About Chelle Travis
Chelle Travis (@TheChelleTravis) is the executive director of SkillsUSA, a national organization of nearly 400,000 teachers and students within career and technical education. Travis was appointed in 2019 to lead a staff of 35 that manages a federation of 52 state and territorial associations. SkillsUSA’s mission is to empower members to become world-class workers, leaders and responsible citizens. It improves the quality of our nation’s future skilled workforce.
With more than 17 years’ experience in career and technical education, Travis has served in a variety of academic settings, including secondary institutions, universities, and technical and community colleges. Most recently, she was the senior director of workforce and economic development at the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC), where she was charged with building partnerships with employers, workforce agencies and postsecondary institutions. She was the primary point of contact at THEC due to her knowledge of technical education, work-based learning experiences, alternative credentialing, competency-based education and experiential learning. She also managed all external workforce grants issued by THEC.
Formerly, Travis served as associate vice chancellor for students for the Tennessee Board of Regents College System of Tennessee, where she provided leadership in promoting student initiatives across 40 technical and community colleges.
Travis holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration and finance, and a master’s degree in business administration, from Middle Tennessee State University. She is a doctoral student at Tennessee State University.
**Please note that all of our transcriptions come from rev.com and are 80% accurate. We’re grateful for the robots that make this possible and realize that it’s not a perfect process.
Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the high performing educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma today’s guest on the podcast is Chelle Travis. She is the executive director of skills USA, a national organization of nearly 400,000 teachers and students within career and technical education. Travis was appointed in 2019 to lead a staff of 35 that manages a Federation of 52 state and tutorial associations skills. USA’s mission is to empower members to become world-class workers, leaders, and responsible citizens. She’s been in this work for more than 17 years, and it is my absolute pleasure to bring her on the show here today, to talk about her journey into leadership and all the challenges that they are overcoming at skills USA during this tough time. I hope you enjoy the interview. I’ll see you on the other side, Chelle Travis, thank you so much for coming on the high-performing educator podcast. It’s a pleasure to have you start off by sharing with the audience who you are and why you got into the work you do with young people today.
Chelle Travis (01:07):
So I’m Chelle Travis. I’m the executive director of skills USA, and I’m very excited to be here with you today. Thank you for having me, Sam. I actually got into education and specifically career technical student organizations because of an advisor I had in high school. So like many of our students across the nation, there is that one person, their advisor that makes an impact on their life. And Ms. Webb was that for me that she taught me leadership skills. I was very shy. Didn’t necessarily like to speak in front of people. And she opened me up to a world that I did not know that would exist for me. She took me on my first my first trip in, in a plane to a student conference, a leadership conference and, and actually started my journey there, so wanted to reinvest in and pay it forward for what someone had done in my life. So I would a lot to her.
Sam Demma (02:21):
That’s awesome. Shout out, Mrs. Webb, what point in your journey did you know I’m going to be a worker in education? Was there like, was there a certain moment you made the decision that you can remember or was it just a lifelong decision?
Chelle Travis (02:37):
So my mother was as Siki educator and I said, I would say there were two very strong women in my life. I’ve Ms. Webb. And then my mother my mother was CP educator for 40 years and a CTSO advisor. I watched her advocate for CTE my entire life. And so I always was very impressed by her passion and her dedication to her students. However like many young adults, you don’t necessarily want to do what your parents did. Right. So thought it gets that thought it gets that for, for a while. And then I met my next mentor Dr. Williams when, my first about first day actually on my college campus, I became his student worker. And he was in the office of student services again, working with students organizations. And then at that time I realized that you know, this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I started I stopped fighting it and started running towards it. And and really embracing that at that point.
Sam Demma (03:48):
And I know you’ve been doing this for years now. The challenges this year are unique to all the challenges you might’ve faced in the past. And I’m sure there’s things that have been very successful and things you have also learned from one of those huge successes, which we briefly talked about before this recording was the fact that you raised your organization and your partner, a partner raise over $300,000. Can you shed some light on that success during COVID and as well as some learnings, if you have any?
Chelle Travis (04:14):
Absolutely. So I would say that in this moment in time right now we can make a significant difference in elevating our public perception of the value of career and technical education. Now is really our time and our student skills have always been essential. But I think the pandemic has really put a light, a spotlight on the need for CTE in America and right now. And so our our partners very, very excited about the commitment of our partners. They really stepped up and, and saw this need and really wanted to help us elevate career and technical education and wanted to make sure that skills USA had the resources that it needed to actually be able to provide services for our students across the nation. We serve students across all 50 states two territories and the district of Columbia approximately 400,000 members, students and instructors every year and over 20 and about 20,000 classrooms in the United States.
Chelle Travis (05:27):
So so a very large large range and an opportunity to reach even more students every year as a, as we elevate CTE and they see the importance and we’re able to tell our story and they are, and Carhartt who is a great partner, longstanding partner of skills USA. So our labor day as an opportunity to really recognize the value of skilled trades to elevate CTE and to support skills and the mission of our organization. So I’m very excited to have such a great partner. They aren’t our only partners. We’ve had other partners that have set up during this time to really help our students and our instructors during very challenging times.
Sam Demma (06:15):
That’s awesome. And out of the smorgasborg of challenges we’re faced with right now, what are some of the ones that you’re currently facing as an organization? Maybe some of what you’ve already overcome, but some you’re still dealing with today.
Chelle Travis (06:29):
So a large challenge, as you say, across America, as we’re going into the fall and into a new school year is normally a time for if you’re an instructor, if you’re in education. And also if you’re a student, I have a, a second grader and, and, you know, you love getting that new if you have a elementary school student. And I think I even did in high school enjoy, you know, getting those new school supplies, getting that new backpack. And there was always this anticipation of the new year to come and, and for an instructor and advisor, that new group of students that you’re going to be able to impact their lives and, and really grow with them throughout the year. And it’s always very exciting and this year was a little different and then than normal it not knowing the, the difference from state to state and even within each district from district to district about what the move forward plans would be, whether classrooms would be all grounds virtual or a combination of the two in a hybrid classroom.
Chelle Travis (07:36):
And as we’ve seen that in, you know, our instructors concerned about their safety and their students and how they would put precautions in place if they were going on grounds to make sure that, you know, their students and the protection of their students and themselves their safety was first. And so those challenges and as students, you know, we’ve seen across our membership where students have gone on Graham one week and then instructors in their online the next weekend. And really, so the many challenges that our students and instructors space, we face as an organization and trying to make sure that we’re, we’re meeting them where they are. So we really did see in the summer making sure that we could pivot all of our resources to make sure that they were on all available to our instructors and to our students, no matter what that learning environment not be.
Chelle Travis (08:39):
And because we know even with all the challenges and, and our instructors and our students are so resilient and have been so adaptable during this time and very strong, I really do applaud everything that they are doing and make sure that they’re still able to meet their students’ needs in the classroom. But we, we spent a lot of hours and still are pivoting everything that we do from what they would normally receive possibly in person to making sure that all of that was available to our students and instructors in a virtual format and even more because not knowing if you’re going to have a chapter online or whether it’s online or whether it’s going to be virtual, or how do I meet with my students for my chapter, if they’re not going to get together, or if half of them are online and half of them on our ground.
Chelle Travis (09:36):
And so it’s such a challenging time, but we’ve tried to encourage our instructors about providing them resources for their classroom that it’s not time to pause. Our students really do need skills USA right now more than, than ever in skills USA. Not only do we, do we provide students with those personal skills workplace skills and their technical skills grounded on academics to really make sure that they’re ready to enter the workplace, but we give them a sense of belonging and a place you know, that, that they can be with their their fellow students. And at a time when so many things have been canceled and their, their life, we can, can be a positive a positive place for them to to belong in and also to make a difference in their lives, still in a virtual world. So we’ve really tried to provide those resources and continue to provide those to our instructors. And I think the challenging thing that we all face is just really continuing to adjust to what is our for now our new normal.
Sam Demma (10:57):
Yeah, I totally agree that this type of work, this selfless work is needed now more than ever when students are down, I think that’s when they need the most help. And with all the challenges that we’re facing, those three pillars of technical skills, personal skills and career skills are so important. And I would assume that a lot of the personal skills that are taught at skills USA are through live events, like case competitions and conferences and national conferences. How are you adjusting those? Are they being put online? Are they being put on hold this year? What’s the direction that your company has taken organization has taken to address that
Chelle Travis (11:34):
Again? We, we do feel that it is no time to pause for our students. So I’m very proud of the work of our state and of our staff at the national office to make sure that that can happen. So right now we, throughout the summer we trained our state officers virtually for our state. Now we are leading into season four. If states needed assistance, they would normally have all leadership conferences. We have assisted our states in making sure that they can have those virtual experiences for students for their leadership conferences and also with online as state officers and chapter officer experiences and making sure that they’re, they are able to, to have those leadership experiences as well. We have a, we have an empowering experiences team and that empowering experiences team have really, they’ve done a great job in making sure that that there are experiences all year long for our chapters.
Chelle Travis (12:46):
So while we know our our state and our capture advisors have a heavy list this year in trying to provide additional resources and additional activities that they can take in and put into their classroom. And why virtual events for their students to be connected through a series of task force and in, in looking at what our students would be interested in and would be engaged in and making sure that we can meet their needs. We also, for our instructors this year we elevated the number of professional membership resources that they have so toolkit that they can take videos that they can use lesson plans that they can use in their classroom to make sure that they’re still integrating that skills USA experience and that we are integrating all of those framework skills into the classroom and providing those resources for our for our advisors and also our our experiences also for our chapters, our program of work tool kit.
Chelle Travis (13:58):
So they are chapter activities can still take place. We have developed those chapter it tool kit, and then also in looking at their championships, cause you talked about those and local championship guides that can assist them in their classroom. During this time in technical in technical opportunities as well. So you, you asked about conferences, so we have those happening this fall. One commitment that we have made and that we’ve made to our membership is that we will have a national conference this year. So look for more information on that. And November 16th is, is the date that we shared with our membership at the beginning of this fall that we would share the decision of the delivery of our national conference. And so, so then our championship team and our education team, as well as our health staff has been working on what that national conference may look like championships is, is also looking at how we can deliver how we can help states deliver virtual conferences, if that is, is what their state is going to need or hybrid conferences and in assisting in providing resources and platform opportunities for that delivery.
Chelle Travis (15:21):
But we will be offering our national conference with, with sessions and and actually opportunities to connect with employers our textbooks, whether that’s on ground or online and, and also we will be offering competition opportunities and all of our trade areas. So we’ve really been working hard this year, not only to learn from those experiences across the nation and in what we can do for our students. But also we belong to a community of world skills and we’ve been learning from our, their nations and in what they’re going through as well. We’re not alone in this pandemic and skilled trades are needed not just in our country, but around the world. And and so learning from those nations and how they’re meeting the needs of their students as well have informed our decisions.
Sam Demma (16:22):
That’s amazing. I want to take you back for one second to Mrs. Webb and explore what she did for you. And you were a student that really lit a fire within your heart to, to, to chase this stuff. Where’s she, like, if you can pinpoint some of her character traits that really stood out to you, so other educators listening might be able to do the same thing for their students, that’d be really helpful.
Chelle Travis (16:46):
So I said that I was shy. So if somebody saw that and then you made it in high school, they would probably say that’s not true. Most people would have thought that I was, I was an extrovert. I love surrounding myself with people like making a difference in other students’ lives. However, I was say Saferight was as something that I had, and he might not have thought that either, but so Ms. Webb of one of the things is that she saw something in me and, and believed in me and actually instilled the confidence in myself that that I could become both a leader on our campus, but later a student later in our state and in our region and and, and believes in me and that was the first thing is that she gave me an opportunity.
Chelle Travis (17:44):
That is something that I share with, when I was in Tennessee and worked at the state director is skills USA. I’ll always said, it’s our it’s our responsibility. It was my responsibility as an instructor. It was our responsibility as as a state association to give students opportunity and it’s up to them what they do with those and a lot of times, but to come alongside them and to support them and help them. But sometimes that’s all it takes is to, to believe in your students, to give them the opportunity and to instill in them the confidence that they can do, that she showed me and helped me overcome my fears and, and helps me work through those. And, and that opportunity was mine if I was if I wanted to and would they committed. And so I will never forget that Phantom of the opera I’ll just share with you that was, she played that. So before any we would be in her car growing, going across the state, I would be getting ready to speak. And I came from a very small high school. So I was my high school, I graduated with 68 people. I was preparing to speak to 5,000.
Chelle Travis (19:03):
And so and so we played Phantom of the opera all the way across the state until we got until we got there to that conference. And then, you know, and then the next thing was to prepare me and one of my classmates to, to present to a to a national conference as, as well. So she took me on step to mentor Ernie and, and really made sure that that whatever it was that I needed to, to come on earth to get over that hurdle, she was going to help me find that and then and practice and, and make sure that I was ready for that opportunity. So
Sam Demma (19:46):
That’s amazing. I resonate with their story so much because I’ll throw a high school. I want it to be a pro soccer player. I ended up having some major knee injuries lost a scholarship to the U S and I had a teacher. I was supposed to go to Memphis and Tennessee, and my teacher’s name was Michael loud foot. And he believed in me when I was down. Like, I didn’t believe in myself. And he taught me this lesson that a small, consistent action can make a massive change and then challenged me to go out in the community and do something. And that led to a bunch of social enterprise work here in Ontario with picking up garbage. It’s a funny story. I’ll get into it a different time, but I so deeply resonate with you. And I’m curious to know if in your reverse role as a mentor for thousands of students. Now, if you have any stories of students that were just like you, who who’s who’s, who was impacted by the work you do with skills USA that you’d like to share. And it could be a very personal story of a student who has been profoundly impacted, but you can change their name for privacy reasons. The reason I is because an educator might be listening, who is a little burnt out, and I want to remind them why this work is so important, because I think it has the power to transform lives.
Chelle Travis (20:54):
It does. And so I often say in technical education, and especially when it’s coupled with skills USA is integrated into that opportunity that the work that we do is life changing. And so I can tell you that there’s not just one story. I there are many stories of not just changing that life of that individual student, but you can literally change the trajectory of not just that lie, but that student’s family and the community and the nation, because that confidence that you instill in them and the opportunities that you give in them, it doesn’t just impact that individual. It impacts an entire family and in the role that I have here and the way I, I see it, it can impact a generation of students across our nation, the work that we do from I love student stories.
Chelle Travis (21:53):
I would love as an instructor. Probably one of the the, the greatest gifts that you get is when a student returns and comes back to you. And with that first paycheck whether it’s that that a new car or a story about the house that they were able to buy, or they bring in their family for the, for the first time and you eat and you get to see that, that your work had somehow just a small, a small part and, and making that person, and that individual become who they are today. I’ve seen the changes in the lives, not just of our secondary students, but also in our post-secondary students that come back to us possibly after having first careers. And, and now they see, they may not have seen technical education as an option for them at the time.
Chelle Travis (22:47):
And then along the way they they come back to us, they see technical education as an opportunity for them, and you get them to to you get, to see them achieve what has been their lifelong dream. And, and just the change in them. And, you know, in going through this program and the leadership skills that they say I have several of those friends are, or former students are now you know, I get to watch their journey on on Facebook or something like that. And I get to see the difference and then get to see them achieve their dreams. And I think that’s so, so important. And, and I think if as an instructor, I know that it is a challenging as a former instructor myself, I cannot imagine what the classroom and the challenges are like, we do work alongside our instructors, but every day I know that it is, it is a challenge for them and I’m, so I’m encouraged by seeing what they are how they are trying to meet their students’ needs.
Chelle Travis (23:57):
I do know that you know, when I would say my instructors go from go from being classroom instructors to integrating skills, you’re saying to their classroom, and now becoming instructors that are skilled, she would say advisors as well. I could see a different, so it can take a a, an instructor that was a good instructor to an instructor. That’s a great instructor with a new renewed passion for for career and technical education and for the work that they do. I don’t, you know, in working with our students for a number of years, I don’t see how you can be in technical education and not just and not just be excited about the work that you do and the difference that you make in your students’ lives. If you just take a step back and, and look at the number of lives you’ve impacted and changed for the better every year.
Sam Demma (24:48):
And I think you mentioned it, you know, you hit it on the nail, impacting that one student life that could put them on a trajectory to impact another thousand. And if every student did something that impacted the lives of others, it’s this huge ripple effect that just goes on forever and ever which is so awesome. I think what you all stand for is amazing. If anyone’s listening right now and wants to bounce some ideas around maybe another national director from another student organization and wants to have a conversation, what would be the best way for them to reach out with you if you’re open to it?
Chelle Travis (25:18):
Oh, absolutely. Well, if you are interested in contacting me if you’ll just go to skillsusa.org you’ll be able to find my contact information. That’s cell phones. They’re also my my, my email. But it just, if, if you want to reach out and learn more if you want to know more about the stories of our champions, if you go to champions.skillsUSA.award there, you can very, you can see success stories of our students and the impact that our work has on students’ lives across the nation. And I think that is what is so exciting is, is just the it, seeing the work that you do have an impact on students’ lives and in our future generation or future workforce.
Sam Demma (26:08):
Nice. Awesome. Shelly, thank you so much for taking some time to do this has been an absolute pleasure chatting with you,
Chelle Travis (26:13):
Sam, thank you for the work that you’re doing. I think it’s a, it’s the right work in, I’m very excited to see where these podcasts late,
Sam Demma (26:21):
Amazing information insights and ideas for this current challenging time. And I hope her story into leadership really inspired you to reflect on, the personal impact you have on the young people in your life. We always have the opportunity to make a huge impact on the lives of everyone around us. And with that being said, if you enjoyed this interview and you enjoy this, please consider leaving a rating and review. It’ll help more educators just like yourself, find these episodes and learn from them. And if you are listening, thinking that you would love to share something on the show as well. Please send us an email at email@example.com so we can get your insights and your ideas on the show as well. Anyways, I will see you on the next episode talk soon.
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