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The City Journals

Canyons DECA programs puts principles into action for students

May 02, 2019 01:11PM ● By Julie Slama

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

When 35 Canyons School District high school students recently were in Orlando for DECA’s international leadership conference, they were part of not just the 403-member delegation from Utah, but were also joined by 20,000 students from across the nation and eight countries.

“We basically take over every hotel room in Orlando,” Utah DECA state adviser Jon Hansen said about the April 27–30 competition. “It’s an unbelievable experience where students are learning leadership, networking, problem-solving, entrepreneurship, team building and testing themselves in competition.”

Seventy-year-old DECA is an international career and technical student association with 215,000 members, preparing high school and college students in marketing, management and entrepreneurship in business, finance, hospitality, and marketing sales and service. 

Through the program, DECA teachers integrate instruction into the classrooms, encourage applied learning, connect students with business leaders as well as test their knowledge through competition.

Classroom instruction

At Brighton, adviser Jonnie Knoble said students learn principles from marketing, sports marketing, entrepreneurship and business law classes.

“Students can take a project they use as an assignment in entrepreneurship and if they want, compete in DECA,” he said. “We leave it up to the students, but they can take advantage of the opportunity to see what they learned and get out of it. Everything is transferrable to competition.”

Knoble said once students attend a DECA conference, they likely are committed to the program.

“I’d say 95 percent of the students gain confidence and even if they didn’t do great, they think it’s pretty cool and come back and want to do better,” he said.

That was the case with Corner Canyon High School senior Lauren Wilson, who joined DECA after her business teacher, Hansen, encouraged her to take part in a competition her freshman year.

“I didn’t do well, but it was so fun, I loved it,” said the now outgoing DECA state president. “I love DECA, what it stands for. I wanted to be part of it and take in all it has to offer.”

Through her four years, Wilson has taken every business course offered at CCHS, which have helped her decide to start her own company after college.

“The classes have been super helpful learning how to make a platform and understanding business principles,” she said.

Alta High adviser Shaley Allen said DECA is an experience that starts in the classroom.

“At Alta, we've worked diligently to prepare our students for competitions by providing powerful instructional components of DECA to our classroom,” she said.

Jordan High adviser Sam Soter said the competition basically is an extension of class.

“Basically, students are taking the skills and principles they learn in class and applying them in a test situation,” he said about his 60 club members, many of whom have taken CTE and business classes. 

Applied learning

For example, Soter said his students compete in student-base enterprise, which includes a 50-page business, marketing and operation plan for the school store, the Spot.

“Every year, the students basically rebrand the store from painting it, to marketing it, to surveying students about what they want in it,” he said, adding that proceeds from their school store benefit their DECA chapter.

This year, the theme “We got the beet” not only plays off the 1980s Go-Gos hit song, but also ties into the school team, the BeetDiggers. 

“Basically, they created a new brand and logo and had to know how to finance and operate it as well as promote it to students,” he said. “They learn to work well together toward a goal, gain confidence, create something that wasn’t there before and translate what they’re learning into action.”

Corner Canyon adviser Corinna Gross said students also are learning leadership skills and being involved in their school.

“We’re involved in the school, bringing specialized skills and integrating that into the school,” she said. 

Skills such as communicating in person and over the phone, meeting business professionals or working together in a group have benefitted the students and student body. For example, each December, CCHS DECA students call to get donations or volunteer to help with a charity selected by students.

“They need to know how to communicate and network, and their experience helps them reach out into the community,” she said.

Students often get involved in serving the community, such as Jordan High helping with Ronald McDonald House, serving dinner and creating social activities for those staying there. 

State DECA students collected toys, diapers and wipes to create 1,500 diaper bags for single refugee mothers, Hansen said.

“We teach students to be selfless, be good leaders and to value being responsible,” he said. “These students rise to the expectation and go above. It’s really inspiring.”

Business connections

Often those calls and interactions may lead to students making business connections and being able to network.

Wilson has learned from business leaders such as Mitt Romney and Amy Rees Anderson, whom she helped secure to speak to DECA students at the fall leadership conference from making phone calls.

“Mitt talked about what it takes to be a good, empathetic leader,” Wilson said. “Amy said that you have to overcome what holds most people back, and she wasn’t just talking about business, but life and attitude.”

Soter said Romney spoke before the election, but not on the election.

“He shared how he was successful in making early investments and how he did what he did and what to look at. He said that the learning about business management and finance were important classes he took and shared stories of his own career,” he said.

Hansen added that Romney’s stories included those of integrity and honesty, keys to being a responsible business leader. He also said Anderson took students from her start as a single mother without a job to starting her company, MediConnect, through her vision, setting goals and being self-empowered. She later sold that company for $377 million. 

“They’re good messages for our students to grasp ahold of,” he said.

The relationships with business community is something Jordan High junior Isaiah Delpino has appreciated and something he plans to continue to foster as the 2019–20 DECA state president.

“The connections made among peers and with businesses is the key reason why DECA is so spectacular,” he said. “I wanted to become president to represent the professional peers that I am blessed to make connections with.”

Knoble said professionals also have come to speak to his DECA members during lunch.

“We’ve had successful leaders such as Cotopaxi and Café Rio talk about their businesses, their vision, how they got started and share what they’ve learned with students,” he said.


When students compete, they are learning from business professionals — from the first handshake and looking them in the eye to getting feedback that can help them in their future, Knoble said.

“When they walk into a job interview, they will have the skills they’ve learned from presenting themselves and a project they’ve created in front of judges. They’ll know how to promote themselves and their work from doing it in competition. All these skills transfer into any career,” he said.

Gross said many of her students enjoy the role-play competitions where they are given a real-life scenario and have 10 to 20 minutes to prepare before presenting it for 10 minutes to a judge, who may act as a CEO or manager. They also are given a content test.

“It allows students to think on their feet and be creative,” Gross said. “It has them call upon their vast knowledge to analyze methods and communicate effectively.”

Gross said that although students can be “terrified to present in front of people,” she tells her club the judges want students to succeed and bring their ideas to the competition. 

Hillcrest High DECA adviser Emily Grass said through the years, she has had upper classmen and even graduates come back to help students polish their presentations before competitions, bringing a sense of unity to the team. With 30 Hillcrest DECA members graduating in 2018, this was a rebuilding year.

“We lost the expertise those students could have shared as we gained new members this year,” she said, adding that Hillcrest DECA is an inclusive group as they welcomed many new faces.

Allen said DECA competitions provide student members opportunities to demonstrate the knowledge and skills learned in the classroom through innovative challenges, in conjunction with several corporate partners. 

“Each challenge has a unique focus and a specific set of required tasks to apply their marketing knowledge,” she said.

Through her hard work, Wilson has competed all four years at international DECA, placing sixth her sophomore year in the Quick Serve category.

She said through DECA, she and her teammate Tiffy Brailow know how to prepare a business and marketing plan. For the start-up business plan competition, they have created an alternative product to vaping.

“It’s something we’ve worked on all year and are passionate about it,” Wilson said. “I know I want to develop an impactful company that will have a positive influence to the community. I want to change the world. I’m not quite sure how I’ll do it, but I will.”

CSD students attending international DECA

Alta — 

Kyla White Restaurant and Food Service Management

Grace Cuttle Sports and Entertainment Marketing Operations

Haylie Heale Sports and Entertainment Marketing Operations

Isabel Madrian Apparel and Accessories Marketing

Bronson Adams Business Finance

Braxton Cluff Professional Selling

Sarah Cottis School-Based Enterprise

Lauren Gayer School-Based Enterprise

Annie Johnson School-Based Enterprise

Areesha Nazir Principles of Marketing

Mickaella Allen Retail Merchandising

Annika Denning Thrive Leadership

Tyler Nelson Thrive Leadership

Hailey Mackay Thrive Leadership

Not attending but qualified: Joshua Pomeroy and Weston Smith—Financial Services 


Tiffy Brailow and Lauren Wilson – Start-up Business Plan 

Evan Lunstead — Principles of Finance 

Emerald Spencer – Entrepreneurship Individual Series 

CeCe Burridge – Thrive Leadership

Tate Simpson – Thrive Leadership

Gabe Schino – Thrive Leadership

John Norton – Thrive Leadership

Pearl Patel – Thrive Leadership

Hillcrest — 

Rishab Balakrishnan and Justin Dong — Business Finance 

Sophia Paradis — Sports and Entertainment Marketing


Brandon Cummiskey — Thrive Retailing Academy (for work on Membership Campaign)

Isaiah Delpino — State President Elect (for being voted in as President)

Timothy Demille, Thiago Sprunt, Jada Zenger — Student Based Enterprise team

Lily Hamel — Thrive Leadership 

Christopher Isabell — Thrive Leadership 

Dallen Larsen — Financial Services Team Decision Making

Tage Pymm — Financial Services 

How to get involved

Many business leaders are needed to speak, judge and sponsor DECA students. On June 7, business leaders also can connect to support state DECA through a golf tournament at Fox Hollow. (For more information, email [email protected])