June 01, 2012 12:00AM
When Kansas SkillsUSA gathered in Wichita earlier this year, they had a special award for Ron Downing, associate professor of automotive technology at PSU. The group honored Downing with a hand-crafted trophy and an honorary life membership in the organization, which is a career and technical organization with more than 300,000 members.
“When I was called to the stage to receive my award, I was surrounded by former PSU national officers Jack Frederick and Case Clough as well as Jacob Ellis, a national medal winner and an officer in our local chapter,” Downing said. “I was very honored to stand on stage with these young men that took our local chapter to a new level.”
The award recognizes Downing for nearly four decades of service to the organization during which his students have won numerous national awards and held top leadership posts and Downing has served as the national automotive service technology expert, for World Skills
Characteristically, Downing gives credit for successes in SkillsUSA to his students and other faculty.
“This wasn’t just me,” Downing said of the medals and awards. “All of the faculty members were involved. I didn’t have to do it all by myself.”
Downing taught at Lamar (Mo.) Area Technical School for 24 years before joining the PSU Automotive Technology faculty in 1996. At Lamar, he advised the local SkillsUSA chapter. Downing’s students won four gold, three silver and one bronze medal in the national automotive service technology competition between 1983 and 1996.
At PSU, Downing helped restart the campus SkillsUSA chapter. From 1997 through 2002, PSU automotive students won three gold and three silver national medals in the college division. In 2002, PSU stepped away from the competition to take over management of the state automotive contest, with Downing as chairman, and many of the PSU automotive faculty being involved, as well. In 2011, the chairman’s position was turned back over to industry so PSU students would have the chance to compete again.
In 2001, Downing was selected as World Skills expert for automotive technology. In four world skills competitions, the U.S. won three silver medals and one fifth place finish. PSU graduates Rusty Brown and Jack Frederick both won silver medals, and best-in-nation awards in 2003 and 2009.
Perhaps most gratifying for Downing, two of his students have served as national officers for SkillsUSA, including Jack Fredrick, who was elected president of SkillsUSA in 2007.
“That’s even more difficult that winning an automotive contest,” Downing said. “You’re elected by your peers.”
It is expected that students will acquire a great deal of technical knowledge in their classes, but one of the major components of their SkillsUSA experience is more personal.
“We want students to improve their communication skills, to do some public speaking, to develop their leadership abilities and to build their character,” Downing said.
Competitions, especially when students win medals, are great, Downing said, but they are not the most important thing.
“It’s not just about winning a medal,” Downing said. “I always ask students, ‘What did you learn along the way? What did you accomplish on the journey?’”
Two PSU students are expected to compete in the SkillsUSA National Leadership and Skills Conference June 25-27. Regardless of whether they win medals, it’s safe to expect Downing to ask them the same questions he has asked many hundreds of students in the past: “What did you accomplish on the journey?”
“I have considered it a privilege, to serve my school, my state and my country,” Downing said.