North Thurston student wins national SkillsUSA championship

Sixteen-year-old Clarissa Jenkins just finished her first year of automotive shop at North Thurston High School in Lacey, but she’s been around tools, grease and all things that go vroom her entire life.

“My whole family is into cars, and (are) gearheads,” she said.

Jenkins recently brought home a gold medal from the national SkillsUSA championships, becoming the first SkillsUSA national champ in the Lacey school’s history, according to North Thurston auto instructor Brian Stretch. The school has placed in the Top 10 in the country in the vocational skills competition 11 times, and has brought home several silver and bronze medals.

“But that first place has been elusive to us,” Stretch said.

The 50th Annual SkillsUSA National Championship and Leadership Conference was held last month in Kansas City, Missouri. About 15,000 students from high school and career and technical education programs participated.

Other South Sound winners include Ian Sinclair, a junior at River Ridge High School in Lacey who won a bronze medal for customer service in the high school division, and Mike Kangiser, a student at South Puget Sound Community College in Olympia who won gold in customer service for the college/post-secondary division, according to the organization’s website.

SkillsUSA was previously known as Vocational Industrial Clubs of America, or VICA. Sinclair compares it to other high school club competitions, such as FBLA, which is for business students, and DECA, which is for marketing students.

“The things that keep America running the way it does today, that’s SkillsUSA,” he said.

At SkillsUSA, students are given a chance to demonstrate their proficiency in occupations such as culinary arts, hair design, electronics and machinery.

“They had full-size kitchens set up,” Jenkins said. “They had beauty salons. ... There were people working on full-size semi-trucks.”

For her contest, Jenkins did a five-minute presentation on a drum brake system.

“I took it apart, did an inspection and replaced everything,” she said.

Sinclair demonstrated his knowledge of customer service skills.

“It’s almost like a live-action role play,” he said. “They had people come in – some happy, some not so happy. It’s all just how you handle situations and what they’re willing to throw at you, just like real customer service.”

Stretch said he was proud, but not surprised that Jenkins won the contest.

“Everything just fell into place,” he said. “Whatever they were looking for, we hit right on the head.”

Stretch said he also is a little superstitious, and he had a feeling they would bring home a gold medal.

Earlier that week, he learned his mentor and former teacher, Ralph Hauser, who founded North Thurston’s Industrial Arts program, died June 19.

He said he believes they had a guardian angel watching over them during the competition.