This past June, JWU Providence Baking & Pastry Arts student Daylan Torres traveled to Louisville, Kentucky, to compete in a commercial baking competition that’s part of the massive annual SkillsUSA National Leadership & Skills Conference.
Daylan did not attend alone — he was there with 12 other JWU students, all of whom were gearing up for their own tests of their professional competencies. Of that group, 3 earned medals — read about their successes here — and Daylan secured his spot to represent the USA at WorldSkills 2019, which will be held in Kazan, Russia.
At JWU, SkillsUSA is just one of the many National Student Organizations (NSOs) that students can get involved in. Many students join in high school, then transition to collegiate competition. That’s the case for Daylan — he took time to tell us about the opportunities that SkillsUSA participation opened up for him, as well as how his involvement has helped build his confidence, time management skills and connection to JWU. Read on:
When did you first get involved in NSO/SkillsUSA?
I’ve been a part of SkillsUSA since my freshman year of high school. I only really started to get involved in the competition aspect during my sophomore year of high school with the commercial baking competition — that helped me to find my passion for baking. You’re obviously passionate about baking.
Stepping up to the Bakery competition for WorldSkills is a totally different ball game.”
How does competing in commercial baking sharpen your overall skillset?
The commercial baking competition where I competed last year (placing first in the country) really helped me to see the importance of not only practicing, repetition and honing my fundamentals, but of time management, rolling with the punches and keeping your cool.
Stepping up to the Bakery competition for WorldSkills is a totally different ball game. I’m focusing on refining my skills, coming up with new and exciting ideas to make my products stand out, focusing on the details, and what will take me a step up.
Besides all the technical aspects, I’m really trying to build my mental toughness. I’ll be going to another country and competing against extremely talented kids from all over the world. It’s a scary thought, to be honest, but I’m working on it! The prep for this sort of competition will tire you physically and emotionally, so by building that mentality it allows you to focus on moving forward and persevering.
How did you prepare for the regional qualifier?
For the WorldSkills qualifiers we started out with 12 eligible candidates (Top 3 from high school and college at the national level from the past two years). The first part of the process involves filling out some paperwork and sending our resumes to our potential “expert.” Each student going to Russia in 2019 is paired with an expert in the subject they are competing in; this is the person who will help us along the way as we practice for the international competition. Once paired with our expert, we began to receive modules to complete by a certain timeframe.
In competition, it’s all about rolling with the punches.”
One of the first modules to complete was to prepare braided loaves. Another module was to prepare focaccia, quiche and wheat bread (4 free shape loaves, and 3 to the theme of music). Our last modules involved creating a dead dough showpiece with the theme of WorldSkills Kazan 2019. In between there was a phone interview as well where we talked to our experts. The list of people slowly began to shrink.
The prep that went into just these little modules was pretty intense. I would practice braiding with ropes during my free time. I would start work for internship at 6am and then head to school to practice as soon as I left. I would make some product at home — lots of trial and error with adjusting formulas. I was learning how to work with dead dough for the first time because I hadn’t even taken a decorative bread class yet! It’s something that I wanted so badly that the exhaustion was worth it.
Chef Christina Harvey (JWU Providence baking associate instructor) is my go-to for all this craziness. She is my competition mom and I wouldn’t have it any other way. That said, it definitely took a village to get where we are today! All the chefs that have helped me along the way have made such a difference in the way I look at things. All of the chefs I’ve had the pleasure of having in class deserve thanks as well, especially Chef Soliday, Chef Harvey, Chef Zielinski, Chef Stamm and Chef Lumi (Cirstea).
Do you feel like you’ve become more confident in your baking skills through these competitions?
It’s all about rolling with the punches. I think the most difficult challenge in preparation for something like this is to be able to get out of your own head. You can be your own worst enemy. I know personally that I would beat myself up day after day just thinking that my product wasn’t good enough. I could also argue that it gave me more reason to push myself even harder to make my product better. There is always room for improvement and always more to learn.
NSO at JWU seems like one big family. What do you love most about being part of it?
I agree 100% that NSO is just like one big family. I love being a part of a group of young, talented, and driven individuals that back each other up and just make each other feel good. Everyone at NSO, especially my SkillsUSA family, have had my back with this since the day I found out that I qualified for a spot on the 2019 team. I know they have my back now as I prepare, and I know that they will be cheering me on even when I’m all the way in Russia!
ABOVE: DAYLAN TORRES '20 With his “competition mom,” Chef Christina Harvey. Below: Daylan prepping for the 2018 SkillsUSA competition.