When John Halwix completed his sheet metal contraption at this month's SkillsUSA competition in Kansas City, Mo., he didn't quite know what it was.
Halwix had followed the instructions he had been given faithfully -- cutting, rolling and folding the metal into several fittings, or shapes, and then fastening those together with rivets.
Halwix, a heating and ventilation student from Marengo who entered the competition through Elgin Community College, said: "It has no practical purpose in the heating and air conditioning industry."
Still, the contraption won Halwix a gold medal at the SkillsUSA National Championships, punctuating a strong team performance that saw five ECC students earn Top 10 finishes, including two medals.
SkillsUSA is a national program that hosts competitions for students in career and technical programs across a wide range of subjects, including ventilation, business and health care.
Five students from ECC competed in SkillsUSA Nationals this year, the fourth year the college has sent a team. Lisa Schifferer of Elgin took second-place in nursing assisting, Kim Perry of Bartlett earned fifth in medical math, Lidia Calderon of Elgin came in eighth in prepared speech and Bradley Feliciano of Elgin was ninth in medical terminology.
Susan Timm, an ECC professor and a coach for the SkillsUSA team, said the competition is a learning experience for both students and instructors.
"By competing, the students see the skill sets that are expected of them," Timm said. "It's a good way as faculty to know that we're doing what industry wants."
Halwix, who spent 35 years in the housing industry before returning to school, said his win at the state competition, held at ECC in April, paled in comparison to his first-place finish at nationals.
"I was happy, but to me it was just a win," Halwix said of the state competition. "It doesn't mean anything until you win the whole thing."