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FARMINGTON — High school students from New Mexico, Colorado and Texas tested their automotive knowledge in a regional technical skills competition at San Juan College.

College instructors and students in the School of Trades and Technology hosted the college’s annual SkillsUSA invitational this morning.

Robert McCartney, coordinator for the automotive technology program, said the college has been hosting a regional SkillsUSA competition since the early 1990s. As a student, he actually participated in the competition for three years, winning first place and traveling to the state-level competition.

"(The students) have a lot of fun, and they learn a lot of stuff," McCartney said. "It opens their eyes to a world of knowledge they are lacking."

Students competed in three competitions in the automotive refinishing technology, automotive service technology and diesel equipment technology categories.

In the automotive service technology competition, nearly 60 students visited eight stations to diagnose issues with a vehicle’s brakes, electrical system, engine and heating and air conditioning systems.

Students at the engine performance station had to read a "freeze frame data" report to diagnose an engine problem with a Dodge Challenger, said automotive instructor Jeff Schofield.

He said the competition provided students an opportunity to understand the scope and training required for an automotive career.

After a hands-on challenge at each station, students were required to answer about questions related to that activity. Those results and scores from the hands-on activities were compiled to determine the winners, who qualified for the state SkillsUSA competition next year.

Today's activities were the first time several students from New Mexico and Colorado competed in the event.

Leslie Cisneros, a senior at Gadsden High School in Anthony, said she enjoys the hands-on nature of working on vehicles. She added that the competition tested students' skills.

"You get to learn from your mistakes," she said. "You get to truly test yourself on what you know."

Randy Ivie, a senior at Brighton High School in Brighton, Colo., said he was looking forward to seeing how his skills compared to other seniors in the competition.

Carlsbad High School seniors Mario Cogin and Austin Campos were two of the students in the automotive refinishing technology competition. Their event lasted nearly five hours as they tackled four one-hour challenges and an hour-long exam at the end.

The challenges included performing three types of welds, repairing a plastic bumper and applying a clear coat of paint to a piece of metal.

Cogin said he doesn’t usually participate in school activities, but he wanted to take part in the SkillsUSA competition because it’ll help him train for his future career.

Joshua Kellogg covers education for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627.

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