Nolan Connolly, a student at Portland Arts & Tech High School, competes in carpentry at the 2019 SkillsUSA Maine Championships on Friday at United Technologies Center in Bangor. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik

Autumn Oxton, 16, has spent every weekday at the Mid-Coast School of Technology in Rockland since October working on a single project: a welding sculpture of a white-tailed deer head. On Friday, she brought the 50-pound metal sculpture to a statewide competition.

Oxton was one of more than 800 students who came to Bangor’s United Technologies Center to participate in the 2019 SkillsUSA Maine Championships, a competition that offers high school and college students a chance to demonstrate their trade and service skills, and compete with others from all over the state. The competitions cover a range of professions, including game design, carpentry, heavy machine operation, cake decoration and plumbing.

“These students here are considered the best of the best from the career and technical centers around the state,” said Harold Casey, state director of SkillsUSA.

The competitions started at 7:30 a.m. Friday at United Technologies Center, with some contests at nearby Eastern Maine Community College and the Cross Insurance Center.

On the ground floor of the United Technologies Center, students competing in the heavy machinery contest operated excavators to try to pick up an egg perched on top of a pile of sand without getting sand in a bucket.

Across the lobby from the machines was the carpentry room, filled with hammering and sawing noises as students worked on structures they were assigned to build.

Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik

On the second floor, a few students were busy decorating cakes based on instructions from a real bride who told them what she was looking for in her wedding cake.

In a computer lab around the corner, students were competing for the best video game design.

The myriad competitions drew a big crowd to the trade school, including parents, advisers and potential employers. According to Casey, students have been offered jobs through this competition before.

Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik

“The competition really helps build their self-esteem,” he said. “They get through the competition and realize they know what they are doing.”

The winners of the state contests advance to the National Leadership and Skills Conference, which will be held in June in Louisville, Kentucky. They also receive tools or equipment needed for their selected trade, Casey said.

For Oxton, the best part of the event was the chance to meet new people.

This year, she chose to build a deer out of metal because it reminded her of her late grandfather, who used to take her hunting. She used silverware, auto parts, chains and other metal to build her deer head.

“It’s a really good representation of our school and all of the diverse technical departments,” she said.

She encourages other students from her school to take part in the annual competition for the job opportunities, resume building and the chance to advance to a national contest.

“It builds your confidence because you get to talk to other people and judges and know what you could’ve done better,” she said. “Also, people come up to you and ask you about your sculpture, and you get to tell them about something that means a lot to you.”