DECA builds connections, impacts future for business students

If you’ve walked down the social studies hallway in the last decade, you’ve seen it: a display case outside of business teacher Tim Seifert’s room, filled with shirts and posters, and occasionally an LED marquee. It’s all advertising DECA, which makes sense for the marketing and business club that works to build the professional and entrepreneurial skills of AHS’ future businesspeople. Despite such visibility, it’s hard to define DECA, probably because it lacks a single-activity focus; however, the goal of the club is clear. "Basically, we want to put kids in a better position to be successful in their future,” said senior Matt Winkleblack, Ames High DECA co-president and Iowa DECA District 2 co-vice president. “We want them to feel as though they are growing as a person and are doing something positive.” The club revolves around three “C’s”: conferences, community service, and competitions. Students travel to places like Chicago, Indianapolis, and Orlando for conferences, which feature speakers, breakout sessions, and seminars in business and leadership, as well as “meeting many kids [and] going to exciting places,” said Winkleblack. For many students, the conferences are the highlight of DECA, and what draws them to the organization. “I’ve heard really good things about them,” said junior Hayley Johnson, who joined this year. “I’m really excited to go [to the fall conference].” Closer to home, the Ames High chapter focuses on community service. DECA strives to “raise as much money as possible” for charities and non-profit organizations, said Winkleblack. Recent donations have included the Muscular Dystrophy Association and Children’s Cancer Connection. Another part of the club’s service mission aims to improve Ames’ quality of life in simpler ways. AHS upperclassmen may remember finding their personal “star” dangling from the ceiling in the main hallway two years ago. DECA members wrote the name of every student and staff member on individual, multicolored paper stars, with the message “Everyone’s a star at AHS and deserves to sparkle.” The decoration was part of that year’s DECA Week, which aimed to highlight the club’s benefits and promote school spirit, as well as continue its community service mission. A popular event of DECA Week has been “random acts of kindness,” in which club members go around the community giving carnations to random people, according to Kris Stow, chapter co-president. “We just try to wish everyone a nice day,” said Stow. Club members are hard at work planning this year’s DECA Week, which will start next Monday. Possible events include a Business Dress Day and a pancake breakfast, said Winkleblack. “It should be a great week for us and hopefully we can make the DECA name known more throughout the school and the community,” he said. On the more academic side of DECA, the club participates in competitions. Students can compete in a variety of ways, “from written business tests to writing 30-page research papers” on different facets of marketing, finance, hospitality, and management, said Stow. Roleplay competitions are also held, in which one is “put in a hypothetical situation as a general manager of a company and you have to fix something that’s wrong” in ten minutes, said Winkleblack. Winners advance to higher levels of competition, culminating at Nationals, which will be held in Orlando this year. When asked of the benefits of DECA, members unanimously point to the networking aspect of the organization. “It’s kind of amazing how far it takes you,” said senior Evan Weible. Opportunities are abound to make connections with other students and professionals, which “has opened many doors that wouldn’t have opened had I not joined,” said Stow. Students who become involved as officers get leadership experience as well. “I’ve been able to really grow as a person,” said Winkleblack. “I’m becoming a better public speaker, organizer, and overall leader because of DECA and the things I’ve had to do.” Any freshman or sophomore can join DECA, but juniors and seniors must be enrolled in at least one business class to participate. And while they work hard from community service to competitions to fundraisers, Winkleblack is quick to point out that club members have a lot of fun: “With all the interaction between people and the things we get to do, there are a lot of fun times and memories made.”