At a statewide career and technical skills competition last month, Cayuga-Onondaga BOCES student Noah Kieffer almost literally beat the competition with one hand tied behind his back.
Competing in the Auto Vehicle Maintenance Basic category of SkillsUSA's New York state spring conference, Kieffer, a Moravia High School junior, took first place among approximately 25 candidates — all with one arm in a sling after surgery for a football injury.
SkillsUSA is a national nonprofit that helps students develop personal, workplace and technical skills through yearly competitions, as well as student-led clubs.
Kieffer was one of three local BOCES students to place in the statewide conference along with Moravia High's Dristin Smith, who placed third in Motorcycle Service Technology, and Auburn High's Ryan Blatchley, who placed third in Related Technical Math.
For the competition, Kieffer and the other competitors had to complete a series of tasks, like disassembling a disc brake system or measuring certain parts of a crankshaft, in as little time as possible.
Working on cars is often a love passed down between generations, but for Kieffer, it all started when he was trying to obtain an automotive repair merit badge as a Boy Scout.
While trying to change the oil on his Scoutmaster's car with a few others, something snapped, Kieffer said. Rather than get flustered, the Scoutmaster used it as an opportunity to teach the Scouts to improvise, and Kieffer has been into cars ever since.
"I really like getting my hands dirty and working under the car," Kieffer said.
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Despite the lack of family history with cars, Kieffer said his parents have been fully supportive of his work in the program.
"That means I can work on their cars," he joked.
As part of BOCES' automotive technology program, Kieffer and other students get a chance to work on cars in an authentic auto shop setting.
By teaching basics like brake repair, engine diagnostics, electrical wiring and more, the program prepares students for careers like technicians, shop managers or automotive engineers.
BOCES school counselor Melisa Vormwald said its Career Technical Education programs, like automotive tech, also help teach students professionalism, workplace skills and ethics, in addition to career-specific skills.
Once Kieffer finishes school, he hopes to obtain an Automotive Service Excellence certification before going on to obtain an engineering degree and open his own custom shop someday.
According to Vormwald, Kieffer's teacher in the program, Jordon Coughlin, also chose him to receive an outstanding achievement award, something usually reserved for seniors.