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Instructor Jay Winters discusses one of the challenges students will face Saturday when competing in the auto body repair component of the Skills USA Minnesota competition.

Fifty dented fenders are lying around the auto body and collision technology shop this week at South Central College.

A dented fender is nothing new, considering students are constantly working on auto-body repairs to hone their skills. But the volume has to do with a prestigious competition coming Saturday to South Central College for the first time.

“This is a big deal for us,” said Al Kunz, department head. “We’ve been trying for years to get this competition here.”

Minnesota college and high school students compete each year in the SkillsUSA Minnesota State Leadership and Skills Conference. The auto-body repair component of the competition is at SCC, and students from across the state will compete in a variety of categories. Winners go on to compete at the national competition in June in Kansas City, Mo.

SkillsUSA is a leadership organization for students in career and technical programs. The mission of the organization is to ensure the U.S. has a skilled workforce.

The competition has never been held in Mankato, although SCC has had students perform well in the past. One year a student took first at the state competition and went on to win the national title, Kunz said, and he was a first-year student in the program at SCC.

Each SkillsUSA club selects up to four delegates to compete. Four out of the 50 or so students in the SCC club have been chosen to compete Saturday as well.

“It’s a good opportunity to showcase what our students can do,” said instructor Jay Winters.

The contest stays the same each year, Winters said. Students spend six or seven minutes at seven different stations and rotate. The department has been busy at work preparing each station. The 50 fenders, for example, each had to be dented (by a machine to ensure the dent was uniform on all fenders). At station No. 3, Sheet Metal Repair and Plastic Fillers, contestants will have to repair the damage, using such skills as shrinking, metal straightening, plastic filler application and feather edging.

Other stations include writing an estimate on a late-model car, a welding task and refinishing a late-model fender. There’s even a resume evaluation used as a tie-breaker.

“All of these contest areas reflect our curriculum,” Kunz said.

Winters said the public is welcome to come watch the competition, which will be 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. The stations will be roped off, and each are pretty interesting to watch, he said.

A winner will be chosen by a panel of industry professionals for collision repair as well as for refinish technology. The instructors from all colleges and high schools, including Winters and Kunz, are purely spectators at the event to keep the playing field even, Kunz said.

In addition to receiving a medal and prizes donated by various industry professionals, winning is a good thing to list on a resume, Winters said.

When not preparing for competition, the SCC SkillsUSA club holds meetings, conducts fundraisers and does community service projects. The students have raised money for charitable organizations and have volunteered their time packaging food at Kids Against Hunger.

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