In 2012, three childhood friends – Juan Lopez, Cristhain Oliveras and Miguel Romero - enrolled in the Welding Program at Metro Technology Centers. The US Grant High School students had done most things together since middle school, and they quickly excelled at welding, too. At their first SkillsUSA district student competition, they competed individually and placed first, second and third place out of 12 competitors. The wins sent the trio to the state competition, with Juan Lopez placing first, and Cristhain Oliveras second, qualifying Juan for the national competition in Nashville, Tennessee.
Almost immediately, Juan questioned whether he should compete in Nashville.
"I had a post-graduation welding job offer at Chesapeake, and I knew that Cristhain wanted to compete at nationals more than I did. He got first at our district competition, and I got first at state, so we were very competitive," Lopez laughed.
Cristhain, vice-president of SkillsUSA for his class, placed second behind Juan by only one point at the state competition which made the loss difficult, even to his friend. Ultimately, Juan gave up the trip to Nashville, and Cristhain competed, placing 15th out of 40 competitors from all over the United States.
Although Miguel did not place with the other two at state competition, he credited his welding teacher, Joel Rogers, for their success during and after the program.
"Mr. Rogers was the instructor that expected more from you. He didn't hold our hands or treat us like children. He gave us lots of hands-on welding time to learn, and he critiqued our work and pushed us to improve," Miguel said.
Miguel and Juan graduated high school and the welding program in 2013, and currently work for Compass Manufacturing - a division of Chesapeake - where they are welders earning more than their age with full benefits. After competing at the national competition, Cristhain went to work for Cimarron Energy and remains there today.
When the three aren’t working, they are volunteering their time back in the welding room at Metro Tech, offering guidance to Juan’s younger brother Carlos, who is preparing to compete at his first SkillsUSA competition. Although hopeful that Carlos will carry on their winning legacy, Juan is just glad to see his brother learning a trade that will secure a stable future.
The three young men plan to continue working, mastering their trade, and saving money to one day buy their own oil rig. Together, of course.