FUEL FOR THE SOUL: Cosmetology educator relies on SkillsUSA students to make her a better person

Some might say Sara Plozay has SkillsUSA in her blood. From the time Sara was born, her mother was actively involved with the organization and retired as a Cosmetology instructor. Now seven years in as a State Advisor & Certified Trainer (and Cosmetology instructor herself), Sara has taken the family torch and blazed a successful trail for herself and her students.

During her very first year of teaching at Upper Valley Career Center in Piqua, Ohio, Sara was asked to become involved as a SkillsUSA educator. She shared, “I jumped at the opportunity because the organization changed my life as a student and I wanted to give those same opportunities to my students. I guess you can say I was a little bit excited. I had quite a bit of enthusiasm and was eager to become more involved!”

Sara’s genuine devotion to her students and the SkillsUSA mission is evident in her energy and ambition to continue to grow the program at her school. “My students are my DRIVE! They keep me motivated to do more and strive for better every year, even when I begin to get a little tired. They refuel my soul and make me a better person.”

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‘Without SkillsUSA, I would have been lost in life.’

Because her mother was so involved, you would assume Sara was lining up to join Skills the moment she was able to, with a huge grin! However, as a student, she was very reluctant to participate in the organization. “It was a teacher—my own mother—who literally pushed me past my breaking point and I finally caved in. I am so thankful I did; otherwise, I would have made the biggest mistake in my life.” 

As a student in the program, Sara’s greatest achievement was expanding her communication skills. “I was very introverted, and it helped me begin to break that shell away and taught me to be myself and not fear speaking to others,” she said. 

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Why Sara sticks with the program

Now as an advisor, Skills teaches Sara how to better connect her students to work as a team. The program also offers her new teaching strategies to implement into her classroom to enhance student engagement. In particular, SkillsUSA Ohio provides Sara and her students with opportunities for collaboration, engagement and industry connection—three features that are vital for giving each student and teacher an edge in the classroom and in their current or future careers.

Sara Plozay and SkillsUSA Ohio members

Collaboration: Sara is able to collaborate with other teachers throughout the state (and even across the country) to help advance herself as an educator and bring new ideas to her classroom.

One of her most memorable moments with Skills was with colleagues at the Ohio Association for Career and Technical Education (Ohio ACTE) conference. Sara was prepping to present to teachers and administrators across the state, and she somehow misplaced her prop of an “essential tool” she needs every day to be successful in life. So, she improvised… with a Tinkerbell toothbrush as her tool! This last-minute presentation adjustment taught her to embrace the challenges you are presented with because they help you to grow on a personal and professional level.

Engagement: The Skills curriculum allows Sara to engage her students better and create a stronger team, preparing them for the workforce or college experience.

A leading engagement tool for SkillsUSA Ohio is driving the competitive spirit. Sara’s students are very active in the state and national competitions. She shared, “I always tell them to enjoy the process, because not everyone has the opportunity to earn a medal. I am proud of every single competitor I have had over the years.” Sara has had several students make it to the state level, medaling in the top three and even advancing to the national competition. “It is an unexplainable feeling you get when you see them succeed. Even more than the recognition, they grow so much through the process—that is what it is really all about!”

Industry Connection: Skills allows Sara to expand her network of business and industry contacts, further strengthening her program, her own career and employment opportunities for her students.

Many students move through high school and then college without developing any business or industry connections. Landing a job in the right career field then becomes a much harder feat. Sara alone has developed connections with Great Clips, Smart Style, Small Business Salons, Michaels Salon and Day Spa, Associate School Districts such as Piqua and Troy, Salvation Army, Wilson Hospital, Miami County Health Department, Piqua YWCA, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Fusion and the Red Cross—and this is all before she has even hit a decade in her career!  

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Gratitude for the opportunities

To say Skills has had a positive impact on Sara would be an understatement. “I would not be where I am today as an educator without SkillsUSA Ohio. It has given me numerous opportunities to expand my skill set and meet some pretty incredible people I now consider family,” she shared. Sara further explained that because of all the training sessions, the personal help she is able to extend to her students, and the ability to try new resources in the classroom, she has grown as an educator and as an advisor. 

“For all of this, I am so very grateful and that is why I dedicate myself to the organization. SkillsUSA has helped me on my journey to success, and as a teacher I am still learning from the organization!”

Sara Plozay is a Cosmetology Instructor and SkillsUSA Advisor with Upper Valley Career Center in Piqua, Ohio. She can be reached at plozays@uppervalleycc.org or 937.778.1980.
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