Three young ladies from the Niagara Career and Technical Education Center are getting ready to compete at the SkillsUSA National Competition in Louisville on June 25-28. The competition is a showcase for career and technical education students from all around the country.
Austin Briley, a junior from Lewiston-Porter; Kasey Taylor, a junior from Wilson; and Claudia Wrate, a senior from Starpoint, comprise the New York State Champion Crime Scene Investigation Team.
"I am very excited about going to nationals," said Briley. "It's a big deal for us. Our teachers are giving us so much help with different ways to study for it. They are giving us all the tools we need to be successful in the competition and our careers."
In the competition, where they will be facing off against teams from each of the states, they will be directed to a crime scene and briefed on the situation. The team will process the crime scene where they will legally search for, collect and remove evidence of the crime. One member of the team will be required to lift a latent fingerprint from a piece of evidence and after the scene has been processed, the contestants will write a report, draw the crime scene sketch and mark their evidence.
Security and law enforcement teachers Amber Croff and Jess Traver are incredibly proud of their students taking first place at the state level and now getting ready for the nationals.
"I am very excited," said Croff. "I watched the girls compete and they were saying, 'We didn't do good, we didn't do good,' so I encouraged them and told them they did fine. I think what made the difference was their professionalism. They shook the judges' hands after the competition and I think that really set the kids apart. When they announced them as first place, I started crying. It is really rewarding as a teacher to watch your students succeed like that."
Traver added, "I am so proud of Claudia, Austin and Kasey. They worked long hours above and beyond their peers to get this win. They take care of each other and are determined to win. I am excited to see what they accomplish and achieve at the National SkillsUSA Competition."
The Niagara Career and Technical Education science teacher, Darlene Mariani, has also been an integral part of the team's success.
"This is the first CSI team from NCTEC to compete at the SkillsUSA National Competition. It has been a great collaborative effort between the three students, teachers, and local law enforcement to prepare them for the event. These three young women have what it takes to bring home a medal."
"It was a surprising win, but we are ready," said Taylor. "I took this class because my father was a Lockport police officer and I wanted to follow in his footsteps. With all the training and different opportunities we have had, it has helped us a lot to become what we want to be."
The students are honing their skills on daily basis working with their teachers and local law enforcement. Investigator Rzepecki and Investigator Folts from the New York State Troopers spent a day with the team recently showing them how to process an automobile accident.
"It is great to be helping these students prepare for nationals," said Rzepecki. "Anything we can do to help people who are going to be future law enforcement we are more than happy to do."
"I have always wanted to go in the law enforcement field and this class is amazing and has helped me out so much," said Wrate. "We do field trips once a month, we have gone through all our certifications and trainings and the CSI team is excellent. We have State Troopers helping us out right now with car accidents and we will be working with Buffalo Homicide and then we are going to Niagara Falls to work with their Crime Scene Unit. We are getting out there. It is a great experience to have my senior year. I have such an awesome team. I am so proud of them. We can't wait."
Traver said they could not have done this without the help of the law enforcement community. "I want to specifically thank our community partners who have been integral to the team's success: Niagara County Sheriff Department, New York State Police, Troop A and Buffalo Police Department Homicide and CSI teams provided trainers and supplies. Niagara County Law Enforcement Foundation made a monetary donation to support team as well as the security team from Seneca Gaming Corporation. This is truly a community effort and we thank all our partners across the county and Western New York."