By Lori BODNAR
Crescenta Valley High School (CVHS) Academy of Science and Medicine students gook gold and silver at the SkillsUSA nationals competition that took place from June 19-23 in Atlanta, Georgia. CVHS teacher Orenda Tuason, who leads the Academy of Science and Medicine at CVHS, helped the students throughout their project journey.
SkillsUSA serves more than 331,000 students and instructors as a career and technical student organization. SkillsUSA was founded in 1965 for middle and high school students. The first SkillsUSA National competition was held in 1979 as the United States Skill Olympics, which was changed to the National Leadership and Skills Conference (NLSC) in 1995. The SkillsUSA NLSC is held annually with over 100 categories. Over 5,000 students compete in the SkillsUSA Nationals every year with around 2,000 judges and contest organizers.
Maryam Akelyan, a recent graduate of CVHS who will attend UC Berkeley in the fall, won gold in the Career Pathway Showcase for Engineering and Technology along with her teammates Vela Benedicto and Ethan Lee.
“We worked on developing a Cost-efficient, Accurate, Sustainable, and Easy to use (CASE) air quality monitor that could be implemented in developing countries in order to prevent unnecessary fatalities caused by smoke inhalation,” said Akelyan. “Vela worked on a similar project in 2021, then during the research class from August 2022 to June 2023.”
Ethan Lee, who will be a 12th grader at CVHS in the fall, said, “The main goal of the project is to provide a more consumer friendly air quality monitor that is more accessible mainly targeting developing countries that lack similar forms of infrastructure. We began in August during the beginning of our 2022-23 school year and continuously built upon our presentation until the competition date.”
The judging process included multiple people who reviewed the science projects on its technicalities, presentation, influence and possibilities.
Benedicto, a CVHS student who will be a junior in the fall, said, “The project was assessed for technical ability, presentation skills, community impact and, to some extent, mentioning the potential business and industry application moving forward.”
Akelyan added, “The judging process was daunting at first – there were four judges who were experts in their respective fields so it was scary – but they were very accommodating and we got them to nod and laugh a few times so I would say it went well.”
Lee said, “The judges respectfully listened to our presentation and asked questions which showed that they were very interested in our project.”
The CVHS students competed in the SkillsUSA state competition prior to the nationals competition, so they made improvements on their projects since the state event.
Benedicto said, “I always kept a spreadsheet schedule and Google calendar to plan out beforehand, and made updates to the project since I last competed in April. I was honest with myself and open to any of my teachers’ feedback and critiques and sought to improve whatever I thought was lacking. I simply focused on the ‘journey’ i.e., I tried my best given the time I had, and would accept any result afterward regardless. To my great surprise I was able to place, and I suppose that reflects the hard work that went into preparing for it.”
The students had fun meeting people from all over the country at the SkillsUSA nationals competition.
Benedicto said, “I enjoyed getting to meet fellow students from every state! I particularly had a lot of fun trading pins and trying to collect all 50 states. Being able to compete at nationals was such an amazing opportunity that I was really grateful for.”
The Academy of Science and Medicine, organized by Tuason, provides many opportunities for the CVHS students.
“I have been part of the Academy for all four years of high school,” Akelyan said. “I wasn’t an officer but I was very involved in it. It’s the biggest activity I was involved in throughout high school. I made my closest friends from high school through being involved in it. It also helped me hone my interest in science since the very first day of freshman year with Ms. Tuason, and it gave me the opportunity to explore different fields of science and determine which one I was interested in pursuing in the future.”
Many of the CVHS students plan on continuing science for their career plans. Lee said, “As an incoming 12th grader writing my college applications, I plan to go into the field of science and hope to pursue an occupation in that field in the future.”
Maryam Akelyan who won Gold at the SkillsUSA Nationals will be attending UC Berkeley in the fall to study Molecular Biology. “I will be attending UC Berkeley. I can’t imagine myself going into anything besides STEM, so I will be majoring in Molecular Biology in college, and I plan on either continuing that into graduate school or pursuing a career in medicine.”