Gold medalist Stephanie Rivard’s heroics might not have landed her on a Wheaties Box, but she has her eyes on a much larger prize.
The 17-year-old Rivard, a senior at Blackstone Valley Tech High School in Upton, Mass., came home with top honors in Technical Drafting at the 2011 National SkillsUSA Championships. A year before graduation, she’s already scored a part-time CAD job designing basic components for an international manufacturing company.
"It still doesn’t feel real to me," says Rivard. "Winning the gold made it worth giving up all those weekends hanging out with my friends. When they draped it around my neck, I couldn’t believe there was all this weight in just one medal!"
At the state level, SkillsUSA attracts students from 13,000 schools to compete in more than 90 career fields including 3D animation, carpentry, architectural drafting, aviation maintenance, automoive epair, CNC programming, welding fabrication and mobile robotics technology. Judges, coaches an mentors for the contests come from the cooresponding industries.
The organization’s mission is to promote and build a skilled American workforce, helping participants "become world-class workers, leaders and responsible American citizens."
Rivard, who beat out 41 other state drafting champions for the national title in Kansas City, was mentored by DraftSight training specialist Mark Lyons, a veteran CAD educator and volunteer SkillsUSA advisor.
"Mark opened my eyes to what’s going on outside the textbook," Rivard says. "He taught me how to think of some of my drafting practices in a whole new way."
Lyons devoted a half-day session to critiquing Rivard’s state conference drawings and explaining which elements did not fully comply with the technical ANSI drafting standards.
"Her drawings were good enough to win states, but I picked them apart to show her where they were lacking on the fundamentals. I’m a competitive guy and was thrilled when she became the national champion!" he says.
"Most high school graduates of drafting programs still need more training with the ANSI standards. Teachers aren’t bothering to teach the trade anymore. They’re just teaching how to use the software."
Lyons is particularly proud that DraftSight’s parent company Dassault Systèmes supported his volunteer efforts despite the fact that Rivard’s school was training with Autodesk Inventor, a competing 3D CAD product. "I’m a teacher at heart and just wanted to try to help her win, period," he says.
The SkillsUSA mechanical drawing competition accepts any methodology: "old fashioned" drafting by hand, 2D CAD or 3D CAD.
"The bottom line is the output. It’s the piece of paper that gets graded," explains Lyons. "The only thing that matters is what comes out of the printer at the end of the day. Is it legible and understandable to someone 10,000 miles away who is going to manufacture it?"
Reflecting on the national SkillsUSA test, Rivard says she believes the timed 6-hour competition gives students a taste of the high-pressure environment omnipresent in the work force. And she hopes the significance of being the only girl (and top honoree) on the drafting medal stand will resonate with her classmates during her senior year.
"I know a lot of girls who are afraid to explore the tech trades because they don’t feel comfortable in a class with all boys," Rivard says. "Well, I proved that girls can do this. I’m the gold medalist!"
Stephanie’s mother Diane, who was in Kansas City to cheer her daughter on, sees another victory for technical and vocational education.
"Most regular high schools just don’t prepare you for the workforce. The opportunity to explore different trades opens your mind to career paths you never would have considered," she says. "My daughter’s original plan was to focus on culinary arts."
Rivard, who also participates in her school’s FIRST Robotics League team and volunteers at the local at shelter, recently was hired for a part-time co-op job at Plansee a high-tech manufacturing company specializing in refractory metals.
The high school junior helps process orders and does some preliminary CAD work for basic parts. Plansee works with high-performance metals that hold up to extreme temperatures and stress for a wide range of applications including aircraft turbines, biomedical equipment, vacuum furnaces and nuclear power plants.
"If it needs to be made with Molybdenum or Tungsten, we can do it," says Rivard, sounding more like an industry captain than a high school senior. "When I was younger, I never really thought about engineering as a career. But after just one week of drafting class, I knew it was for me."