Sandy Wilton (bottom right) and the Additive Manufacturing competition committee team members at NLSC. Photo courtesy of Sandy Wilton.
The SkillsUSA Championships is held each year in conjunction with SkillsUSA’s National Leadership & Skills Conference. It’s the premier showcase of America’s most highly skilled career and technical education students, featuring nearly 6,000 competitors from across the country in more than 100 skilled and leadership competitions. It takes far more than the estimated $36 million investment to run this capstone event; it takes the dedicated commitment and sacrifice of hundreds of dedicated volunteers and the support of over 850 SkillsUSA partners.
Sandy Wilton is the program manager of student engagement for one of those partners: SME, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement of manufacturing technology in North America. In her role, Wilton works with educators and students nationwide to support competitions and scholarships that ultimately bring students into manufacturing careers. “It’s fun and exciting,” Wilton says when asked what it means to see members in action at the SkillsUSA Championships each year. “The students are so motivated and to see them put in the hard work of competing against their peers is awe-inspiring.”
Wilton does much more than just “watch” SkillsUSA members in action. She chairs the technical committees for both the state and national SkillsUSA Additive Manufacturing competitions. Technical committee members create and administer SkillsUSA competitions, and the chair is tasked with a variety of demanding roles: supervising the selection of competencies to be evaluated, identifying necessary equipment and supplies, securing judges, assembling prizes, conducting meetings and more.
Like so many technical committee members in SkillsUSA’s numerous other competitions, Wilton gladly embraces the extra responsibilities. Why? Because the experience gives her great enthusiasm for the future.
“It is truly impressive to watch SkillsUSA competitors collaborate, problem-solve and work their way through difficult situations to find an ultimate solution,” Wilton says. “Manufacturing isn’t dark and dirty anymore. It’s not what your grandfather used to do. It’s a high-tech and clean environment. Glassdoor estimates that the pay range for an Additive Manufacturing engineer ranges from $79K to $124K a year.”
(Learn more about Additive Manufacturing in this short video from SME.)
In SkillsUSA’s national Additive Manufacturing competition, which was created by SME and 3D printing manufacturer Stratasys, two-person student teams face complex projects that might be challenging for even an experienced operator. “In 2023, the SkillsUSA Championships competitors in Atlanta were challenged to create a gripper assembly,” explains Wilton. The complex challenge presented a designated test fixture with a rotating mounting point on one side and an object on a stand about 4 inches away on the other end. The second empty object stand was 45 degrees away. Competitors were tasked with designing an assembly that could attach to the mounting point of the fixture and then be operated to grab and hold the object on the stand. Once the competitor’s assembly grasped the object, the competitors used a built-in rotating mount drive to rotate the gripper assembly 45 degrees to a second stand. Competitors then operated their assembly to release and place the object on the second stand to complete the challenge.
The task is indicative of the high level of technical skills students are developing within SkillsUSA classrooms, skills that lead to bright rewarding futures. Those future are made possible in part by the support of people like Wilton and partners like SME.
Wilton also co-founded “Friday Night Angels,” a nonprofit dedicated to working with the needy in the streets of Pontiac, Mich. She’s also the director of host family events for a minor league baseball team in her area. Despite a busy career and her volunteer work, Wilton infuses her life with plenty of family time as the mother of two adult children and a grandmother of two.