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Royalton-Hartland student wins top national prize in SkillsUSA event

Despite a first place finish at the SkillsUSA State Championships in Syracuse in the spring, Royalton Hartland High School incoming senior Amber Villella was excited just to be invited to the national championship in Louisville last month.

Villella, however, turned out to be the best student in the nation in her category of the competition, bringing home a gold medal in the Health Occupations Professional Portfolio portion of the competition.

The win was a “surprise,” she said, because she was facing off against the top students in the country.

“Everybody there was the best of the best from their states,” she said, adding that she received a perfect score on her portfolio. “Everyone wanted everything to be perfect.”

SkillsUSA is a collaboration between students, teachers and business. The goal of the organization is to ensure that a skilled workforce is maintained, through education, events and career-focused competitions.

Due to a soccer tournament in Saratoga Springs, Villella, 16, had to leave the competition before the medals were given out. While disappointed she wasn’t able to receive the medal in person, Villella watched the award ceremony from a hotel room in Saratoga with her parents and her twin brother, Andrew.

“It would have been really cool to be there,” she said. “But, I was able to watch with my family, and that was really cool.”

Villella said she spent at least three months putting her portfolio together, first for the state competition and then enhancing it for the national competition. The portfolio had to be 50 pages long, and include a resume, references, career objectives and community service. She also prepared a powerpoint presentation for the competitions, and gave a speech on her portfolio to the judges.

“I had to put my twist on it,” she had.

Villella’s mother, Lena, said she and her husband, John, “couldn’t be more proud” of their daughter.

“All of us were just screaming when her name was announced,” she said, adding that the family watched the ceremony on a laptop and their phones.

Along with SkillsUSA, Villella also plays on two soccer teams, swims, competes on the track team, is in the National Honor Society and is on the student council. When she has free time, she likes to spend it with her friends.

“I like to be outdoors,” she said.

Villella attends the Orleans Career and Technical Education Center’s Allied Health program, said Lisa Bielmeier, public relations director for Orleans/Niagara BOCES. Her teacher is Lisa MacEvoy.

The national event, in its 51st year, also included keynote speakers and other activities to engage the 16,000 students, teachers and business leaders who attend the conference, said Scott Brauer, lead adviser for the Niagara Career and Technical Education Center SkillsUSA chapter.

Other categories in the competition include plumbing, first aid, masonry and photography. Students competed in more than 50 categories overall.

Two other area students received accolades in their category of the competition. Jack Gatto, from Lewiston-Porter, and Ryan Platt, from Starpoint, won third place in the 3-D Visualization and Animation team competition. Both students are in the Digital Media Program at the Niagara Career and Technical Education Center, which is taught by Jennifer Licata. While both Gatto and Platt were juniors during the school year, they performed like college students, Licata said.

“I am very proud of Jack and Ryan, but not surprised at their well-deserved accomplishments,” she said in a statement. “Both of them are highly skilled in animation and very ambitious. They intend to work in animation or visual effects in the future, and have a thorough understanding of how challenging and competitive the field can be.”

Joseph Steinmetz, director of career and technical education for Orleans/Niagara BOCES, said he was proud of the winners, and all of the 21 students who represented Orleans/Niagara BOCES in the competition.

“Their success is testimony to the dedicated work of both the students and their faculty advisers,” he said.

For Villella, who plans on being a pediatric oncologist, winning gold is only part of the story. She made friends from all over the country, and enjoyed spending time in Louisville during the competition.

“It was one of the best experiences of my life,” she said.