Russell Co. Student Wins at National Competition
Zachary Stephens is a quiet, unassuming, modest student at the Lake Cumberland Area Technology Center (ATC), which is located next to Russell County High School where he is a senior. Stephens studies machine tool technology under the direction of his quiet, unassuming, modest instructor Rodney Nokes.
The two have very similar personalities and have known they make a good student teacher fit in the classroom for the last three years, since Stephens began classes at the ATC. However, the student has returned to school this year with a title he probably wouldn’t have thought possible, and the teacher never doubted- that of a national champion.
The two attended the annual SkillsUSA Championships held last June in Kansas City, Missouri, where Stephens competed against competition from all over the country and placed first in his respective field, Computer Numeric Control (CNC) Turning. This machine tool technique cuts metal through a computerized devise that turns a horizontal piece of metal while simultaneously placing a precision cutting tool against the material, much the same way a wooden table or chair leg is fashioned.
“I didn’t plan on winning, I just wanted to go to nationals,” said Stephens. “Once I got started in the event I knew I was doing my best and that’s all I could do.”
Nokes was a little more confident about his student’s success chances as he watched him work diligently through the competition.
“I knew he had a chance after he finished before everyone else,” he said. “I knew on that day, he was better than everybody else there,” said Nokes. “I don’t know who was more excited, me or Zachary. I’ve been teaching for 6 years and involved with the SkillsUSA program almost as long and I can’t begin to tell you what it means to all the students and advisors who get to go to Kansas City.”
The competition was the first national event of its kind for both student and instructor. Stephens earned the right to attend by placing first at the state level event held earlier in the year.
“This was only my third time of competing against other students,” said Stephens. “I guess I’m pretty lucky and I don’t like to brag but it feels good to say I’m the best in the U.S.”
“Zach is laying the groundwork for his success at an early age,” said SkillsUSA State Director Steve Phillippi. “We have so many like him across the state and the country in our organization who are hard working and talented. Zach has proven that he is the best of the best,” Phillippi continued.
Jeff Adams is the principal at the technology center and sees Zach’s success as a goal for other students to try and obtain.
“Zach, and students like him, put our school in a positive light He has created a good image for our school, our students and our community. His success also sends a message to our business and industry community telling them we are doing things right,” said Adams.
Businesses and industry, as well as technical colleges from around the state and country, get on board the SkillsUSA wagon every year to the tune of millions of dollars for scholarships and prizes in hopes of getting a top student into the postsecondary and workforce sectors. Kentucky’s state event alone awarded over $500,000 in total scholarships and prizes. This year’s state delegation brought home two championships and 16 gold, silver and bronze medals from national competition- a total of 41 top 10 finishes altogether.
“SkillsUSA is a combination of educators and industry leaders coming together to help students who are enrolled in applied technology courses grasp a better understanding of how education leads not only to the workforce but to being a more productive citizen, as well,” said Phillippi.
The SkillsUSA organization serves nearly 280,000 high school and college students and professional members nationally, enrolled in technical, skilled, and service occupational training programs, including health occupations.
It helps prepare students for the workforce as it provides them educational experiences in leadership, teamwork, citizenship and character development.
The program emphasizes total quality at work, high ethical standards, superior work skills, life-long education and pride in the dignity of work. SkillsUSA also promotes understanding of the free enterprise system and involvement in community service activities.
Zach Stephens and Rodney Nokes share a mutual admiration for each other. Stephens says Mr. Nokes makes learning easy. In turn, Nokes says Zach is easy to teach. Their modesty aside, both had a memorable summer they won’t soon forget capturing a milestone one could not have done without the other.