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“A Will and a Way” Helps Student Succeed Through Challenges

“I don’t want it easy,” says SkillsUSA student Ethan Griffin. That’s good, because Griffin’s journey to and through a state-level competition was fraught with challenges. Thanks in part to what he learned through SkillsUSA, Griffin overcame. Read the story, as written and submitted by SkillsUSA Texas Reporter Siri Paruchuri.
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Ethan Griffin competed in Welding Sculpture for Pine Tree High School in Longview, Texas. Photo courtesy of Ethan Griffin.

Sometimes we learn our greatest lessons not through our easy wins, but through the wisdom and strength gained from struggling in the learning process. Ethan Griffin is a student at the University of North Texas, currently earning a degree in Mechanical Engineering Technology. He says he hopes to eventually work a job that uses design, engineering and welding skills — all of which he learned through his high school career and technical education program and SkillsUSA.

Ethan, 18, began competing in SkillsUSA as a junior at Pine Tree High School in Longview, Texas. His teacher, Mark Thomas, recognized Ethan’s passion for welding and encouraged him to join, saying that he only needed $15 and a great mind. Ethan began by competing in Welding Fabrication Singles but ultimately decided it wasn’t the best fit for him. He found his true passion the following year when he competed in Welding Sculpture as a senior.

The Welding Sculpture competition gave Ethan the room to be creative and independent while giving him the opportunity to showcase those skills. However, the process of welding his competition sculpture turned out to be a lot more intense than he anticipated. Ethan describes his detailed studying of the competition rubric, from the materials and the dimensions to the use of color and paint. Ethan carefully ensured that his project followed the rubric to a tee. He came up with the idea to create a flower bouquet and the concept developed from there. He spent almost 75 hours on the project, welding the roses from metal rods and thin sheets of metal.

However, the process was not without challenges. He couldn’t use the full bouquet of roses, so he cut it down to a half bouquet. He originally wanted to place the flowers in a foil wrap but found that a pot was better. He even made sure there was a large base plate, so the project wouldn’t tip over due to the weight. Ethan had to continuously problem-solve and adapt to create the best project that represented his finest skills.

He eventually welded all the pieces together and, as a finishing touch, used metal shavings to create a grassy look on the pot. When talking about his idea for the project, Ethan says it began as a gift to his mother. He expressed appreciation for his mother’s important role in his life, and he wanted to honor her with the project.

Bigger Success, Bigger Challenges

After competing at the district level, Ethan advanced to the SkillsUSA Texas Leadership and Skills Conference, and that posed a whole new set of challenges. The Texas state conference is held in Corpus Christi, a large and  beautiful city lined with beaches and tourist attractions. For a student from a small Texas town, the experience can be rather intense. Having to travel many hours just to get to the competition city, Ethan quite naturally felt homesick.

“SkillsUSA is helping me right now for my future!”

Ethan Griffin

The opportunity to compete at the state level inspired and motivated him, however. He says attending the state competition reminded him, “I’m doing bigger things.” Additionally, it turned out that the contest rubric that Ethan had so carefully followed didn’t match the new rubric the judges were using at the state competition. Ethan felt devastated at the thought he had prepared so diligently against the wrong guidelines, but he continued to persevere and give his best effort in the competition, from the interviews to the technical tests.

A Future Set in Skills

Ethan’s advisor noticed how much SkillsUSA impacted Ethan. He says the SkillsUSA experiences helped Ethan become more confident and outgoing in other classes and organizations, which in turn helped him become an even more impactful member of their community. Ethan credits his success to SkillsUSA, saying that “SkillsUSA is helping me right now for my future!”

Today, Ethan is a certified welder who still works on projects in his free time. His Welding Sculpture project is still on display at Pine Tree High School for other students to see. Ethan says he hopes other students will examine his sculpture and think, “Wow I can do the same thing, and I can probably do it even better!”

When faced with challenges, Ethan persisted and continually tried to improve himself. Ethan reveals that he often reminds himself of his grandfather’s words: “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” This mindset was emphasized within every experience and it helped make Ethan a better welder, student and member of the Pine Tree community.

About the Writer

SkillsUSA Texas Reporter Siri Paruchuri.

This story was written by SkillsUSA Texas member Siri Paruchuri, a senior at College Station High School in Texas. She joined SkillsUSA her sophomore year and began competing in Computer Programming. Realizing that competing wasn’t her true passion, she pursued leadership and ran for state office. Siri now serves as the SkillsUSA Texas Reporter and as her chapter’s president. She hopes to earn a degree in Computer Science and Business and eventually pursue graduate school. Her SkillsUSA advisor is Kimberly Munoz, a Graphic Design and Computer Programming teacher at College Station High School. Working with her to submit this story was Darlene Mills, the Region II Director for SkillsUSA Texas. 

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