When he takes his first step into the business world in a few years, 17-year-old Mike Fetzer believes he will have a leg up on the competition.
"Not many kids can say they've met so many people, traveled so much, expanded their network so much -- all while still in high school," he said.
Mike owes it to North Tonawanda High School's chapter of the national business club known as the Distributive Education Clubs of America (DECA), he said.
"It's given me the foundation for my future -- all the personal skills, how to interview, the business skills, customer relations and all that stuff," the senior said.
Mike, a state officer for DECA, and six students from North Tonawanda leave for Orlando, Fla., today for the group's 66th annual International Career Development Conference. Scores earned in March during a state competition in Rochester qualified them for the event, where they will spend the weekend competing with 1,500 students from across the country in a variety of marketing and management categories.
A 100-question multiple-choice test will count for half their score. The students also will participate in role-playing activities in categories such as business law and ethics, public speaking, advertising and sales demonstrations.
"You have 10 minutes to come up with a marketing strategy and 10 minutes to present," said 17-year-old senior Zach Niemiec, co-president of the North Tonawanda chapter. "It's really helped my critical thinking and made me able to think on my feet like that."
Some students also produced a 30-page business proposal for online and international marketing, which will be presented to chief officers of a company of their choice, also in a role-playing capacity.
DECA students who participated were judged not only on their knowledge, but also other "soft" skills necessary to succeed in the business world, such as attire, public speaking and punctuality.
"It's a very prestigious honor to make it this far," said Mike, who has been competing with the club for four years. "We really had to work hard and hit the books."
Thirteen of the 17 North Tonawanda students who competed at the state level won medals, Mike said, and six placed in the Top 5 of their categories. The group has roughly 47 members. Zach said the group is active in community and charity events, and he attributes the group's high participation to its autonomy.
Though club adviser Laurie Widman is available for guidance, she lets the students make their own choices.
"It's our club, so we run a lot of the chapter," Mike said. "Students have a lot of responsibility and we do take the initiative. We have her direction, though, too."
Chapter Co-president Paul Lukasik, also 17 and a senior, took first place in his category at the state competition. He plans to attend Pennsylvania State University after graduating.
"DECA is one of the things that helped me not just get into college, but it helped me with my interpersonal skills," he said. "It really helped me manage my time and step out of my comfort zone."