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North Allegheny students in international competition

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By Melanie Donahoo
Wednesday, April 24, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Three North Allegheny Senior High School students are getting an early look into the business world as they compete this week at the DECA International Development Career Conference in Anaheim, Ca.

An organization devoted to preparing students for business careers, DECA runs business-related competitions for students from the ninth grade through college and at the district, state and international competition levels, said Joanne Sullivan, marketing instructor and DECA adviser at North Allegheny Senior High.

The international conference started Wednesday and runs through Saturday.

In its 60-year history, DECA has steadily grown in size and currently has 60 student members at the high school. Of those 60 members, about 50 competed in the district competition, and 33 moved to the state level, said Sullivan, of McCandless.

“It's become very competitive at the state level,” Sullivan said. “So reaching the nationals is quite an accomplishment.”

Seniors Michelle Murray and Melissa Sharlow took second place in the state competition in an event called “Entrepreneurship: Growing Your Own Business.” Before the actual event, students were required to research and write a 30-page essay on a five-year plan for growth.

The students used JD's Popcorn, which Harlow's family owns and operates, as their business model.

“In the essay, we first evaluated the business for its strengths and weaknesses,” said Sharlow, 18. “Then we went on to describe the business plan and financing involved.”

At the state competition, the two students used presentation boards to present their plan to judges and then answered questions about their presentation and plan. The competition is new to DECA, and participating in it was a good experience, said Murray, also 18.

“I'm not good at public speaking, so the competition helped me get out of my shell,” Murray said.

Not many students have entered this new event, which maximized the chances of going to the International competition, Sullivan said.

“This written event, because of the time commitment and the involvement, is very commendable for them to enter,” Sullivan said.

After high school, Murray said, she will attend Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio, and Sharlow will attend Robert Morris University in Moon Township. Neither Murray nor Harlow has decided on a major but said it most likely would involve business or marketing.

Junior Andrea Macedonia competed in “Principles of Hospitality and Tourism,” an event for students competing in DECA events for the first time. Macedonia also placed second in the state competition in her event, which involved role-playing with a judge for a mock job interview.

At the competition, students are given the interview topic, as well as a list of talking points to mention during the interview, and then have ten minutes to prepare, Macedonia, 17, said.

“It's difficult because sometimes they'll (the judges) give you a term like ‘employee turnover,' and they'll ask you to define what it means in the specific area and how to prevent it,” Macedonia said.

Because this was her first year competing, Macedonia said, she is keeping an open mind about the International competition and isn't sure what to expect.

“If you have good communication and people skills, the judges will be impressed with you even if you don't hit on all the points,” Macedonia said.

The grand prize at the international competition varies by event, but just making it to that level is a great item on a college application or job resume, Sullivan said.

“DECA gives students business and leadership skills,” Sullivan said. “It's an opportunity to get up in front of adults and have to think on their feet.”

Melanie Donahoo is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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