How DECA Got Me Where I Am Today

Madison Daum | Blue Valley Northwest DECA

I owe much of my success as a recent college graduate and young professional to my years of DECA in high school as well as my advisors and mentors that helped me get to where I am today.

I joined DECA at Blue Valley Northwest High school in Overland Park, Kansas, my sophomore year after taking a marketing class taught by Kathy Peres, the DECA advisor at BVNW at the time.

I competed in Buying & Merchandising Team Decision Making with my partner, Rae Pfau, for three years and also did the Hospitality & Tourism Professional Selling Event my junior year, and the Entrepreneurship Innovation Plan written event my senior year.

DECA taught me so many lessons that are applicable to the real world, like how to perform under pressure and how to present in a calm and collected manner, as well as being able to answer questions on the spot. The team events taught me how to play others’ strengths and divide tasks to best meet each person’s needs. The written events taught me focus and discipline, and how to prepare and manage my time wisely. All of these skills were applicable to my college experience, as well as the real world.

I was also an employee of the BVNW School Store junior year and a manager my senior year. I loved working in the school store because we got to do everything from designing the apparel and creating the promotions, to doing the finances and working the cash register.

Working in the school store taught me how to interact with customers and provide great customer service, as well as think critically about what the consumer wants to see in the shop. The store experience was a great microcosm to the real world. I feel like I got so much experience that was way beyond my years as a 17-year old.

Due to all of the business experience I gained in high school, I wanted to continue my business education in college. I recently graduated from The Ohio State University with a Bachelors of Science in business administration, with a specialization in marketing and logistics, and a minor in Spanish for business. I have had so many opportunities in college such as traveling to five different countries with The Fisher College of Business and interning in Madrid, Spain, after my sophomore year with Hanes Brands DBApparel.

Ohio State has an annual career fair where 100+ companies such as Pepsi, Rolls Royce, L Brands, Abercrombie & Fitch, Deloitte and more come and recruit OSU students. Everyone dresses up in business professional attire and it’s imperative that you prepare and research the companies you want to talk to before the fair. Students wait in line to talk to a representative from the company, and you’re only given one-minute to give your best pitch on who you are, what you want from the company and how you can add value. If it is a good fit, the company representative might ask you for an interview and you schedule it right there. You can do this for 10+ companies to increase the amount of interviews you do. Students go to the Career Fair to get internships as well as full-time positions.

I went through this process and landed an internship with Unilever, a Consumer Packaged Goods company that sells products like Dove Soap, Lipton Tea and Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, in Providence, RI. You are given a project for your internship and at the end of the internship you present your findings to the leadership team at Unilever. Due to my DECA experiences and already being comfortable presenting in front of large groups of people, I excelled at my presentation and landed a coveted spot in Unilever’s Future Leaders Program, which is a three-year rotational program where I will live in three different places doing three different roles over the course of the three years.

My first role is in Rogers, Ark., with the Unilever Sales Team that calls on Wal-Mart. My second rotation will be a marketing role in New York, and the third rotation is still unknown. I am so grateful to my business experiences in high school because all of the knowledge I gained from them I was able to apply in college and now in the real world. Since I got so much experience in high school, I got to spend my time in college perfecting my presenting skills rather than learning how to present.

Some advise to current DECA members are to take your projects and competitions seriously and really soak in all of the advice that your advisors give to you. The skills you are learning are invaluable and will pay off greatly in the future.

Also, confidence is key and faking it until you make it is completely fine. Believe in yourself and then others will believe in you as well. Ask questions. Raise your hand. Be prepared. Do not be intimidated by anyone. Know your goals and relentlessly pursue them. Nothing is out of your grasp if you work hard enough.

Use this time in DECA right now to learn and grow. In eight years you will look back at your DECA experience and be so grateful that you had it just like I am doing right now.

This article was written by former Blue Valley Northwest DECA member, Madison Daum. You can follow Blue Valley Northwest DECA on Twitter @BVNWdeca.

Categories: Alumni, Members – Students, Profiles