School of Technology students win national competition

Just a few weeks ago, Josh Smith had a part-time job, a wife, a baby and an uncertain career future.

Now, after winning a gold medal in welding at last week’s National Skills USA Championship in Kansas City, Mo., he has major companies knocking at his door, as well as two scholarship offers to Lawson State Community College and Tulsa Welding School.

“I know second place has to happen sometimes, but we never go to a competition we don’t expect to win,” said Jim Casey, Smith’s welding instructor at the Shelby County School of Technology.

Smith’s first place finish also marks a first for SOT, said principal Tim Elliff. Students have placed in the Top 10 before, but have never won a medal until this year, with a silver medal in crime scene investigation accompanying Smith’s gold.

Smith, a Harpersville resident, graduated in May from SOT, where he has studied welding for the past three years.

“I’ve always wanted to weld,” Smith said. “My dad does glass work, so welding is something new and different, and there’s good money in it.”

Smith won out against 47 contestants from schools across the country, with judges scoring them on cleanliness, appearance and safety procedures. They also completed a written examination on welding terms, a visual inspection of discontinuities in a weld and a hands-on welding project.

Smith said he succeeded in each event thanks to Casey, who “really cares about his students and spent hours training with me and looking at book work.”

In a one-minute speech delivered at the competition, Smith spoke of his future goals, which include obtaining an apprenticeship to eventually become a pipe fitter.

“Now, he has to step back and make these adult decisions that will affect the rest of his life,” Casey said. “He has to say ‘I have all these opportunities, now what am I going to do with them?'”

SOT’s crime scene investigation team also excelled at the national competition, although it was their first year to participate.

“I want to be a [Drug Enforcement Agency] agent, but this looks good on a resume,” said Kyle Stevens, an upcoming senior on the CSI team. “It prepares you for anything, especially how to work with the public.”

Stevens, recent graduate Sonny Singh and upcoming senior Taylor Hudson had to complete a written test and process a stolen car involved in an armed robbery.

In 30 minutes, they collected evidence, wrote a narrative report, took photographs and sketched the scene. They were the only team to collect every piece of evidence, but barely missed first place by 35 points out of 900 total.

“It takes pride, dedication and attention to detail to win the competition,” said instructor Gary Griffith.

Other SOT students who placed were Daniel DuBose, who finished fifth in internetworking; Mandy O’Neal, who finished in the Top 20 in dental assisting and Brandon Neeley, who finished 21st in computer applications.