MARSHALL - Marshall High School business teacher Brenda Kellen and four top-notch business students from MHS will be joining approximately 5,000 other advisers and members who qualified for competition at the 2012 National Business Professionals of America leadership conference in Chicago, Ill., this week.
For the second straight year, the Small Business Management team, consisting of juniors Tyler Untiedt, Jeff Paskach and Daniel Merna, will be competing amongst the best in the nation. MHS junior Austin Leek will join the trio, seeking his first national title after advancing for the third straight year in C++ computer programming.
"We're very excited to go," Paskach said. "It's always an exciting week."
Photo by Jenny Kirk
Marshall High School juniors, from left, Austin Leek, Daniel Merna, Tyler Untiedt, and Jeff Paskach pose with their hardware won at the state Business Professionals of America competition in March. The foursome begins competition at the 2012 National BPA leadership conference Wednesday in Chicago, Ill.
While the foursome will likely do some sightseeing while they are in the Windy City, most of the trip will be spent getting down to business.
"Essentially, at the beginning of the year, we get a prompt that says the city that we have to make the store in, what we're selling and how much startup capital we have," Untiedt said. "From there, we just have to make a 15-minute presentation that says what we're going to do and how we're going to invest the money."
Merna pointed out that, while the trio competed together last year, the circumstances facing the Small Business Management team were different.
"Last year, we were working with this national chain and we had to go in and fix things," Merna said. "They wanted to sell more things online and in-store. They wanted to develop a cross-shopping market, versus this year, we have to open a fashion boutique in downtown Chicago."
The three BPA members were given a mock scenario before beginning their project.
"The situation they give you is there's these three mid-level managers who lost their jobs at a department store," Merna said. "They each had $50,000 in savings that they were willing to invest in this fashion accessories boutique. The only thing they had is the $150,000 and they wanted it to be called "About You."
Merna said this year focuses on cost-efficiency and managing everything in a low-cost way.
"You have to start up this business as cost-efficiently as possible because they only give you $150,000," he said. "Last year, I think the company made like $58 million or something. We had a much larger number to work with, so we could make much larger changes nationally versus a very local, startup where you have to do everything cheap."
During the BPA competition, including the upcoming national competition, the judges will throw some curve balls into everyone's presentation, the team members said.
"One of the stipulations for state and nationals is you have 30 minutes to check in before you actually compete," Untiedt said. "And in those 30 minutes, they usually change something. Like this year, they dropped the investment capital to $50,000, so you have 30 minutes to alter your presentation."
While the presentation can be stressful enough, the team agreed that questions from the judges afterwards can often be the most difficult part of the competition.
"Most of our information has to be pretty in-depth because along with the presentation, we always have a few minutes of questions from the judges as well," Paskach said.
Despite a lot of rehearsing, judges can really put BPA members to the test.
"We're ready for most of the questions, but sometimes they'll throw ones at us that we didn't think of," Untiedt said.
Paskach and Merna are both involved in speech, competing in the state speech tournament this past weekend, which Kellen believes adds to their skill level.
One of the biggest challenges at the national competition, Kellen said, is lugging around bulky, but necessary equipment.
"It's a challenge to take along a lot of equipment on the airplane," she said. "They have to have along a computer, LCD projector and printer, all in order to make changes in that 30 minutes and have that ready to go with the judges."
Leek also has to bring his computer with for the computer programming contest.
"They give you a prompt when you get there," Leek said. "It's timed and then they give you a rubric at the end of the prompt, to say what they grade and how much each part is worth."
The expectations change with every new competition, which can be challenging for competitors.
"You can't really study for this competition in advance," Leek said. "You have to know all the language. You'll have an hour and a half or two hours to write this entire program exactly as they say."
Untiedt will be competing as an individual in computer programming as well.
"Someone else who placed ahead of Tyler at state was not able to go for some reason," Kellen said. "So Tyler was able to bump up. Both Austin and Tyler have basically self-taught themselves since we don't teach C++ programming here."
Paskach will also be competing at nationals in advanced interview skills.
"You have to come up with an answer quickly," Paskach said. "Along with that, in advanced interview skills, you have to prepare a portfolio for whatever position you are applying for. You have to be able to use that effectively in your interview as well. The one I'm going for is graphic design assistant, so then in my portfolio, I'll throw in some examples of art that I've done, like drawings."
While the MHS students are looking forward to the experience, they will have to cut their trip short by a day, in order to get back for prom. As talented young business men, though, they're used to managing their time wisely.
"It's always fun to interact with other people, too," Untiedt said. "You meet a lot of new people because it's from all over the country. It's pretty neat."