As a delegate to the recent SkillsUSA Leadership Training Institute in Washington, D.C., Alex Bruin was prepared to speak to members of Congress about the need for vocational and technical training.
Upon entering the Senate building, all the Florence High School senior had to do was focus on the task at hand, and take the correct elevator.
“There are two sets of elevators, gold and silver,” Bruin said. “I got in the gold one, got all the way up, looked out, and it was a ‘Senators Only’ elevator! I’m not supposed to be in there! But yes, I finally found the right elevator!
“I’m human. I goof up all the time, just like everybody else.”
That said, Bruin has fashioned an impressive resume in a short amount of time. A firefighting student in the CAVIT program, Bruin is also the SkillsUSA Region 3 president and Florence FFA vice president. While in Washington, she also received the National Statesman Award — the highest honor from SkillsUSA.
“The person I was at this time last year was so different,” Bruin said. “I used to have stage fright, but now, I can talk to anybody, my leadership skills were enhanced so much, and I feel comfortable in almost any situation.”
During intersession break, Bruin attended the Leadership Training Institute from Sept. 21 through Sept. 25. She spoke to a joint group of U.S. representatives and senators about the importance of the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act of 2006, legislation that provides funding for CTE (career and technical education) programs.
“I told them that they can’t stop funding for our education, because we are the future,” Bruin said. “Whenever you cut our education, Arizona is lowering its standards for teaching, and getting teachers that are under-qualified. So, when they teach the students, they don’t quite comprehend everything they’re teaching, and the students don’t learn at the full capacity that they need to.
“As a result,” she continued, “students come out of high school not really knowing everything that is required of them. It’s like a chain reaction. We’re seeing students get their high school diploma, go to college, get a degree, and they don’t know what to do.”
Bruin feels strongly that CTE programs represent “the heart and soul of America.”
“Without the blue collar worker, the country wouldn’t run,” Bruin said. “So, CTE students are coming out of high school with the skills to pay the bills. We can go to college or go straight into the work force. It opens up so many opportunities.”
Admittedly a “huge fan” of Arizona Sen. John McCain, Bruin was disappointed that she didn’t get to meet him. However, before speaking to Congress, Bruin and the nearly 400 other delegates had the opportunity to see many of the historic sites in the nation’s capitol when they weren’t attending workshops and organizational meetings.
“I remember in seventh grade looking at my textbooks in social studies and seeing pictures of the sites in D.C. Then, to actually be standing in front of the Lincoln Memorial or the Washington Monument was amazing,” Bruin said.
“We went to the Pentagon Memorial and that one probably hit me the hardest. When you go, they give you two pebbles. They have a bench for every person who died there,” she continued. “You put one pebble on the bench and the other in your pocket. There was a bench for an 11-year-old boy named Henry who won a class trip to go somewhere, so he was flying to the Dulles Airport when the plane was hijacked and crashed into the Pentagon.
“So I put my pebble down and I was fine through the entire thing, then I looked to my left and you look at the Pentagon now, and you can see the outline of where the plane hit because the cinder blocks are different colors. That’s where reality hits you.
“It was an overwhelming experience.”
Other stops included the 9/11 Memorial, the Vietnam Wall, Arlington National Cemetery, and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
“My grandfather was a P.O.W. in Vietnam, so that was very powerful. I would often step away from everybody else so I could reflect and think,” Bruin said. “I wish I could go back and spend a week at the Smithsonian.
“There’s not a lot of opportunities out there unless you go out and reach for it. Every single year, I would miss the D.C. trip for some reason. So to have this chance, was amazing.”
When Bruin graduates this spring, she will be a certified firefighter, a certified first responder and have 26 college credits.
“I’ve met career and tech students from all over the nation, we all get the same message, why they think we’re not going to college, or that we’re not smart enough for college,” she said. “We’ve gotten to the idea of ‘work smart and not hard,’ but when I get out of high school, I’ll have a job lined up.
“There is so much I have gotten out of CAVIT that I would have never gotten otherwise.”
Even with her certifications, firefighting isn’t Bruin’s first career choice. She will attend Central Arizona College and possibly pursue “the medical side” of first responding, like nursing or EMT.
“But I really like working with people,” she said. “I’d like to get into teaching because I’m big on parliamentary procedures and speaking at seminars. I love it so much.”
Her father, Bill, is a Florence firefighter who encouraged her to get involved with CAVIT.
“I didn’t want to do CAVIT at all. I didn’t want to be a firefighter. I had no idea what I wanted to do,” Bruin said. “I thought, maybe, I would be a chef, or a massage therapist, or I wanted to be a flight nurse for a while. My dad said, ‘You have all those college credits; go in there. Go do it, even if you don’t want to.’”
But eventually, Bruin said, CAVIT “started to grow on me.” Eventually, Mike Berger, her CAVIT instructor, encouraged her to get involved with SkillsUSA.
“There’s just so much liveliness and excitement with SkillsUSA,” Bruin said. “I’ve been in a lot of other activities, but SkillsUSA is where I feel the most at-home. If my dad hadn’t pushed me to take this class, I’d never be where I am today.”
Besides CAVIT and Skills USA, she is an FFA parliamentarian, and a member of the Relay for Life Youth Development Committee. Though a career-ending knee injury forced her to give up varsity soccer last season, Bruin helps out the program as an assistant coach for sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade girls.
She insists that 24 hours in a day are enough.
“I like to keep myself busy, because if I’m not busy, I’m bored,” Bruin said. “I love it all, so I can’t give up any of it.”