MARSHALL - Each year, Business Professionals of America Week is held during the second full week of February, part of Career and Technical Education Month. While BPA members at Marshall High School didn't necessarily plan anything out of the ordinary this past week, they have kept busy.
Brenda Kellen, BPA adviser for the past 19 years, pointed out that 28 students from MHS advanced from regions to the 2012 State BPA Leadership Conference and Competition this year, which will be March 8-10 at the Hyatt in Minneapolis.
"There are 54 different types of competition in BPA," Kellen said. "They range from sitting down and taking a paper and pen test, to giving a team presentation. And, sometimes, you have to do research ahead of time."
Those qualifying students, including Amanda Vue, a national champion two years ago, have been faithfully preparing for the state. Vue advanced to nationals the past two years in insurance concepts, though she's very modest about her national title.
"It's not that complicated," she said. "I study really, really hard and I kind of memorize all the answers from the test. It was pretty easy for me."
Four years ago, Vue joined BPA with her sisters.
"My first year, I was the only freshman to join," Vue said. "It was my sisters' first year, too. I'm glad I decided to join because I've had a lot of fun. I like that a lot of my friends are in it."
As a senior this year, Vue has had four years worth of experience, which she appreciates.
"I've gotten to know quite a bit about the business world in the last four years," she said. "Every year, I change my categories. I've done basic office. This year, I'm doing advanced basic office and computerized accounting."
In addition to advancing a number of individuals, MHS also had two teams - small business management and financial analyst - qualify for state competition.
"The small business management team is given a small business problem, and they have to come up with a solution to the problem and give a formal presentation to the judges," Kellen said. "The financial analyst team is given financial records and they have to come up with a solution."
Last year, the MHS small business management team earned 10th-place honors at nationals. This year's financial analyst team, consisting of junior veterans Sathira Wijesekara and Nick Rupp as well as junior rookies Darren Coens and Adam McVey, is hoping to perform well at state and earn first-ever trips to nationals.
"I've been to state every year so far," Rupp said. "But not nationals. I'm hoping to get there. It would be incredible."
Rupp has advanced to state the past two years in database. He's also qualified in computer security and computer repair. Wijesekara also qualified for state in banking and finance.
"It felt pretty good to make it," he said. "We had to spend our own time together. We got together and reviewed some materials from past tests and stuff. We also did a presentation."
While he's happy the team advanced, Wijesekara believes the team can improve for the state competition. Regardless of their finish, however, he values his BPA experience.
"You get to meet new people and you get to learn a lot about the business world that you never knew before," he said.
As first year members, Coens and McVey, who also qualified for state in fundamental accounting, have not regretted their decisions to join BPA.
"I wanted to learn more about the business world out there," McVey said. "It's more fun than you'd think it would be, too. I like knowing everything about it."
Coens had to agree with his teammate.
"It's been pretty good," Coens said. "You learn a lot of new stuff. It's a good thing to be in. It teaches you a lot about business and how to be a professional."
As the State BPA Leadership Conference and Competition draws near, many of the students are putting in extra time preparing.
"You can do more practice tests and go back and find out what you did wrong and stuff," Rupp said. "We just look at the stuff we did from regions and analyze it."
Since the district does not fund any trips to nationals, the cost falls to the club.
The Marshall BPA chapter quickly found a workable solution, with the establishment of the Tiger Den, a student-run store.
"Members run the school store, and we have a different manager every semester," Kellen said. "I'm like their boss and they basically learn every aspect of the business while doing it."
Kellen pointed out that the business education department took over the store from the district in 2005, when MHS moved to its current location.
"It's a great learning experience for the kids," Kellen said. "The ones that choose to get trained and work in there, learn about customer service and the importance of having everything go through the cash register system so we have the correct inventory and correct deposits."
Students also learn about what happens when somebody doesn't show up for work, Kellen said, making it more difficult for everyone else. Vue, who managed the Tiger Den during the first semester this school year, said getting people to work was the most challenging aspect.
"It's kind of hard to manage the whole place," Vue said. "Since I'm just a high schooler, it's kind of hard to control other high schoolers."
Working with Awards Plus, the Tiger Den offers an abundance of items, including Powerade, Vitamin Water, cappuccinos, hot chocolate, juice, muffins, Pop-Tarts, fruit snacks and cookies.
With the possibility of advancing to nationals, which will be in Chicago this year from April 24-28, students are putting in time at the store.
"Students can usually raise all their money, if they work a lot at the Tiger Den," Kellen said. "It all depends each semester because the net income is calculated to figure out how much they earn from hour to hour. If they do a good job promoting our products, they tend to make more an hour. Everything is just like a real business. Depending on how well you run it, determines what your payout is."
But, the experience working at the Tiger Den isn't all business, said senior Nicki McKenzie, current Tiger Den manager.
"I run this place this semester," McKenzie said. "It's fun. I'm so glad I'm doing it. I get paid to work with my friends. I love it."