JJC Automotive Graduate Wins SkillsUSA National Conference

Nathan Bulthuis was “surprised, that’s to be certain.” The Joliet Junior College automotive alumnus won the gold medal in automotive service technology at the 2023 SkillsUSA National Leadership and Skills Conference

“First, they announced I was part of the top three. That in itself was a win,” Bulthuis said. “They announced the third-place finisher and then second-place finisher, and I realized they didn’t call my name yet. It took a few seconds for it to sink in that I won. I was elated. All my hard work — combined with the efforts of the entire JJC automotive department instructors — paid off!” 

Being the Illinois state gold medalist, Bulthuis was one of 31 competitors from across the country competing in the automotive service technology competition. Because all competitors were state champions, Bulthuis had some familiarity going into the national conference. 

“The state competition had similar stations, requirements and expectations,” Bulthuis said. “This helped me identify my strengths and weaknesses so that I could prepare to compete with the best in the country.” 

However, the stakes were raised at the national conference. JJC automotive faculty member James Tiberi said Bulthuis had to use information he’s never accessed before. In addition, the amount of time and work changed from the state level to the national level. 

“Afterwards I felt a bit unsure about my performance,” Bulthuis said. “The national competition was significantly more challenging than the state one. Although I was confident in my skills, the intensity of the stations and the caliber of my competitors was unlike anything I experienced before. Most stations weren’t designed to be completed in the time allotted. I just had to get through as much as I could.” 

Bulthuis spent nearly 400 minutes working through 18 stations (22 minutes per station) to demonstrate his automotive service skills. The competition included diagnosing and servicing cars and taking National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) exams. After eight hours, the competition ended with the recent JJC alumnus atop the podium. But the gold medal is a result of much more than the time spent competing at nationals in Atlanta and state in Peoria, Illinois.  

The state conference took place during the spring 2023 semester while the national conference was over the summer when Bulthuis wasn’t enrolled in classes. So to prepare, Bulthuis and Tiberi practiced once a week until the spring semester ended. Once summer began, the two stayed in contact about any material or assistance Bulthuis may have needed. 

“The ‘hands-on’ experience at JJC was one of the most valuable things, combined with the instructors’ focus on reading, understanding and following service procedures,” Bulthuis said. “I was able to not only understand the how and why of service requirements but also how to follow them.” 

Bulthuis is JJC’s first automotive service technology national gold medalist since 2015, and it’s because of accolades like this that Bulthuis ended up at JJC. 

“I chose JJC because of the reputation of the program,” said Bulthuis, who is continuing his education at Southern Illinois University. “From my high school teachers to other students who went through the program, everyone had good things to say about the automotive program and instructors. And I agree, because JJC gave me the skill set and technical knowledge that allowed me to compete with the best in the country and win.” 

Bulthuis has been approved to apply for the 2024 WorldSkills competition to represent the United States in automobile technology. The 2024 WorldSkills competition is scheduled for Sept. 10-15 in Paris.