Cynthia Keith's Unexpected Journey to the SkillsUSA National Championships

Cynthia took gold in carpentry at the State Leadership and Skills Conference back in April and has spent the last two months preparing to compete against other carpentry students from across the country
June 20, 2024

When Cynthia Keith agreed to be an alternate for the carpentry competition at the New Mexico SkillsUSA competition she didn’t know what to expect. But as fate would have it, Cynthia ended up competing and taking first place in her category, qualifying her to compete in the National SkillsUSA Championships happening early next week.  

“I only had about four weeks to prepare for the state competition, so I was really surprised to place at all, much less win gold,” she says. “Everything just turned out so much better than I could have imagined.” 

This year’s SkillsUSA National Leadership and Skills Conference will be held from June 24-28 in Atlanta, GA. It is the largest gathering of America’s future skilled workforce, with over 6,500 career and technical students from across the nation competing in more than 100 technical and leadership categories. Cynthia will be joined by 11 other CNM students who won gold medals during the New Mexico SkillsUSA competition in fields ranging from diesel equipment technology to welding sculpture. 

This year is also the first time two women will be representing CNM at the national level, mirroring the overall increase of female competitors in New Mexico. Welding student Bianca Carr also won gold in the Welding Sculpture category. 

“Over 300 women competed at the state conference, which was more than ever before, and I’m proud to be one of the two women representing CNM and all of New Mexico at the national competition,” Cynthia says. “I’m also looking forward to seeing how many women will be there, whether they’re competing or industry leaders and representatives.” 

To prepare for nationals, Cynthia has been diligently reviewing and perfecting the steps involved in framing a house, installing roof rafters, and essential math skills like the Pythagorean Theorem. 

“During the state competition I was able to complete everything except the roof installation, so I’ve been really focusing on knowing the steps I need to take and doing them quickly and efficiently so I can finish in time,” she says.  

Even though competing in SkillsUSA was something Cynthia had never planned to do, carpentry has always interested her since she grew up helping her mom refurbish furniture. She enrolled in CNM’s Carpentry and Construction program in 2022 after stumbling onto a film set and saw the essential role carpenters played on the crew.  

“I accidentally walked onto a film set and I watched the work the set carpenters were doing, and I understood there were sustainable carpentry career options” she explains. “So, I took the leap and enrolled in the program, and it’s been such a rewarding journey.” 

Cynthia will graduate from CNM this fall and plans to pursue a career as a set carpenter, eventually aiming to work as a professional furniture refurbisher. But for now, she’s focused on the competition ahead of her.  

“Signing up for SkillsUSA was really out of my comfort zone, but I’m so glad I did because you truly never know what’s going to happen,” Cynthia says. “Competing has reminded me that I am a great carpenter, and I’m ready to see what nationals has in store.”