When Gowanda student Katelynn Bigham first arrived at the New York State SkillsUSA Fall Leadership Conference in September 2011, she was shy, reserved, and more likely to follow than to lead.
One year later, Katelynn has transformed. She has revealed herself to be a natural born leader and exhibits a degree of confidence and outgoingness she never thought possible.
According to Katelynn, who is a second-year Criminal Justice student at the Erie 2-Chautauqua-Cattaraugus BOCES LoGuidice Educational Center in Fredonia, her transformation is all thanks to her participation in the student organization SkillsUSA.
She was inspired when she saw students like her take to the stage and lead during the September 2011 conference. She knew she could do it. In March, she threw her hat into the ring and ran against three other students for the position of SkillsUSA Area 1 vice president. She delivered a compelling speech, campaigned hard, and won.
Now, challenges such as delivering speeches to rooms full of people and organizing and running a conference are nothing to her.
"Last year, when I attended the Fall Leadership Conference, I wasn't as outgoing. I was shy," said Katelynn, a senior at Gowanda High School. "Since then, I've developed better leadership skills and professional skills, and I've become a better person."
Shortly after enrolling in the Criminal Justice Program at the LoGuidice Center, Katelynn became involved in the center's SkillsUSA chapter, which is advised by Kevin Valentine, Erie 2-Chautauqua-Cattaraugus BOCES welding instructor. The slogan of SkillsUSA is "Champions at Work," and it is an international non-profit organization that supports career and technical education and promotes professionalism and leadership among high school students.
The opportunity to participate in SkillsUSA an opportunity afforded to all Erie 2-Chautauqua-Cattaraugus BOCES Career & Technical Education students has changed Katelynn's life.
"I'm more confident now than I've ever been before," Katelynn said.
After winning the position of Area 1 vice president, which made her responsible for representing all of Western New York from Chautauqua County to the Rochester suburbs, Katelynn took part in a variety of training sessions and leadership activities. She assumed her duties at the New York State SkillsUSA Conference in April and was a part of the New York State delegation at the national conference in Kansas City in June.
In August, she traveled to Albany for leadership training with the other state officers. In September, she attended the Washington Leadership Training Institute and toured the nation's capital with student leaders from throughout the nation.
All that training prepared her for this year's New York State SkillsUSA Fall Leadership Conference, which she helped organize and run beside the other state officers. Her newly developed leadership skills were especially important since some of the other officers, including the SkillsUSA president, weren't able to attend because of Hurricane Sandy.
"Us six girls pulled it together and made it all happen," Katelynn said, referring to herself and the five other officers who were present. "It was an amazing experience. We were told we were the best officer team they've had in years."
The Fall Leadership Conference not only challenged Katelynn to put her leadership skills to the test, but it also enabled her to inspire other students and make a difference in their lives, which has become one of her primary goals.
The week following the conference, Katelynn appeared before the Erie 2-Chautauqua-Cattaraugus BOCES Board of Education to report on her experiences. She demonstrated how her participation in SkillsUSA has helped shape her into the person she is today.
Board of Education members expressed their admiration for her achievements and her leadership and public speaking skills, and they thanked her for the opportunity to see first-hand the positive impact of programs such as SkillsUSA.
"I was very proud to see her growth and accomplishments," said Mr. Valentine, who has coached Katelynn throughout her tenure as SkillsUSA Area 1 vice president. "She's still in third gear. She still feels she can make a difference in other students' lives through our SkillsUSA chapter."
In her spare time, Katelynn is an enthusiast for outdoor activities such as hiking and fishing.
With her experience as a SkillsUSA officer and her background in Criminal Justice, her immediate plans are to study political science in college and potentially pursue a law degree.