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Tech Students Win Regional Competition

Last week, students from Oxford-Lafayette School of Applied Technology, or the Tech, placed in the regional SkillsUSA competition.

The students traveled to Northwest Mississippi Community College’s Senatobia campus for the competition, where they competed in categories including technical math, automotive service technology, residential wiring and cabinetry.

Cody Conner, who won first place in commercial and residential wiring, says the skills he learned at the Tech go beyond helping him win a competition.

“The classroom assignments and shop activities help us with future employment around Oxford and Lafayette County,” Conner said. “It has led me into what I’d love to do in the future.”

Students attending the Tech participate in two-year programs that introduce them to vocational and technical skills and lay the foundation to enter the workforce or attend a postsecondary program.

February is National Career and Technical Education Month, and construction instructor Ryan Avent says everyone could benefit from learning hands-on skills.

“There’s a big stigma that if you go to VoTech, you’re not college material,” Avent said. “And that’s so totally not true. We’re teaching kids skills they will use their entire lives.”

Emma Mooneyham, who won first place in the automotive service technology category, is a student who says she plans on going the postsecondary route.

“I’m going to take a metal precision and manufacturing class at Northwest to learn how to do the CNC machine,” Mooneyham said. “My end goal is to be a mechanical engineer and one day work at a computer and design things, and the next day just walk outside and work hands-on.”

In order to prepare for the competition, Mooneyham says she spent time after school with her teacher Stuart Meagrow and her dad, working on engines and even rebuilding a rear differential. Being a girl in a traditionally male-dominated field is not something she says she finds intimidating.

“It’s actually really fun, because last year, the guys didn’t really look at me as a girl who didn’t know anything, because we were all equal,” she said. “Now, in our second year, they look at me like, ‘What do we do now? What’s next?’”

Kelsey Cooper, who won second place in related technical math, is part of the Tech’s Teacher Academy, which gives students the opportunity to get classroom experience to determine if they’d like to become educators. Cooper says her teacher, Christy Jordan, has aided her in pursuing her dream.

“Through field experience, I have been able to work with teachers and students from Pre-K to 8th grade,” she said. “Mrs. Jordan makes sure I am partnered with a math teacher at each of our rotations because she knows I want to teach math.”

According to the EdBuild report “Recommendations for Improving School Funding in Mississippi,” vocational students number 1,148 in Oxford School District and 895 in Lafayette County. Many of these students attend classes at the Tech. Troy Lewis, who won second place in cabinet making, says those thinking about enrolling in a CTE program should give it a try.

“Just go for it. It’s a lot of fun, and you get to learn special skills that could help you out after college,” Lewis said. “[The Tech] gives me the opportunity to show my skills to employers, show them what I can do.”

From here, the students will travel to Jackson for the SkillsUSA state competition on April 10 and 11. Those who medal at state will head to Louisville, Ky. this summer for the week-long national competition.