When one pictures an audience member of an influential TED Talk, with an expert speaker sharing their wisdom in the realm of education, technology and beyond, one might envision a young professional, blazer buttoned and notepad in hand, or perhaps a college student, dressed down in jeans and eager to learn.
The audience member who probably doesn’t come to mind? A kindergartener.
But for Shubh Katakiya, a rising sophomore at Gloucester County Institute of Technology, watching TED Talks from the comfort of his Deptford home was one of his favorite hobbies as a 5-year-old.
“When I was really little, I always liked listening to speeches,” Katakiya said. “I’ve seen how speeches inspire people. That’s always been my goal when I’m speaking – to inspire and move the audience. To me, it’s awesome – the power of words.”
At only 15, it seems Katakiya has a good handle on harnessing that power, having recently brought home a silver medal in extemporaneous speaking in the SkillsUSA Championships. The competition gives students a speech topic and just five minutes to prepare a three- to five-minute speech before going in front of the judges.
Katakiya signed up for SkillsUSA the first day of his freshman year at GCIT. A career and technical student organization, SkillsUSA aims to ensure a skilled workforce in America. According to its website, it serves more than 395,000 high school, college and middle school students and professionals enrolled in training programs for trade, technical and skilled occupations.
The SkillsUSA Championships is just one facet of the organization where students can compete in everything from carpentry to culinary arts, plumbing to prepared speech. Held annually, the championships start at a local level before students can advance to the national stage. For Katakiya, that meant winning gold in April at the state competition, giving him the chance to compete in the national championships in June in Louisville, Ky.
Katakiya’s preparation, however, started long before the spring. After deciding to compete in extemporaneous speaking, he began practicing with advisor and GCIT school psychologist Kimberly T. White in October.
“Mrs. White came into my life basically a public speaking angel,” Katakiya said. “She’s one of the most amazing people I’ve ever met, hands down … You can’t be a better advisor than Mrs. White, in my opinion. She was always super motivating in any situation.”
Advising for SkillsUSA is a family affair for White, who followed in the footsteps of her husband, brother-in-law and father-in-law when she got involved. She spent her first year observing, finding her niche as a coach in the leadership contest her second year. As a school psychologist and not a career technical teacher, White looked into what other leadership contests the SkillsUSA competition offered, coming across job interview and extemporaneous speaking. She wanted to get GCIT students involved in these categories, and that’s how she began advising Katakiya.
Concerning his recent wins, the advisor is thrilled.
“I was and still am beyond proud of him,” White said. “His performance both on the state level and the national level – it’s just phenomenal because there are so many people who compete.”
The SkillsUSA Championships invites students from all states and several territories to take part, including Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. At the national level, Kayakiya took on 39 competitors.
“He worked so hard and practiced not only in school, but also outside of school. He deserves the win whole-heartedly,” White said. “For him to do so well so early, it’s just a phenomenal feat.”
Along with the silver medal, the win came with a full-tuition scholarship to Sullivan University, which, even if he doesn’t attend Sullivan, gives Katakiya “peace of mind” for the future.
A self-proclaimed extrovert from a young age, the GCIT business major is also an athlete – he competes in volleyball and soccer for the school – and a musician, playing both the flute and piano. When he’s not tuning in to world-class speakers and Toastmasters speeches, Katakiya also enjoys watching movies. One day, he could see himself starting his own business, working as a stock investor, or becoming a trial lawyer where he “can public speak all the time in front of a judge.”
Katakiya can continue to compete in extemporaneous speaking with SkillsUSA throughout his high school career. Silver as a freshman is something of which to be proud, and with that accomplishment under his belt, he still has three more years to reach gold.
While Katakiya worked hard for his silver medal, he was also quick to thank those who helped him on the way to his success.
“Without Mrs. White and my family, nothing would have been there,” Katakiya said. “Those two are my backbone.”
To learn more about SkillsUSA, visit www.skillsusa.org.