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Pioneer in printing

25 October 2012

Mr. Tim Lawrence, National Director of SkillsUSA with Heather Ashe at the National Community Service Project event

By Michelle Bussey, WorldSkills International

Recently I had the opportunity to interview Heather Ashe, who is the Print Media Technology Competitor for SkillsUSA going to WorldSkills Leipzig 2013. What a fantastic and inspiring young woman. She has had so many life opportunities and experiences at the age of 20. Along with George Mason (Autobody Repair Competitor), Heather will be one of the first Competitors going to the WorldSkills Competition from South Carolina and the pride is evident from a mile away.

Heather attributes her chosen career path to her decision to approach her guidance counsellor in high school and ask about possible careers in art without going into fine arts. She went to the local Chester County Career Center and had the chance to actually try out graphic communications, which is the larger field that print media is a part of. In fact, graphic communications is the third largest industry in the United States. The rest was history! She fell in love with the trade and knew that she wanted to continue in college. Her real interest lies in running and maintaining the printing presses and the production side of things. As a female in this industry is rare, she is honoured to be a pioneer in the field and wants to encourage other women to follow in her footsteps.

I asked her what advice she would give to young people in high school and her advice was simple.

‘Get involved with your local career and technology centre. You can learn stuff that they don’t teach you in high school. You’ll learn life skills from job interviewing to how to change a tire. You’ll get a much better idea of what to do with your life and what is out there. It will make you better prepared for college if you do some vocational courses. Get involved in a program like SkillsUSA, it’s a great opportunity. The industry contacts you’ll make will help you advance in your career.’

For those of you that don’t know, SkillsUSA offers a very unique program and as part of their national competition, they actually encourage the participants to get involved in a National Community Service Project on the day of the Closing Ceremony. This year, Heather helped plant an orchard in the inner city of Kansas City, Missouri, as part of the project. Others work with Habitat for Humanity or local food banks depending on the skill that they excel in.

What is truly amazing is her desire to give back and stay involved. After several years of participating in SkillsUSA programs and national competitions, she is establishing a local chapter of SkillsUSA at her university and working with local alumni to stay involved. She one day hopes to possibly become a teacher and encourage students to participate in the skills journey.

So far, the skills journey has progressed her knowledge and opportunities within her skill. She has made many industry contacts through people that sponsor SkillsUSA. Recently she went to GraphEXPO, in Chicago, IL, and saw judges from her national SkillsUSA contest. So many people wanted to talk to her and knew about her or of her. It opened doors for her to talk to employers and contacts that she wouldn’t have had otherwise. To date, she has three different companies hoping to hire her for internships due to her experience!

What does Heather hope to be doing in ten years? She plans to graduate in the fall of 2014 with a Bachelor of Science in Graphic Communications. She is still keeping her options open after that but looking at grad school as a possibility and ultimately hopes to either teach her skill to others or own her own printing business.

When asked what her most memorable moment was so far, she had great difficulty picking just one. But then she began describing the moment after she was given her medal at the SkillsUSA Competition this year. The most memorable moment wasn’t when she got her medal but when she went back stage and was given a second medal in a small red velvet box. She then went back into the stands and found her instructor, Ms. Sherry Adams, and gave the second medal to her. Heather was Ms. Adam’s first national champion. It is a nice way to understand and demonstrate that behind every win, journey and medal is a full support system and a mentor helping that Competitor reach their full potential.

To all of the mentors, instructors, teachers and employers that are helping the 2013 Competitors rise to the challenge of competing internationally, we honour and thank you for your time, efforts and commitment.