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Washtenaw Community College has another welding national champion to add to its storied Wall of Fame.

Ray Papierniak, a 19-year-old student from Ann Arbor, beat out 36 state champions from around the country to win the gold medal in Overall Welding at the SkillsUSA 54th annual National Leadership and Skills Conference at the Kentucky Exposition Center.

Another WCC student, Ashlea Carravallah, also medaled at the event. She earned a silver medal in the Auto Refinishing Technology category. (READ STORY)

Papierniak learned he won the top prize during the closing ceremonies of the week-long event on Friday night. He is the sixth WCC student to win a SkillsUSA national title, joining current WCC welding faculty members Glenn Kay (1997), Alex Pazkowski (2010) and Brad Clink (2011). Miles Tilley and Joe Young also won national titles as WCC students.

Pazkowski joined Papierniak in Louisville this week.

“We’ve got a lot of medals on our wall, and now we can add Ray’s state and national medals to them,” Pazkowski said. “Ray’s going to be a celebrity when he gets back home. He just doesn’t know it yet, but he will.”

Papierniak won the top prize in his first attempt at nationals. He spent most of Wednesday testing his skills in five one-hour welding disciplines — Stick, Mig, Tig, Flux Core and Oxy Fuel Cutting.

After the competition, Papierniak worried he might not fare well in the final standings because he ran out of time in the stick welding event.

“I was pretty surprised (when he was announced the gold medal winner),” Papierniak said. “I honestly don’t know what to think of it all yet.”

He finished with best score in both the Mig and Tig welds, and his aptitude in the written test earlier in the week propelled him to the gold medal.

“One area I did really well was the test, measuring welds,” Papierniak said. “I scored 88 percent and the top was in the low 90s. That counted as 1 1/2 times our final score.”

In addition to a gold medal, Papierniak received a welder from Miller Electric, a plasma cutter and “a bunch of helmets and gloves with different sponsors’ names on them.”

Papierniak already has a scholarship to continue his welding education next year at WCC. He also has plans to take the next step by competing in the World Skills competition next year in Kazan, Russia. His instructor, Pazkowski, can show him the way. He finished second at the 2013 World Skills welding competition in Leipzig, Germany.

Competing in worlds is the third in a trifecta of achievements for welders, Pazkowski said. Those who compete and do well at all three are among the most desirable job candidates for big-time employers in the world.

More than 16,000 people — including students, teachers and business partners — participated in the week-long SkillsUSA event.

College and high school students from around the country competed in a wide variety of skills ranging from automotive, aviation and diesel technology and maintenance to skills such as advertising design, crime investigation, hair styling, culinary, robotics and many other categories.

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