A Cuesta College automotive technology student won a gold medal for collision repair at the annual SkillsUSA conference in Missouri — a showcase for the nation’s best two-year college and high school career technical education students.

Simon Rowe, who is attending Cuesta while taking a break as a fourth-year Cal Poly civil engineering student, was surprised when his name was read June 24 in the Kemper Arena announcing he was the best auto body repairman.

“I went into the competition with no expectations,” he said. “So there was no pressure on me. When they said my name during the awards I thought, ‘This must be a joke.’ ”

Nearly 10,000 people — including teachers, parents and business partners—attended the 47th annual SkillsUSA National Leadership and Skills Conference in Kansas City. The contests also attracted nearly 5,750 outstanding career and technical education students — all state contest winners — who competed hands-on in 94 different trade, technical and leadership fields.

The 23-year-old and his nearly 30 competitors were judged on metal straightening, welding, plastic repair and structural analysis. The five-day competition included a written test and an interview.

Rowe, who grew up on Marrowstone Island near Port Townsend in the northern portion of Puget Sound, Wash., needed some extra units when he enrolled at Cuesta, so in the fall of 2010 he took the first of two auto body repair courses with instructor Ron McDonald.

“Ron was my adviser for the competition,” Rowe said. “We got together on certain days to practice. We went over estimates. ASE tests. Everything you could imagine at the competition that we thought was going to be there we went over. A good percentage of those were on the tests — so it definitely helped.”

McDonald noticed that his student “had a knack for this type of repair as he was an excellent welder and had good hand-eye coordination” and recommended that he compete in the regional and state competitions that served as qualifiers for SkillsUSA.

“I think what set him apart was his determination and high standards,” McDonald said. “He was meticulous and always had a curiosity of why and how things worked. He already had a very competitive side of him and with his high intellect, drive and new-found skill, I knew he would be a good candidate for this competition.”

Rowe said his experience in archery may have prepared him to handle the pressure at SkillsUSA.

“Before I came to college, I competed for five years doing target archery — indoors and outdoors,” he said. “I won at state, regionals, nationals and world titles. I really refined being calm.

“What really helps me if I stay focused and not really worry about anything else,” he added. “Just kind of do my own thing. Archery is 80 percent mind.”

John Stokes, division chairman of the Engineering and Technology Department said the gold medal says as much about Rowe as it does about Cuesta’s program.

“In the last five years , the auto tech program has had a national medalist every year,” Stokes said, citing the gold, two silver and bronze medals received since 2007. “We produce quality students. And quality students come here.

“Yeah, we have a great program but great programs attract good students. And good students help make a good program. It’s a little bit of both,” he added.

Rowe was part of a contingent of 10 Cuesta students who competed at SkillsUSA. Other finishers and their competitions included:

• Teamworks, made up of Robert MacKenzie, Todd Sauter, Zach Scofield and Ryan Stefanek who finished eighth. In Teamworks, four students builds a construction project over three days to demonstrate their ability to work together as a team.

• Welding fabrication, made up of Steven Cox, Colton Hollister, Jake Pauli, who

were eighth. In this competition, a team of three use welding and fabrication skills to build a designed project from the supplied material.

• Commercial baking, Maile Kahn, who finished 12th. Contestants had to bake bread, rolls, Danish, cookies and pies, and decorate a cake.

• Culinary arts, Jeremiah Bradley, who finished 15th. Bradley had to prepare a four-course menu in a daylong competition. Judges rated his organization, knife skills, cooking techniques, creative presentation, sanitation, food safety techniques, and quality and flavor of the meal.

In addition, Pat Mullen, president of the Cuesta College Board of Trustees, was also on hand in Kansas City to watch as his son, Michael, of San Luis Obispo High School took home a gold medal in the SkillsUSA Automotive Service Technology category.

Released July 7, 2011