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‘It sets them up for the future’

Area students place in virtual business competition

-Submitted photo
Taylor Johnson, a Fort Dodge Senior High student, works at her computer. Students competed against other districts in the DECA District 2 virtual conference this year, where they practiced skills like developing marketing plans.

Local high school students competing to test their skills in business industries placed well in their district, despite having to compete virtually this year in the DECA virtual conference.

The DECA virtual conference for District 2, which includes Fort Dodge Senior High and Southeast Valley High School, had several top placements with students on their journey to finding their career paths and working to get real world experience to use after graduation.

DECA, a now defunct acronym that meant Distributive Education Clubs of America, helps students hone their skills in business, entrepreneurship, finance, hospitality, marketing and management through competitions that can take them to national and international competitions each year. Students on Thursday competed against 122 others from seven central Iowa districts including Ames, Bishop Garrigan in Algona, Boone, Gilbert and Storm Lake.

After qualifying for the competition by taking a 100-question exam specific to their chosen area of focus, students build rapport with business professionals judging their skills through various 10-minute challenges, like building a customer rewards program as a director of sales or creating marketing plans as a business owner.

Five out of nine participating students placed in Fort Dodge, and three others placed at Southeast Valley. Judging is based on professionalism, modern skills and specific knowledge from marketing curriculum taught in classes.

-Submitted photo Southeast Valley High School students Sydney Carlson, left, and Tatum Crouse, right, placed first during Thursday's DECA conference for District 2 in the travel and tourism team decision making category. Marisa Jepson, center, placed third in an accounting category.

“Most kids don’t have a lot of experience with interviews,” said business teacher Jori Nahnsen of Southeast Valley High School. “Every time they do one of these role plays with someone in a professional field, it makes it a little bit easier for them to prepare for an interview in real life. It sets them up for the future.”

DECA is often a gateway for students figuring out what they want to do or don’t want to do with their careers, teachers said, allowing them to explore the creativity and innovation required to run a business and learn the techniques and strategies applied in the everyday corporate world.

“I have had students that changed their career path after participating,” said Amy Jaeschke, business and marketing teacher at Fort Dodge Senior High.

And after crossing one area off the list, they often move on to find other things they are much better at. With college only getting more expensive, it’s an opportunity to make better use of their time and resources as adults.

Other skills built through the program include speaking skills and confidence in being able to talk to those outside their comfort zone.

“DECA helped build my public speech skills, my organization skills, my time management and (project leadership skills),” said Sydney Carlson, Southeast Valley student. “Even in my day to day life, I use skills I’ve learned from DECA.”

But even more generally, the program’s confidence boost is predicated on its ability to show students what they’re good at for later application, said Southeast Valley student Tatum Crouse, who earned first place Thursday in a travel and tourism category. With the potential to change careers several times in their life, Nahnsen said developing a versatile repertoire of skills and experiences will be critical for the workforce’s next generation.

“It really boosts their confidence when they realize they’ll actually learn something and are good at it,” said Nahnsen. “Taking the stage (after winning) or just placing makes a big difference.”

Role play and learning how to answer questions on the spot is a huge component in that aspect, Nahnsen said. Her classes have participated in the program for 23 years.

“Some are really nervous, but then they realize how awesome it is, whereas the first time job interview (for most) is nerve wracking,” she said.

And in a pandemic, the students’ edge on using technology even to compete and interview will put them ahead of the curve in continually evolving industries. Learning how to introduce themselves, smile and give the right feedback – a basic skill that adults well into their careers often don’t think about anymore — is something that has to be learned at a certain age.

“That is the real world,” Nahnsen said.

As that real world has evolved, so has the content she teaches. When she started teaching, she made posters and pamphlets. Now, it’s much more, as more people prefer to see content online.

“Promotion isn’t making posters and billboards as much anymore, it’s about being able to come up with social media and marketing. Entrepreneurship is huge,” Nahnsen said.

Results

The following students placed at this year’s DECA District 2 virtual conference.

Southeast Valley High School:

• Sydney Carlson and Tatum Crouse, first place in travel and tourism marketing

• Marisa Jepsen, third place in accounting applications

Fort Dodge Senior High School:

• Meadow Balkenende, first place in marketing principles

• Kolby Wilson, second place in marketing principles

• Anthony Foote, third place in entrepreneurship

• Aja Jallow and Ellie White, third place in travel and tourism marketing

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