BY Amanda Sotelo
Rodrigo Patron built a fire pit brick by brick, 200 to be exact, in only six hours, to earn a spot at the 54th annual SkillsUSA National Leadership and Skills Conference in Louisville, Kentucky.
The Mexico native is the only student from Business Construction Technology at Texas State Technical College in Harlingen to earn a gold medal in Masonry at the SkillsUSA competition held at TSTC in Waco earlier this spring.
At the end of the month, Patron will have the opportunity to compete against thousands of other students from across the United States at the SkillsUSA national competition.
“This was my first time doing SkillsUSA or any competition like this,” said the 22-year-old. “I was nervous, yet felt pretty confident that I could do a good job if I set my mind to it.”
SkillsUSA is a professional organization teaching technical, academic and employability skills that help high school and college students pursue successful careers. Members build these skills through student-led team meetings, contests, leadership conferences and other activities.
Students in Skills USA participate in hands-on competitions in various fields such as science, technology, engineering, mathematics, building construction and culinary arts.
Patron, who has lived on his own since high school, said he came to America to chase opportunity and dreams.
He played baseball for an Arizona high school, before arriving in South Texas to be closer to his brother, who is a local attorney.
“Had it not been for me leaving my home in Mexico, I would have never had an opportunity like SkillsUSA or TSTC,” said Patron.
Patron said nationals is something he has been preparing for since his first day of practice for local and state SkillsUSA competitions.
“Living on my own has taught me to be disciplined, a self-starter and someone who manages their time well,” said Patron. “So having to spend extra time in the lab to practice was nothing for me, especially since I wanted to do well.”
He has spent every Friday afternoon in the lab since the beginning of the year honing in on his masonry skills.
TSTC Building Construction Lab Assistant and SkillsUSA Advisor Alfonso Gonzalez said Patron is one of the program’s best students.
“Rodrigo is self-motivated and always willing to work hard; and at nationals all of this will be exposed to industry professionals and potential employers,” he said. “He has a bright future and will be a tremendous asset to the construction industry.”
Gonzalez has some advice for students like Rodrigo who are competing at nationals.
“SkillsUSA is a wonderful experience for our students and I want them to know we are already proud of them…the big step is taking the initiative to compete in the first place,” said Gonzalez.
Gonzalez added, “I hope students will take advantage of this time to make good first impressions, do as much as possible on their projects correctly, take their time, concentrate, focus and most importantly, have fun.”
Patron said SkillsUSA has already been a fun and memorable experience for him and he hopes to represent well in Kentucky.
“My goal is to represent TSTC well and make the college proud,” he said. “And of course I wouldn’t mind bringing home a gold medal.”
Building Construction Technology is offered at both TSTC’s Harlingen and Waco campuses.
For more information on the program, visit tstc.edu.