EXCELSIOR SPRINGS, Mo. -- The FOX 4 Young Achiever of the week proves the power and wisdom of the adage, "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade."
Jared Raffel got thrown quite a curve in America's biggest contest of career education. But he emerged a national champion -- and a young man we can look to for our energy future.
A solar power unit stands gleaming in the sun outside the Excelsior Springs Area Career Center. Electrical Trades instructor Ed Gouldsmith and his students put it in a few years ago. Because he didn't start studying in the program until he was a high school senior this past year, Jared Raffel missed solar power in his curriculum and got almost no hands-on experience with the solar unit. But Jared sure has made up for lost time and opportunity.
He's ended up learning a whole lot about renewable, sustainable energy sources and installation, like the electric vehicle charging station he took a lead role in putting in at the career center.
"He's very resourceful," says Gouldsmith. "He's kind of a natural. There's always those kids you have that take to it. His attitude is a big part of it. He's got such a positive spin on things and wants to learn."
Jared came away from this summer's National SkillsUSA conference in Kansas City as a national high school champion in the Sustainable Solutions competition. He proved his knowledge of solar and wind power and installation and demonstrated his skills at hooking up those power sources for home and commercial uses and analyzing cost-savings.
"I just found my goal that I wanted to go for," says Jared. "I did everything, prepared myself as close as I could and shot for the gold."
Scoring a national gold medal in SkillsUSA competition is impressive enough on its own. The entire Kansas City metro area often has only one or two national champions every year. But the way Jared earned his gold medal makes his victory all the more extraordinary.
"I had prepared a display and a presentation on my MacBook pretty much to be like a science fair," says Jared. "That's honestly what I thought it was going to be."
Jared had spent weeks on that project and didn't find out until orientation day at the national conference that he'd have to do actual hands-on work and analysis -- a lot of it -- things he'd never done. Many others might have been defeated right there. But not Jared.
"In a sense that played into Jared's hands," says Gouldsmith, "because there's nobody that will dig in and run with things like Jared. And he did. He was totally consumed with trying to find the information he needed."
Gouldsmith gave Jared that same pep talk and he got busy. A sympathetic vendor at the conference gave Jared books he needed and her dove into extensive 11th hour study. Then Jared applied the general training and electrical theory he'd mastered at the career center and he took the title.
"I'm absolutely amazed," says Jared. "I never expected that I'd get gold out of that. But things happen. I guess you can call it a miracle."
Jared is charged up now to get his masters in electrical engineering and possibly become a difference-maker in the renewable energy industry.
"It helps me get that leg up above everybody else," says Jared of his SkillsUSA victory, "and just show that I have the determination. I do have the competitiveness. I do have everything I think it takes to be in the jobs that I want."
He's powered up.
Two other high school students also won gold at this year's national SkillsUSA competition. Dustin Mortslof of Lansing High School (Lansing, Kan.) and Highland Community College Technical Center (Atchison, Kan.) was champion of diesel equipment technology. And Sarah Alley of Leawood, Kan., a student at Broadmoor Technical Center in the Shawnee Mission School District (Overland Park, Kan.) took gold in restaurant services.
A few others took silver or bronze medals.
- Kaitylyn Magee, Prairie Village, Kan., Broadmoor Technical Center (Overland Park, Kan.), silver, Culinary Arts
- Jessica Ault, Grain Valley, M., Career and Technology Center (Independence, Mo.), bronze, Action Skills
- Brittany Parrish, Trimble, Mo., Hillyard Technical Center (St. Joseph, Mo.), bronze, First Aid/CPR
- Courtney Hildebrand, St. Joseph, Mo., Hillyard Technical Center (St. Joseph, Mo.), silver, First Aid/CPR
Fox 4 News is Working 4 You to spotlight outstanding young people and their positive accomplishments. In our weekly report called Reaching 4 Excellence we meet young achievers in subjects like academics, the arts, leadership, community service, volunteerism, career exploration, overcoming obstacles and heroism. Watch for Reaching 4 Excellence every Monday on Fox 4 News at 8 a.m., every Wednesday on Fox 4 News at 9 p.m. and every Thursday on Fox 4 News at 5 p.m.