Ten Naugatuck High School students joined another 15,000 blue-blazered students in Orlando, Fla. last week at the International Career Development Conferences.
The event was hosted by the Distribution Education Clubs of America (DECA), which prepares students for careers in marketing, finance, hospitality and management. The conferences connect DECA students with leaders of the business community to network, compete and learn leadership skills.
“It’s a good opportunity for kids to learn a little bit about the business world and learn how they got to where they are and how to become successful,” said Naugatuck Chapter President Alicia Casiano, a senior at NHS.
State officers and state competition winners get to go on the national trip, as well as a few other students who write a letter to the state advisor to apply for participation. The students were all in teacher Tim Rielly’s marketing class.
The NHS students each participated in different leadership conferences and competitions.
Casiano was part of the voting delegation that picked a national president for the organization. She grilled each of the candidates to find someone who was driven to expand DECA’s network to other schools and improve communication between state chapters.
“It’s a lot of hard work to be chosen as an officer,” Casiano said.
She said it was hard to choose between the candidates since they were all driven.
After she graduates, Casiano plans to major in marketing at Johnson and Wales, one of DECA’s partner schools, and hopes to go into marketing management.
Junior Christina Costa participated in LEADS, an academy to train DECA officers in their duties and how to enhance DECA’s presence in their state. Costa is the state secretary for DECA and the first student from Naugatuck to hold a state-wide position.
As state secretary, Costa will help plan next year’s state conference, which will be a big event since it’s the organization’s 60th anniversary.
Sophomore Lauren Blum participated in the leadership academy where she worked in a team to explore ways to deal with difficult business situations.
For one of those scenarios, Blum’s team had to come up with a plan to market a certain item, in this case, a box of chocolates. Her team split into subgroups to look at the financial, advertising and other aspects of the problem. Her group then presented their results to the other teams.
“When Mr. Reilly introduced me to business, I just fell in love with it,” said Blum, about the DECA program.
NHS senior Ruben Ferreira met with business leaders and learned their secrets to success at a senior leadership institute.
“They were funny and entertaining, but they also taught a lot of life lessons,” Ferreira said.
Ferreira said he hopes to go into sports management or sports marketing after he graduates.
Students paid for the $1,200 cost of the trip through fund-raisers.
Casiano said it was hard work to get to Florida.
“It was like working a job,” she said.
The other part of the conference is a series of marketing and business competitions. A few hundred students compete in each of more than 300 categories.
Two teams from Naugatuck did well enough at the state competition to go on to nationals. Although neither team won, Rielly said the experience was more important than the result. Only one team from all of Connecticut won at the national competition.
NHS students Isabella Verrilli and Maud Hrezi competed in hospitality and tourism operations research. For their project, they wrote a 30-page paper on how to use social networking to market the Coco Key hotel and water park in Waterbury. According to Reilly, the students met with the resort’s manager of marketing and engaged customers through a questionnaire to find out how they used social media.
At the conference, the team role-played to present their ideas to judges.
“I think it was a good opportunity both for the kids and Coco Key,” Rielly said.
Samantha Medrek and Danielle Matos competed in a community service competition. They raised $2,375 for Hope for Haiti and wrote a 30-page paper about their project.
“They’re really passionate about their cause. … I think it goes beyond just competing for DECA,” Casiano said.
Matos said she became interested in Haiti when her youth minister, whose family lives in the country, told her about his father’s food program to feed children.
“They were short of funds, so we thought we would help them out,” Matos said.
Matos and Medrek held three fundraisers to raise money for the cause.
The two will be traveling to Haiti next month to help with the food program.
At the competition, they presented a PowerPoint about the project. They were judged on their professionalism, implementation and coordination, among other things.
“I’ve never done anything like this before,” Matos said. “I’m really proud of what we did. … It’s very stressful, but once you’re done with everything, you realize how much of an impact you’ve made.”