Students from the Spokane area will begin participating in the Washington State DECA competition that begins today in Bellevue, competing in nearly 60 categories devoted to marketing, finance, entrepreneurship and hospitality.
The students advanced from an Area 11 regional competition held in December. Area 11 includes the Spokane and Spokane Valley areas as well as Deer Park, Cheney, Pullman and Clarkston.
Students can compete on their own, in pairs or with a team in multiple categories at once. Many of the categories involve role playing. Students are given a scenario and given between 10 and 30 minutes, depending on the size of the group, to come up with a solution to the problem.
Other categories include preparing and presenting 20-page papers on projects the students have completed, such as a community service project.
The marketing categories include everything from automotive services to hospitality to sports and entertainment, said Area 11 leader Erin Ruehl, who also the DECA adviser at Shadle Park High School. “We have a real wide variety of career areas,” she said.
The goal of DECA is to empower students to be academically prepared, community oriented, professionally responsible and experienced leaders, Ruehl said. Attending a competition helps push the students even further, she said.
They learn to prepare presentations, speak in public and think quickly. “It really gives them the opportunity in a professional setting to apply the skills they’re learning in the classroom,” she said. “It also gives them the opportunity to network.”
Sami Smith, a senior at Central Valley High School, has been a member of DECA all through high school. This year she’s competing in a business law and ethics role play and has prepared a paper on fashion show she put on to benefit the Spokane Ronald McDonald House.
“I just really like it,” she said of the program. “It has pushed me out of my comfort zone for sure.”
Students attend an opening ceremony the first night of the competition and the second day when they begin to compete. Smith said her first event is at 8 a.m. “That’s a pretty busy day,” she said. “It’s a good time, though. It’s definitely more creative and thinking on your toes, which I like.”
Emily Crane, a senior at Lewis and Clark High School, didn’t discover DECA until her junior year. This year she and her partners have prepared a paper on the Bite 2 Go program at their school through Second Harvest.
“I’m super excited,” she said. “Our project is coming together well.”
She said she’s disappointed that she didn’t know about DECA when she started high school. “I like that it’s more of a hands-on class and have a lot more freedom to work on what we want,” she said. “I’ve learned a lot more in this class than I have in my other classes.”
Area 11 president and Mt. Spokane High School senior Haley Milligan has also been in DECA for four years. “It’s taught me a lot of skills that I’ve been able to use in job interviews,” she said. “It’s definitely one of the more useful programs I’ve been in in high school.”
She also likes participating in competitions. “Competing really allows you to think quickly on your feet,” she said. “You really have to think creatively to set yourself apart from other people.”
She and her partner are competing in the sports and entertainment marketing role playing category this year. They made it to nationals last year, but didn’t place. They’re hoping to go back this year.
“We really want to place in nationals this year,” she said.
Area 11 is one of the largest in the state and the top seven or eight in each category advanced to the state competition, Ruehl said. When the written projects are added in, around 340 Area 11 students will be a part of the 3,500 in Bellevue for the state competition.
Each high school also has a school-based enterprise that is part of the DECA program. Shadle Park High School has a store and coffee shop while Ferris High School has a T-shirt shop. Some of those students will be attending the competition as well. “Our DECA members are running those businesses,” she said.
Overall there are 11,000 students who participate in DECA in Washington State, she said. “There’s a lot of kids involved,” she said.
Many DECA students go on to business-related careers or own their own business, Ruehl said. The wide variety of programs DECA offers helps students figure out what they want to do in their career, she said.
“It’s an opportunity to look at potential career pathways,” she said.
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