(WGHP) — A lot of folks take a while to figure out their passion. Lauren Lewis knew hers for years, but she didn’t indulge it.

In high school, “I wanted to do shop, and I get sent to cosmetology,” said Lauren about growing up in Alabama.

But cars and how they worked were always her passion, and she now says that’s what she should have studied in college.

“I started off in veterinary medicine,” Lauren said. “I got my bachelor’s at Auburn University…I was going to go into being a veterinarian, and I decided I didn’t want to be $250,000 in debt.”

So she put her education to use in the industry just not as a full vet, and she eventually came to a realization.

“I did OK for 17 years…as the years dragged on, I kind of realized this really isn’t the passion that I expected and…I have to love what I’m doing. It has to mean something, and it has to make me happy,” Lauren said. “So much of my life and happiness is tied up into my work ethic…a lot of people are like, ‘You’re crazy’…I prefer working over vacations. That’s how serious it is.

The answer was going back to school at Guilford Technical Community College where she is about to finish her education doing collision damage appraisal.

Jeff Faircloth came to GTCC in 1995 and has run their SkillsUSA program for the last 20 years. He says the program is an undiscovered gem.

“Skills USA is huge. It’s the only student organization for career technical education,” Faircloth said.

It plays the role of an athletic team for community colleges like GTCC. Students compete across the state. If they do well enough, they also compete in national events. Faircloth has seen what that does for the students.

“One, it gives students an opportunity to showcase their skills and their talents, and it also could lead to employment opportunities,” Faircloth said. “So the whole thrust of Skills USA is to prepare students for the world of work…not only does it give them the opportunity to hone their skills that they learn in the classroom, but it also benefits the long term and possibility of employment opportunities.”

The program also exposes them to a variety of companies that both sponsor and attend the events. 

Roughly 17,000 classrooms across the country teach the skills in over 130 different job areas that SkillsUSA represents.

See more on how the competition changes lives in this edition of The Buckley Report.