Game On!

Cover Story - Cover image
Cartier Gates (left) and Jennifer Pantoja, author (right) were teammates during the SkillsUSA Nationals Skills and Leadership Conference held in Louisville, KY this past June 2016.

“CONGRATULATIONS YOU ARE going to Nationals!” Hearing this was a great honor for my partner, Cartier Gates, and I. Skills USA is a partnership of students, teachers, and industry professionals working together to ensure America has a skilled workforce. Skills USA has competitions for so many skills like 3D Visualization and Animation, Advertising Design, Web Design, Tee Shirt Design, Advanced Manufacturing, Architectural Drafting, Automated Manufacturing Technology, Computer Programming, Robotics, Automation Technology, and much more. There are three competitions: Regional, State, and National. When I was told that my partner and I earned our way to nationals, we were excited.

When we went to Nationals, I’ll tell you it was the most exciting experience you’ll ever have in a competition! This year’s National event was held at the Kentucky State Fairgrounds. When I arrived I noticed the parking lot was filled with dozens of competitors in their signature red blazers; there were lots of tents with people representing the company Snap-On for the competitors in mechanics and engineering. In these tents they had lot of car parts, different types of oil, new tools and equipment and, semis (cool stuff).

When we entered the North Wing (the building were my competition will be held) the first thing I saw was a SkillsUSA shop that sells shirts, blazers, jackets, and merchandise. When we passed the shop, we entered the huge room were my competition was held, the building was separated into different sections, and each section has a sign with the name of the program. My partner and I competed in 3D Visualization and Animation. We began with orientation, there were rows of chairs filled with other competitors in the same area as us; it was nerve racking because there were so many great competitors from all over the country.

Competitors focus at Skills USA National event. Photo Courtesy of Karen Kitzel, Skills USA

The guys that held the orientation explained the rules: wear the correct uniform; no looking at someone else’s computer; no internet access; don’t talk to anyone besides your partner; and files must be turned in with the flash drive provided to us. Also, they discussed stuff like when to bring your computer or laptop for setup; when to bring your resume; and what files they want you to turn in with the flash drive. After they explained all the important rules, a CEO of Hasbro started to talk to us. He asked if anyone was interested in video game design. More than half of the people raised their hand. He explained all the computer languages that are required for you to know to be a game designer and developer like C++ and Java. He also discussed his experiences with E3 Expo. The E3 Expo is held annually in Los Angeles, CA. It is the world’s premier trade show for computer, video, mobile games, and related products by the top gaming industries. Everyone was jealous (and so was I) because what gamer doesn’t want to go to E3 Expo? It was a great opportunity to receive great advice from a gaming veteran. It was interesting to learn that the number of gamers are rising every year and how gamers are no longer dudes in their mom’s basement. The moms are playing now, haha! It was interesting to learn that people are now playing more mobile games than on PC or console.

A screen shot from Jennifer and Cartier’s 3D animated “space pig adventure.”

A tradition at SkillsUSA Nationals is the trading of the pins. You are given a small bag of pins of your state (in my case Kentucky) and you trade them with the other competitors. The goal is to collect a pin from all 50 states. It’s so much fun and you get to meet so many people. We also got to explore the other programs’ booths and see all the artwork from the other competitiors. I enjoyed seeing the welding sculptures in the mechanic and engineering part. Watch out! There were tons of journalists walking around looking for competitors to interview.


The real fun began when the competition started! The guys in charge of the competition told us what to do. They gave us a squishy ball that was pink and looked like a pig. They gave us nine hours to create a world where the pig will go through to have an adventure. We must create: the world, the pig, animate it, render it, and render two still images of the animation. The animation had to be 60 seconds long. My partner and I created a couple of worlds. We chose an outer space theme, placing satellites in between each world. The pig would slingshot from the first world and bounce off the satellites to get to the other world. It took five hours to create the pig and the small world for the pig to go through. It took four hours to add color, textures, and animate the pig.

The design process took 10 hours, but we did get a break for lunch. When we were finished, we stored all the files in the flash drive provided to us, turned it in to the judges, packed up our computers, and left. SkillsUSA rented the Kentucky Kingdom theme park; so after the competition all the competitors got to head over to the park and relax.

SkillsUSA is a partnership of students, teachers and industry working together to ensure America has a skilled workforce. The students pictured are being recognized for outstanding work in the 2016 Skills USA National Championships.

The awards the last day of the SkillsUSA week. Freedom Hall was filled from top to bottom with people cheering and waving around glow sticks. Some groups would spell out their state name with the glow sticks, it was cool to have people cheer for you like that. After the award ceremony, there was a banquet at the Crown Plaza Hotel where they had a drawing for prizes and congratulated all of the students who earned a spot in the National competition.

This was such an amazing experience. I learned so much about the gaming industries and their qualifications in game development. I am now more interested in gaming due to my love for 3D Visualization and Animation, and through this experience I have grown to become a better 3D modeler. I am encouraged to learn more computer languages like python to enhance my skills even further. This determination has improved me in my animation skills and in teamwork.

I can’t wait until I can compete again in Skills USA! You can join me in 2017! Check out the list of competitions on, and contact Tiffany Zink to sign up: