APS Column: DECA provided students opportunities to grow

Published 6:41 pm Friday, March 3, 2023

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By Troy Watkins

What is DECA? I hear that from students and community members all the time. It used to stand for Distributive Education Clubs of America, but it is now just DECA. DECA is a business club that prepares emerging leaders and entrepreneurs in marketing, finance, hospitality and management in high schools and colleges around the globe.

This year we had 40 students compete at Districts in Owatonna in January and will have 36 students compete at the DECA Minnesota State Career Conference in Minneapolis, March 5-7, against approximately 2,400 DECA students from Minnesota. We had 14 students take first place in 10 different events in January at Districts, including the following:

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• Advanced Interview: Andrew Keenan, Emma Gabrielson, Meghan Rosheim, Eric Stencil.

• Innovation Plan: Rachel Toland, Rachel Engelstadt, Joe Ewing, Dane Mitchell

• Sports and Entertainment: Joe Ewing, Jackson Clausman, Max Larson

• Retail Merchandising: Emma Gabrielson.

For our students at Austin High School, DECA is a great opportunity for 9-12 graders to prepare for the future by competing in a variety of real world experiences against other schools at districts, state, and eventually at internationals. Our AHS DECA club is typically the largest academic activity at AHS, as it has around 40-50 members each year. These students don’t get the cheers of the crowds, but they definitely feel the rush of the competition as they present to the judges. In this competition, the process helps them build those soft skills and leadership skills that are so important for our students.

Students choose events such as mock interviews, sales demonstrations, and business role plays and then present their ideas to judges and are scored on their creativity and delivery. The students can choose events in many different areas of business such as finance and hospitality and are able to work in teams or individually.

As the DECA advisor for the last 14 years, I have had the opportunity to see many students come through our program that are successful in all kinds of career fields. It is a business club, but I have former students now employed in many career fields from business to engineering to health care. It is much more than a business club, because it helps students build confidence by understanding their strengths and weaknesses and allows them to see some of their future competition for jobs. The networking that is done with potential employers, colleges, and other DECA students in Minnesota is also a great benefit for our DECA students.

As we continue to focus on career pathways at Austin High School, it is rewarding to see students find out what they are passionate about and then to figure out how they can make that passion become a future career. Whether it’s writing a paper and presenting, coming up with a solution for a problem on the spot, or selling a product to a potential customer, these experiences help students build their communication skills and allow them to be creative in a fun and competitive environment. There is nothing better than seeing a student come out of a presentation with a smile saying they “nailed it!”