City College 2014 graduate places in top ten at national competition
July 22, 2014
Carmen Price, University Relations, 657-2243
MSU BILLINGS NEWS SERVICES — Matthew Tucker, a 2014 graduate of City College, came away from the national SkillsUSA Championships recently in Kansas City placing in the top ten in the automotive technology category.
“MSUB couldn’t have had a more humble, professional and hard-working student representing MSU Billings in this competition,” said Vern Gagnon, one of Tucker’s City College automotive technology instructors.
More than 5,800 outstanding career and technical students, who were all gold medalists of state contests, competed in 98 different leadership and hands-on occupational skills contests, showcasing technical and career education across the nation.
Industry leaders representing more than 600 businesses, corporations, trade associations and unions recognized the students for their demonstrated excellence in competitions such as robotics, criminal justice, aviation maintenance, welding and automotive technology.
City College welding instructor George Harper, who accompanied Tucker to the competition, said the recent graduate’s work ethic, approach and attitude were all exemplary. He noted Tucker had to study materials related to the competition while working at his full-time job, six days a week.
“It took a lot of determination and perseverance,” Harper said. “Matthew demonstrates this in everything he does. He is at work before anyone else and is the last to leave. He’s just that kind of guy.”
The duo drove the high plains of Montana in a City College vehicle, making a steady decent in to the prairies of Kansas City, Mo.
“I’d never before seen a five-lane interstate before,” Tucker said. “It was my first time in a big city.”
In the days before the big competition, Tucker and Harper explored the city, visiting a WWI museum and catching a Kansas City Royals game.
On the day of the competition during the last week of June, students competed against the clock and each other, proving their expertise and skills in occupation categories from culinary arts to welding.
The skills are based in the task list outlined by the National Institute for Automotive Excellence and the National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation.
The multi-million dollar event occupied a space equivalent to 16 football fields.
“It was a little intimidating, but I went in knowing that I was going to give it my absolute best,” Tucker said.
The 21-year-old said as far back as he can remember he has always been interested in cars and mechanics.
“As a kid, I wasn’t really into toys,” he said. “I was always tearing apart my bicycles and putting them back together for fun.”
Tucker said he inherited his mechanical mindset from his father, a Billings gunsmith and “jack-of-all-trades.”
“My dad always said ‘If you can’t fix it, you probably shouldn’t own it,’” Tucker said.
But, it was his older brother who encouraged him to make a career in the automotive field. “I’ve always really looked up to him,” he said.
A 2012 Senior High School graduate, Tucker said he likes to think of himself more as a Career Center graduate.
“I spent most of my time at the Career Center where I took every auto welding and machining course offered,” he said.
And, it was the Career Center where he was first introduced to SkillsUSA. During his senior year, Tucker entered into the diesel category after taking only one diesel mechanic course. He advanced to the state-level and earned a bronze medal.
The following year, Tucker joined City College’s SkillsUSA team. He was voted to be the group’s president. That same year, he was awarded a second bronze medal at the state level in the automotive category.
“I knew that the next year would be my year,” Tucker said. “I wanted to go to the national competition.”
While taking a full-course load, interning at Staley’s Tire and Automotive shop and leading his SkillsUSA team to the 2014 state competition, Tucker did just that. He earned a gold medal, advancing to this year’s national competition and representing Montana in the automotive technology category.
But it wasn’t always easy.
Tucker, the youngest of five siblings, lost an older sister to suicide in September.
He has watched his older brother fight cancer, twice.
And, coming from a lower-income family, Tucker’s family struggled to make ends meet.
“All I can say is that the hard times brought my family closer,” Tucker said.
Today, the future is bright, Tucker said. His internship turned in to a full-time job. His brother has been cancer-free for three years. And, he and his girlfriend of seven years purchased a home the week before the national competition.
Although he isn’t the first in his family to go to college, he is the first to graduate. His mother and an older sister are both working toward degrees—his mother is close to graduating with a psychology degree and his sister with a degree in pharmacy.
“I’ve had a lot of positive influence in my life,” Tucker said. “It’s helped me to always do my best and have the attitude to leave positive marks in life where I can. I, too, want to have a good influence on what I leave behind.”
PHOTO ABOVE: Matthew Tucker, a 2014 City College graduate, placed in the top 10 at the national SkillsUSA automotive technology competition in Kansas City, Mo. last month.