Local student excels in marine technology competitions

A local student is making waves nationally in marine service technology.

Zach Hornberger, a Greater Altoona Career and Technology Center student from Bellwood-Antis School District, won the national silver medal for the SkillsUSA marine technology competition in Kansas City, Mo., this summer.

Hornberger, 17, won scholarships from that competition, which have drastically changed his plans for post-secondary education.

“I originally had no plans of going to post-secondary school after high school. Now that I have these scholarships, it would be very impractical for me not to use them,” he said. “I’m pretty sure I’ll be going to another technical college and will specialize in the marine technology field.”

Coaching him along to victory in the June competition was a local businessman and former GACTC student and SkillsUSA competitor.

“It feels so good to pay it forward. His path is such a carbon copy of how my future got laid out,” Dwayne Poorman, owner of boat repair shop Propelled Motion in Altoona, said.

Hornberger volunteered for the marine technology competition, but GACTC teachers were not familiar with that field, so the GACTC administration contacted Poorman.

“You kind of always worry that you are not going to do enough. When we first started working together, the competition was the main goal. You hope you show him the right things in all areas,” Poorman said.

Hornberger and Poorman worked several days per week, prior to the Spring state competition in Hershey. They worked on wiring, written assignments and hands-on work.

The national competition required Hornberger to use computer programs and manual tools to diagnose and repair engine failures.

“It is the most fun experience I could have. I am doing something I love,” Hornberger said.

In addition to winning scholarships, Hornberger has also earned the ability to tell future employers that he succeeded at state and national-level competitions, said GACTC SkillsUSA advisor and interior design teacher Dodie Amigh.

It’s rare that a junior made it through the state level, especially in Pennsylvania, the third largest member state of SkillsUSA, she said, adding most competitors are high school seniors. GACTC administrators celebrated Hornberger’s state success. He moved on to nationals. “Then he hit it out of the park,” Amigh said.

In April, Hornberger spent three days competing in Hershey.

Then, he advanced to the national competition in Kansas City, where people filled an entire stadium for various competitions, and he was one of 23 participants in marine technology, he said.

Amigh said there was a strong effort by many people in Hornberger’s life that contributed to his success.

“Zach has wonderful parents and great administration at the GACTC that pays for students to go to the competitions,” she said. And she didn’t forget Poorman’s willingness to teach Hornberger.

“A simple phone call, and this is the result,” Amigh said.

Since the competition, Poorman has hired Hornberger to work at his repair shop.

“He’s a good kid,” said Poorman. “He wants to learn. The younger generation seems like they want what’s easy. He’s not that way.”

Poorman said marine dealing is a unique field.

“You have to go 45 minutes in any direction from Altoona to get to a service center,” he said.

Poorman was especially pleased that Hornberger has gained scholarships as a result of the hours they spent preparing for the competition.

“It opened up a whole other world for him,” Poorman said. “I’m glad to be a part of it.”