythe.
“I didn’t really care,” Chong said. “I just wanted to do it.”
Although Chong and Nguyen did not expect to win at SkillsUSA, both put hard work into their pieces.
Nguyen competed with six other contestants, who each had 45 minutes to weld based on blueprints they were given at the start of the competition. Unlike Nguyen, Chong was given the criteria for his sculpture before the competition.
“You build it beforehand, take pictures, make sure someone is observing you,” said Chong. “You know to make sure it’s your sculpture.”
Chong spent two to three weeks of work on his sculpture, which he brought with him to the competition to be judged.
The Flux n’ Slag club also did well in team competitions. Loni Ashby, a welding major, and Gaselle Melendez, a technical theater major, were two of the three students who made up the fabrication team that placed second at the conference. Another Flux n’ Slag fabrication team placed first.
Melendez attributed her team’s strong presence at the conference to Henry and Alan Armstrong, an engineering and technology assistant professor who also helps out with the Flux n’ Slag club.
“They helped us so much,” said Melendez. “During winter break they kept the shop open so we could come in so we didn’t really have a winter break ’cause we were coming in every day.”
The fabrication teams, like Chong, were able to work on their piece before the conference. A month and a half before the competition SkillsUSA sent them the materials to make an adjustable shelving unit.
“So we had to design it, build it and make it,” said Ashby.
The team built two prototypes and a final piece using 20-foot long angles, 20-foot long tubing and a sheet of steel.
Like Nguyen, Ashby wasn’t all that confident when the time came to take the shelving unit she and her team built to the competition.
“There was an original team that was other students that were more advanced than us and she kind of pulled us aside and asked us if we would kind of be like the secret team,” said Ashby. “Thank God she did though ’cause we kicked ass.”
The Flux n’ Slag club will be competing in San Diego for the state SkillsUSA conference in March.
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