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They mean business

Crater High senior Abe Hull, left, prepares a presentation during a DECA quick serve restaurant role play challenge. Hull is one of Crater's two finalists in the International Career Development Conference.(photo courtesy of Mike Rogan)
Crater’s DECA team enjoys banner year, sends nine to international conference

Even as other Distributive Education Clubs of America participants lamented how pandemic-related changes had thrown a wrench into the entire competitive season, Crater High business teacher and DECA advisor Mike Rogan and his team saw opportunity.

The changes to the format left room for some deeper digging into the foundations of marketing, for instance. That and a few other factors related to the switch to remote competitions created what Rogan dubbed a “perfect storm” that would allow smaller programs like his to compete against the state’s big boys.

“It allowed us to really focus,” Rogan said. “We were more prepared than we had probably been in any other season. So we really looked at it as a strength to us.

“I was like, ‘You know what, let’s make the best of it. Let’s do the best we can.’ And my kids embraced that. They worked very hard.”

All that hard work paid off about six months after Crater’s DECA team first met remotely in October, and it turns out Rogan was right. Crater sent 10 students to the virtual State Career Development Conference and nine of them did well enough there to qualify for the next step, the International Career Development Conference. Then at the ICDC two Comets, senior Abe Hull and junior Lily Young, advanced all the way to the finals.

To put that in perspective, Rogan has been Crater’s DECA advisor for 25 years, and in all that time the school has only had four other ICDC finalists. Hull and Young are two of 12 Oregonians who advanced to the ICDC finals this year. Twenty students advance to the finals in each event.

Why is it so difficult to place? Sheer numbers, for one. About 17,000 students participated in ICDC this year. But that’s only part of the challenge. DECA’s competitive events test students’ knowledge and skills in marketing, business management and administration, finance and hospitality and tourism with a rigorous evaluation process that includes an exam or report and role-play scenarios in which students are placed in high-pressure business situations and challenged to present — subjects range and depend on the category in which they’re competing — to a potential business partner or supervisor.

Hull and Young presented Tuesday and now must wait until the Virtual Grand Awards Session next Thursday, May 6, to find out how they did. No Crater High student has ever cracked the top four before — a fifth-place finish in 2004 still ranks as the best-ever showing for the program.

“I don’t think I did spectacular, but we’ll see,” Hull said. “Yeah, I’m curious.”

Hull competed in quick-serve restaurant management, and Young in marketing communications. Also representing Crater at ICDC were Abigail Weber and Elizabeth Lotts (travel and tourism marketing), Hannah Mathews and Malia Rozett (buying and merchandising), MacKenzie Saunders (apparel marketing), Helen Hull (sports and entertainment marketing) and Mary Nadauld (retail marketing).

Usually, the role-play scenarios the students are thrust into with minimal prep time are conducted face-to-face, with the business leader on the opposite end also serving as judge. This year, the entire conference was handled remotely, and the role-playing sessions were Zoom affairs. In a Zoom waiting room, finalists were presented with a scenario then had 10 minutes to formulate a plan or solution before they were automatically transferred into a breakout Zoom session with the judge.

For her role-playing final, Young was tasked with planning a TikTok ad campaign to help support a fast food restaurant’s international expansion. Rogan said Young is an interview whiz.

“The kid’s amazing,” he said.

Hull’s scenario was a tough one. When the PDF slide popped up on his screen, he learned that he was the director of marketing for a business that wanted him to develop a meal subscription plan, what its service should include, price points, marketing strategies and possible locations to target. He presented to a mock company’s senior vice president.

“And then I have 10 minutes to present the solution and any ideas I have, and then they ask some questions at the end,” Hull said.

What did he come up with? Hull said he doesn’t have a lot of experience with meal subscription services, but he did the best he could. His 10-minute presentation included plans for several wraps and salads, mobile app marketing and a strong social media presence.

“Most of the (quick-serve restaurant management) role plays are more focused on actual fast food restaurants, so that was a little bit outside of my comfort zone,” Hull said. “So I think I got the basics. I don’t think I was exceptional but I was happy with how I did.”

Hull said part of the challenge of DECA role plays is that you never know what to expect. You can practice problem solving, but diving too deep into specific scenarios is somewhat futile.

Rogan said to prepare for ICDC, his students Zoomed with the chapter’s DECA alumni to discuss strategy (the class of 2003 pitched in), practiced online, tested, role played and eventually, in late March, got together for their first in-person practice. There is plenty to cover, from tiny but important details like where students should keep their notes during the interview to the mental side like how to project confidence.

As if the role-playing sessions aren’t pressure enough, judges do at least some of their scoring in real time via a score sheet that sits ominously on their lap.

“He basically just sits and scores me — there are some different performance indicators I’m supposed to hit on my general presentation,” Hull said. “It’s basically like a monologue. I talked for like seven or eight minutes, then he asks me questions. There’s not a lot of talking on his part. It’s mainly just me.”

After graduating, Hull will be headed to South Korea for a two-year mission, after which his tentative plan is to study computer science at a four-year college.

Joe Zavala can be reached at 541-821-0829 or jzavala@rosebudmedia.com.