WOOD RIVER JUNCTION — Just two days after completing the last day of his junior year at Chariho High School, Nicholas Iacovelli was back inside the Career & Technical Center, equipped with power tools, electrical boxes and conduit as he practiced his skills on a towering wooden structure.
Iacovelli concentrated intently on the circuits before him, paying no attention to the temptations of a warm breeze and sunny skies outside the classroom. “I’m trying to get as much practice in as possible,” he said.
Iacovelli, a member of the Electrical Technology and Renewable Energy Resources program, is one of 11 students in the Career & Tech Center who will travel to Kansas City, Mo., on Sunday to compete with students from across the country in the SkillsUSA National Leadership Conference and Competitions. The students placed first in their categories in the state SkillsUSA competition in the spring.
His is the classic underdog story. Iacovelli, who placed first in electrical construction wiring, is the first student from Chariho’s 3-year-old electrical program to represent Rhode Island at the national event, surprising his fellow competitors from more established programs.
Dan Angell, a faculty adviser, said the young trainee surprised him, too. “I just wanted him to get the experience. It was really a learning experience for us,” Angell said. “He exceeded all our expectations already.”
Iacovelli said he was nervous about the national contest, since the specific tasks he will be required to complete will not be announced until the day of the event.
“I won’t know until I get there,” he said, noting that the six-hour competition will cover general topics including pipe bending, switches and receptacles, circuits and residential wiring. “The pipe bending is probably the hardest, because there’s a lot of math involved.”
Iacovelli said his strategy would be to stay focused on the task at hand, and to prepare as much as possible.
Angell noted another key to the competition. “I try to give all my students a sense of confidence,” he said. “He has that, and winning for the state has improved that even more. He’s a great student. Really this is 90 percent him, with 10 percent coaching from me.”
Jill Shurtleff, a faculty member in the cosmetology program and adviser for the SkillsUSA program, said Iacovelli’s laid-back style will also help him do well, saying he had “great retrospective ability.”
Both Angell and Shurtleff, emphasized that no matter how their students perform in Kansas City, they have already accomplished a great deal by winning for the state.
“They should already be so proud of what they have done,” Shurtleff said.
Several of her cosmetology students also joined Iacovelli in the classrooms of the Career & Tech Center this week, practicing for their own events.
Hanna Fortin and Amber Greene, both recent graduates, will return to the competition in Kansas City for a second time after winning in the nail care competition last year. Shurtleff said the two have helped the other students get ready.
“One thing we really did learn from last year is that it’s the way you treat it,” said Fortin. “You have to relax, you have to have fun, or else it will impact how you do. I don’t like to look at it as pressure, just as something I enjoy doing.”
At a vanity stand beside Fortin, fellow cosmetology student Jessica Pratt used a flat iron to smooth sections of a mannequin’s hair as she practiced styling an updo, which is required for the cosmetology competition. Pratt, who also graduated last week, will start a full-time job at Fantastic Sams Hair Salon in Westerly after returning from the trip, an opportunity she was offered after the staff heard about her updo design for the competition.
“They were so impressed with her work,” Shurtleff said.
Pratt said the hair styling work, which she has to complete in one hour, as the most difficult part of her competition, which also includes three haircuts. Her creation takes inspiration from nature, with a series of rolled curls in the back meant to represent a bush and straightened magenta “thorns” jutting out from the curls.
“I originally wanted it to be like a basket of flowers, and it kind of changed and grew from there,” Pratt said.
Along with Pratt, Fortin, Greene and Iacovelli, other Chariho participants include Rebecca Marshall, Jenny Lilly, Taylor Roos, Ashley Leonard, Shelby St. Clair, Mark Coppa and Alex Bodo.
The annual SkillsUSA competition takes place from Sunday through Thursday. For more information, visit skillsusa.org