Norwich Tech Grad First Female Gold Medalist in Electrician Competition
Originally Posted in the The Day
By Claire Bessette
Norwich — Six months after Daria Stifel achieved the highest score in the SkillsUSA competition for high school electrician students, the Norwich Technical High School graduate was handed a gold medal Wednesday and posed for pictures with state and national SkillsUSA officials, teachers, friends and family.
But then she had to give it back.
“It's not mine,” said Stifel, 18, of Lebanon, now a freshman at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, studying aeronautical engineering. “It's for the school. Mine is coming in the mail.”
Stifel actually should have received her gold medal at the conclusion of the weeklong SkillsUSA national competition in July in Louisville, Ky. But a scoring error that gave her eight points instead of 80 in one category was enough to drop her from first to 10th in the national ranking. The national organization partners with tech schools across the country to promote technical skills for the American workforce.
Stifel's own scrutiny of her scorecard made her question the totals and send an email to David Worden Sr., program director of the SkillsUSA championships. Worden said her email prompted a detailed review of all scores for the entire competition, and the correction vaulted Stifel to the gold medal.
One final delay in getting her own medal didn't affect Wednesday's celebration at Norwich Tech of Stifel's achievement as the first female electrician student to win the national gold medal at the SkillsUSA competition. Stifel was the only girl among the 60 electrician students competing in Louisville.
“I'm really excited to be getting my medal,” Stifel, the Norwich Tech Class of 2016 valedictorian, said prior to Wednesday's presentation in the school auditorium before an assembly of juniors and seniors and many of her former teachers. “It kind of really hasn't hit me yet that I'm the first female to win the gold medal. It's kind of overwhelming.”
Worden came to Norwich Tech Wednesday to apologize again for the scoring error and to present the medal to Stifel. He said of the 890 electrician students who have competed in the national competition over the years, only two females were medal winners — both from Norwich Tech — “which says a lot about this school.”
Worden said he encourages all students to review and question their scores to learn where they performed strong and where they need to improve. He said Stifel's email questioning her scores was gracious and honest, not “nasty” or bitter.
“We do want to say 'You deserve the medal,'” Worden said and then turned to the audience. “She should have gotten it at the national competition. The cheers you get at the nationals are pretty loud. I bet you guys can be even louder.”
The auditorium erupted instantly with deafening cheers and applause, many standing in response.
While Stifel couldn't go home with the medal presented to her on stage, her teachers at Norwich Tech presented her with a custom black SkillsUSA jacket embroidered with her name with the words “National Champ. Norwich Tech” beneath.
Mike Holt of Holt Enterprises Inc., a successful electrical educator, author, publisher and motivational speaker, who was the guest speaker at Wednesday's celebration, presented Stifel with a $5,000 cash prize that brought more cheers and a few tears to the eyes of some spectators.