Three Merrill Middle Students Earn National SkillsUSA Title

posted Jul 19, 2018, 12:34 PM by Katie Nieman   [ updated Jul 19, 2018, 1:33 PM ]
(July 5, 2018) Three recently-graduated eighth graders from Merrill Middle School took home gold in the SkillsUSA National Championships. Lauren Griswold, Michael Stack, and Elizabeth Toonen were named National Champions in the Team Engineering Challenge for their decision-making and creative-thinking talents. The event, by invitation only, is the largest skills competition in the world. (CLICK TO VIEW FULL STORY AS PDF)
The Merrill Middle students, along with Gary Hammen, OASD Technology Engineering Teacher and SkillsUSA Advisor at Oshkosh North High School, represented the Oshkosh Area School District at the SkillsUSA National Championships in Louisville, Ky., June 26-29, 2018. During the week, more than 6,300 students from across the nation competed hands-on in 102 different trade, technical and leadership fields.
"We are so proud of these students and their accomplishments," said Kay Weber, Instructional Support Teacher and SkillsUSA Advisor at Merrill Middle School. "Lauren, Michael, and Elizabeth not only competed at the national level, but they demonstrated their expertise and professionalism and showed the world what it means to be skilled in engineering as recently-graduated eighth graders. They are truly incredible.”
The Team Engineering Challenge is designed to evaluate and recognize outstanding middle school students for excellence and professionalism in the areas of creative and critical thinking skills and the decision-making process used to solve a problem. The contest is intended to foster creativity, innovation, teamwork, and problem-solving skills. As part of this year’s Engineering Challenge, students needed to design a system that would catch a steel ball and guide it to a predetermined point, delivering it in exactly 30 seconds. The challenge required students to develop and build a solution in a limited amount of time while working with a limited budget and only using common materials purchased from a craft-store environment. In addition, a panel of judges interviewed the students and asked them to explain their project and design process.  Ten teams competed in the Engineering Challenge and Merrill students took home the gold after out-scoring and out-performing their peers from throughout the United States.

As part of the national competition, students worked against the clock and each other, proving their expertise in job skills for occupations such as engineering, electronics, technical drafting, precision machining, medical assisting and culinary arts. There were also competitions in leadership skills, such as extemporaneous speaking and conducting meetings by parliamentary procedures. All contests are run with the help of industry and trade associations, and labor organizations, and are designed to test the skills needed for a successful entry-level performance in given occupational fields.
In addition to participating in the challenges, SkillsUSA participants heard an inspiring message from the event’s keynote speaker, NASCAR driver Brad Keselowski. Students also interacted with fellow competitors from across the nation and experienced a special appearance from Mike Rowe, host of Discovery Channel’s Dirty Jobs, during the event’s closing ceremony.
The Oshkosh Area School District also had additional representation at the national championship. Breanna Kluz, a senior at Oshkosh North High School, attended the conference as the newly-elected Vice President of the SkillsUSA Wisconsin Chapter. Kluz was a part of the delegation representing Wisconsin on the national stage and was a voting delegate electing the new national officers.  In addition, Morgan Hammen, an alumna of Oshkosh North High School and past SkillsUSA participant and state officer, was in attendance volunteering at the conference, with fellow alumni.
“SkillsUSA provides students with the opportunity develop their soft skills and to become leaders,” said Gary Hammen. “It is amazing to see their confidence grow. And to actually see them start to view themselves as leaders. These students are equipped for success because of the experiences that they’ve had in this program, and it is exciting to see where they go next.”
In April 2018, 26 Oshkosh Area School District students from Merrill Middle School and Oshkosh North High School competed in the state-level SkillsUSA conference, held at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison, Wis. During the state competition, 14 OASD students medaled in their respective competitions, including the team from Merrill Middle School that was able to advance to the national competition after being named State Champions in Team Engineering.
SkillsUSA is a vital solution to the growing U.S. skills gap. Schools within the Oshkosh Area School District have participated in SkillsUSA for nearly 20 years; participation is based on student interested and staff/volunteer availability. In 2017, a team from Merrill Middle School won the National Urban Search and Rescue Challenge, and three OASD high school students took home gold medals in various challenges over the years.

Founded in 1965 and endorsed by the U.S. Department of Education, SkillsUSA serves more than 360,000-member students and instructors each year in middle schools, high schools, and colleges. This diverse talent pipeline covers 130 trade, technical and skilled service occupations, the majority STEM-related. More than 600 corporations, trade associations, businesses and labor unions actively support SkillsUSA at the national level. SkillsUSA programs are integrated into career and technical education through a framework of personal, workplace and technical skills grounded in academics. Local, state and national championships, designed and judged by industry, set relevant standards for career and technical education and provide needed recognition to its students. SkillsUSA also offers technical skill assessments and other workplace credentials. For more information, go to