The Radisson Hotel in Manchester had a busy Wednesday last week. The political pundits and media crowd that had occupied the downtown hotel leading up to the Primary were checking out, leaving a trail of coffee cups and shattered dreams in their wake. But the Radisson crew would have to turn the hotel around in a hurry for a swarm of 500 teenagers and their teachers and advisers. For the sixth time, the Radisson would play host to a gathering I hold dear: the New Hampshire DECA State Career Development Conference.
I’m not an educator. Marketing isn’t even the most important hat I wear at work. But every February, I mark this day off on the calendar because it’s my opportunity to throw on a suit and tie, reminisce with old and new friends alike, and give a little back to DECA, an organization that has a lot to do with who I am today.
DECA, not to be confused with a similar-sounding research firm based in Manchester, is a long-running extracurricular program for business and marketing students. Similar to clubs like FBLA, the Future Business Leaders of America, DECA caters to marketing and business students with a number of annual workshops and seminars, as well as competitive events that test the application of what students learn in the classroom. Unlike FBLA, DECA has always had one foot in the vocational-education realm, giving it an aura of a career-track activity. Perhaps that’s why most people I talk with have heard about FBLA, but have rarely heard of DECA.
As a sophomore at Manchester High School West, I hadn’t heard of DECA, either. Then a friend took a marketing class on a whim. Not only did he enjoy the class, but he signed on with the DECA chapter’s Quiz Bowl team, too. At the end of the year, as the sole returning member of the team, he called upon a bunch of us to join him, forming a sort of Quiz Bowl “dream team.”
For the next two years, we lived and breathed DECA. With little time in our course schedules, we spent homerooms and Friday afternoons in the marketing department of West High, poring over question banks and textbooks in and out of school. Oh, if those walls could talk. Junior year brought success at the State Career Development Conference in Nashua, and an invite to the International CDC in Orlando. Senior year, our ICDC trip was to Louisville, Kentucky. I could go into detail about our team achievements, but that’s not the point of this story.
The point is that DECA did a lot for me. On a social level, the trips to Orlando and Louisville were my first experiences away from home for a while. Orlando was the first time I’d ever been on a plane. On an educational level, obviously we absorbed a lot of raw information from our aggressive studying of Quiz Bowl questions. But the experiences behind the buzzer, and our experiences preparing on-the-fly responses in the role-play events we filled our spare time with, were equally as important.
And so, seven years ago, I came back to NH DECA’s State CDC to serve as an event judge.
DECA hosts multiple conferences throughout the school year, but the State Career Development Conference is the only one centered around DECA’s series of competitive events. Role-play competitions require students to develop and present a response to a given scenario. Written projects require an in-depth proposal or business plan, submitted in advance of the SCDC and augmented by a rehearsed presentation. Events are offered in categories such as apparel, business finance, entrepreneurship, hospitality, and tourism. There’s something for everyone at every experience level. (Our beloved Quiz Bowl, sadly, was discontinued for the 2011-2012 school year.)
The competitive events are the bulk of a schedule that includes seminars, state officer elections, and even a trivia competition, drawn together by common sessions featuring keynote speakers, awards presentations, and entertainment, all conducted in a professional business setting. Students who place first or second in their events are eligible to compete in April’s International Career Development Conference (held in Nashville this year). As a small state, New Hampshire does not have regional competitions, so placing well at the ICDC is quite an achievement.
The State CDC is essentially a Younger Professionals conference, grooming the executives and entrepreneurs of the next five or ten years. It’s an event that, in my eyes, flies under the radar. It may get a couple paragraphs in the following week’s paper, but it’s easily worthy of a front-page story.
Making it that much easier for me to stay involved is the fact that our high school marketing teacher from West High, Gordon Nicholson, is part of the state advisory team that runs NH DECA today. DECA was Mr. Nicholson’s life when we were students, and his priorities have not changed one bit. We try to catch up with him a couple times a year to stay on top of things, to find out what’s going on in the organization, and of course to look back at the old times. We’re hardly alone; while most of the judges are former business and marketing teachers, many are DECA alumni who come back year after year. One former student flies in every year from Florida to help manage the event. It’s truly a testament to what DECA has meant to many of us, even years after our last competition as a student.
If you have the opportunity next February, take a day off work and come in to judge an event at NH DECA’s next State Career Development Conference. It’s encouraging to see the next generation of young professionals coming into their own, and gratifying to be part of their journey.