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1974 grad of James Rumsey Technical Institute judges precision machine competition

March 26, 2011|By RICHARD F. BELISLE | richardb@herald-mail. com
  • Student Matthew Collis and judge Rodney Merchant are shown Saturday at the 2011 SkillsUSA competition at James Rumsey Technical Institute.
By Richard F. Belisle, Staff Writer

HEDGESVILLE, W.Va. — Rodney Merchant could not have imagined when he graduated as a machinist in 1974 that one day he'd be back in the same classroom machine shop judging a statewide precision machine competition.

But on Saturday, Merchant was back at James Rumsey Technical Institute, this time looking over the shoulders of five high school students competing in the 2011 SkillsUSA competition.

Merchant, 55, of Martinsburg, W.Va., and his students were among more than 600 high school and adult student contestants in Hedgesville this weekend competing in nearly 40 career courses, said Vicki Jenkins, director of the regional technical school on W.Va. 9 east of Hedgesville.

Another 100 observers, advisers and judges joined the students. Rumsey had 59 students competing.

Winners in this weekend's state contests go to the national finals in Kansas City, Mo., in June, said Rumsey staff member Thomas L. Armbrester, coordinator of the local SkillsUSA event. This is the third time Rumsey hosted the contests.

SkillsUSA program is a student organization that promotes community service, quality job practices and attitudes, and lets students demonstrate their skills, Armbrester said.

"It's embedded in our curriculum," he said.

About 40 West Virginia technical schools, including regional ones like Rumsey, which takes in students from Morgan, Berkeley and Jefferson counties, sent contestants to Hedgesville.

About 500 high school students and 200 adults take courses at Rumsey.

Among the 40 disciplines in Saturday's competitions were advertising design; architectural drafting; auto and diesel repair; the carpentry, electrical, plumbing, masonry, welding and HVAC trades; cosmetology; criminal justice; firefighting; computer maintenance; culinary arts; and engineering technology.

Students also showed their skills in employment application and job interviewing; public speaking; opening and closing ceremonies; and state pin design, Armbrester said.

It cost more than $60,000 to put on the event, but nearly all of the money comes in the form of donations of material, equipment and prizes by businesses and corporations, he said.

An example, he said, is in the carpentry competition, where contestants build parts of a building — roof, wall and floor.

"All the materials are donated for that," Armbrester said.

Mike Jackson, a retired police officer who teaches criminology at Calhoun-Gilmer Career Center, a small regional technical school in Grantsville, W.Va., brought 25 students to Rumsey.

"They're competing in crime scene, criminal justice, public speaking, welding, residential electricity and auto repair," he said.

His students won two gold medals in past state SkillsUSA competitions, he said.

"We only have 200 students in our school," he said.

Merchant, the judge in the precision machine competition, has worked as a machinist since he received his diploma in 1974.

"Back then, we had 20 students in the morning class and 20 at night," he said.

Armbrester said only three students are in Rumsey's precision machine class this year.

Merchant said he worked at Fairchild Aircraft, for Tiger Aviation in Martinsburg, owned his own machine shop for 20 years and now works for Mountain State Machine Tool.

Machinists were in big demand in the area when he graduated.

"Everything was going," he said. "Mack Trucks, Fairchild, Pangborn, DuPont, 3-M and Corning were running. Now, they're all gone."

Matthew Collis, 18, of Bunker Hill, W.Va., was one of five students Merchant was judging Saturday.

He's learning the trade because it's a skill that will be needed on his family farm.

"When the day comes when we won't be able to buy a part, I'll be able to make one," he said.

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