The efforts of a business administration junior in bringing a new student organization to The University of Texas at Dallas have helped land her a leadership role in that organization’s national student leadership team.
Sarah Romanko was recently elected national president of the postsecondary division of SkillsUSA, a national nonprofit organization of middle school, high school and college students, as well as educators and industry. The group — founded in 1965 — is devoted to bridging the skills gap, the variance between the job skills employers need and workers are able to deliver. (One estimate from Deloitte has that gap at 2.4 million unfillable jobs that adversely impact the economy to the tune of $2.5 trillion.)
Prior to arriving at the Naveen Jindal School of Management, Romanko had been a member of the SkillsUSA chapter at Westwood High School in Austin, Texas.
“I had just competed in the SkillsUSA Championships at the high-school level,” she said. “I realized how much fun I’d had, and I decided that I wanted to continue with it in college.”
Surprised to learn that UT Dallas did not have a chapter, Romanko decided to start one.
“Eventually Mr. [Paul] Nichols came into the picture,” she said, of the executive director of Jindal School-based Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. “I kept asking him and other students who was it that could say yes to me. It took a long time to form the chapter, but the entire process was such a great experience — kind of like the entrepreneurial mindset of you have to keep trying and go in a different direction if something doesn’t work.”
It took eight months for the group to become an official UTD student organization and another seven months to become an official SkillsUSA chapter. Nichols helped Romanko navigate the process and became the organization’s faculty advisor.
Nichols also advises the UTD Entrepreneurship Club, and at first, he said, “I was a little concerned that [SkillsUSA] could conflict with what E-Club wanted to do,” Nichols said. “But Sarah was very persistent, and she educated me. I realized that this new organization was a very complementary fit.”
Romanko, a member of both the Davidson Management Honors Program and the UT Dallas Collegium V Honors Program, promoted the club, recruited members and organized workshops and trips. She even obtained a $1,000 educational resource grant for the chapter. The acquired resources will help grow the chapter, she said.
Not satisfied with those accomplishments, Romanko decided to run for national president at SkillsUSA. In order to qualify, she had to take a 50-hour course and then pass an exam. She then had to go through an interview process in which she made presentations to voting delegates. She was elected to the office and was installed in June. Although she had to hand the reins of the local chapter over to co-founder Md Rakeen Murtaza, a software engineering student in the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science, she stays involved with the club.
“I don’t know how she sleeps,” Nichols said. “Sarah is one of these students that is very interdisciplinary in her approach. She loves to bring a group together, as we have seen with SkillsUSA. It’s like going down the checklist of all the key attributes you want to see in a successful innovator and entrepreneur.”
In addition to studies and SkillsUSA duties, Romanko has had several leadership roles in the E- Club. She was also homecoming student director in fall 2019 and won an OWLIE Award in 2020. In the SkillsUSA Postsecondary State Conference, she won a gold medal in the job interview competition.
On track to graduate in May 2022, Romanko plans to go to graduate school. Her career objective is to analyze startups and new business opportunities at a company that encourages innovation in all aspects of its business.
Her advice to students looking for a student organization that will provide a meaningful collegiate experience is to consider what SkillsUSA has to offer, which centers on developing the soft skills that many employers are looking for.
“We definitely talk about the soft skills aspect of the club — that is something we actually talk about in our recruitment presentation,” she said. “We really focus on what employers are looking for and what we are doing to help them develop those skills.”
She said there are opportunities to run for office, which also develops those skills, and there is the competition aspect.
“Finally, we want to build a community,” she said. “I know everybody says that, and it sounds very cliché, but we are an organization that wants to have that family aspect. We want everybody to feel welcome, and we want everybody to have fun. We want to bring all those elements together. Who says you can’t have fun while learning?”
— Jimmie R. Markham