COD Students Capture Big Wins in SkillsUSA Illinois State Championships

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By Mike McKissack

Several COD students recently won gold and silver medals in a variety of categories, including Architecture, Cosmetology, and Game Design and Programming, at the SkillsUSA state championships.

COD students who won during the competition are William Biemer (Naperville), silver medal in Architectural Drafting CAD; Stephanie Brokop (Aurora), silver medal in Cosmetology; Tessa Dittmann (West Chicago), gold medal in Cosmetology; Nikki Hernandez (Bensenville), gold medal in Aesthetics, Rafael Lameter (LaGrange) and Dan Murphy (Downers Grove), first place in Interactive Application and Video Game Design; Adel Lambadi (Lombard), Alexis Wilterdink (Bloomingdale), Sam Wohlrab (Bloomingdale) and Tucker Wolf (Itasca), second place in Interactive Application and Video Game Design; Natalia Negrete (Naperville), gold medal in Job Skills Placement; and Luke Tralmer (Darrien), silver medal in Architectural Drafting CAD.

A partnership of students, teachers and industry professionals, SkillsUSA is a national nonprofit organization serving teachers and high school and college students who are preparing for careers in trade, technical and skilled service occupations. The SkillsUSA Illinois state championship brings together more than 1,000 outstanding career and technical education students for hands-on contests in 100 different trade, technical and leadership fields, including automotive service technology, computer-aided drafting, cosmetology, culinary arts, early childhood education, electronics, graphic communications, medical assisting, precision machining and web design. Contests are run with the help of industry, trade associations and labor organizations, and test competencies are set by industry.

“The SkillsUSA competition was a great experience,” said Cosmetology gold medal winner Dittmann. “We were able to showcase our talents to not only the judges but also to other students and teachers as well. I think overall this competition was great and such a fun experience.”

Initially planning to earn her Associate in Arts degree, Dittmann had almost completed her required classes when her path changed and she decided to pursue an Associate in Applied Science degree in Cosmetology. She already earned her Associate in General Studies degree.

She said she is pleased with her experience at the College.

“COD has let me connect with really great teachers and students to help with my future,” she said. “They have given me advice that is moving me along in both my career and my daily life.”

Dittmann said she hopes to open her own studio or salon one day. Even after earning her degree, she plans to continue her education through continuing education and other classes to broaden her knowledge and skills as a stylist.

She said that College of DuPage is a great place to explore different educational paths and career options.

“My brother and sister came here to get their education, and I knew it would be the smarter way to get my general education classes out of the way since I wasn't sure which major I wanted to pursue,” she said. “Even if you know what you want to do in life, it makes sense to go to COD and finish those general education classes. It’s a less costly and smarter way to go so you don’t have all the debt on your back when you complete your education.” 

For more about the Cosmetology program, visit, email or call (630) 942-2502.

Murphy, part of a team that took home the gold medal in Interactive Application and Video Game Design, said the competition was a great learning experience that helped him developed skills in teamwork and effective communication.

Recently graduated with his A.A.S. in Game Design, Murphy said his career choice grew out of a passion for games and an interest in problem solving. 

“I became interested in making games simply by playing them,” Murphy said. “I've always been interested in figuring out how complex systems work at their core and since games were a passion of mine, it made sense to want to figure out how the individual pieces of a game work together to form a player experience. I find that when you combine a topic of interest with a motivation to solve a problem, you've found a path that you can follow.”

He said he chose to attend COD for a variety of reasons.

“I have had family attend COD and combined with the low cost of tuition, high praise from teachers at my high school, inviting campus, and variety of areas of study, attending COD seemed like the best choice for me.”

Murphy is currently working as an IT intern at a local game studio where he expects to be hired as a full-time employee soon. He hopes to gain as much information as possible so he can apply the knowledge to craft his own games or work on projects that will benefit the studio. He said he would eventually like to follow in the footsteps of professors he met at College of DuPage.

“The professors here, specifically Brad Sward and Steve Santello from the gaming degree programs, make many efforts to include students in extracurricular activities to advance their understandings of the industry and the professional environment,” he said, “They have done so much to assist me in my goals. I would like to do the same as they have, ultimately returning to COD as a professor and teach Game Development.”

Click here for more information about the Game Design and Computer Information Systems programs at College of DuPage.

College of DuPage is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. Serving approximately 28,000 students each term, College of DuPage is the largest public community college in the state of Illinois. The College grants nine associate degrees and offers more than 170 career and technical certificates in over 50 areas of study. 

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