Winning Ways

Michael Costa, Lynette Cockrell, Anthony McOlgan, Melissa Hamilton and Steven Miller pose with their 1st place trophies. Photo by Russ HoustonSometimes you can win them all.

Seeking to hone their skills by using their studies in an applied context, six MSU-Meridian business students entered statewide DECA competitions in late 2016 and early 2017. They represented Mississippi State in events that included marketing management, team business ethics, retail management, human resources and business research.

All six claimed first place in their events. Their successes won them the opportunity to compete at the international level, where one went on to place in the top 10.

The Distributive Education Clubs of America, now known simply as DECA, began in 1946 as a high school organization and grew to include college chapters. The international society’s aim is to prepare emerging leaders and entrepreneurs in marketing, finance, hospitality and management.

DECA is a good fit for MSU-Meridian, where the University’s chapter was established in 2015.

“DECA is a total package,” remarks Dr. Natasha Randle, Associate Professor of Management at MSU-Meridian and DECA chapter advisor. “MSU-Meridian is a small campus. We chose DECA because we thought it was a strong, comprehensive organization that could cover the majors we offer here.”

It is an active chapter, for its members recognize the value of the leadership and educational opportunities offered.

Steven Miller, currently a senior in business administration and marketing, took part in the DECA statewide retail management competition in November 2016. Participants were presented a case and called on to incorporate the “SoLoMo” platforms, integrating social, location-based and mobile marketing tools to acquire new customers.

“We were given a case study, playing the role of a marketing or operations director in charge of incorporating a beauty and cosmetics line into a college bookstore,” he recounts. “We presented ways to display the products and promote them through social media, and we projected sales growth.”

Miller, who also works as an Operations Assistant at First State Bank in Waynesboro, MS, was President of the DECA chapter at the time and presently serves as Secretary. He serves in the state’s DECA leadership as well, as Collegiate DECA First Vice President.

Miller’s win qualified him to compete at DECA’s 2017 International Career Development Conference (ICDC), along with his five MSU peers who captured state titles in their respective categories: Lynette Cockrell and Michael Costa, team business ethics; Melissa Hamilton, marketing management; Casey May, business research and Anthony McOlgan, human resource management.

About 1,500 students and advisors traveled to Anaheim, CA, last April, where they not only competed but also took part in ICDC’s educational sessions. The conference offered professional development workshops on topics such as networking, leadership, job seeking and postgraduate education. Students also had opportunities to interact with members of the DECA National Advisory Board, which includes executives from Marriott, Men’s Wearhouse and other major corporations.

Casey May, now a graduate of the healthcare services program, placed in the top ten at ICDC with her prepared presentation for the business research competition. May, who has worked for years at Anderson Regional Health System in Meridian, proposed an app to help potential and current employees.

“I decided to base my research on something I see every day at work,” says the Benefits Analyst Manager. “There’s a nursing shortage [in the health care industry], and I wanted to focus on recruiting and retention of nurses at our hospital.”

Her proposed app would enable potential employees to apply for positions and to receive alerts for openings that fit their particular qualifications. Current employees would be able to schedule shifts, look at calendars and learn of hospital events such as open enrollment periods for benefits. New staff could access a checklist and map to assist in proceeding through all the steps required to begin work – like obtaining IDs in the security office, filling out paperwork in human resources and visiting the employee health department for physicals and the lab for drug testing.

“With this generation, everybody wants information instantly,” observes May, who has created a framework but not yet produced the app. “This app could improve satisfaction with working here, and hopefully that could help attract and keep nurses.”

As for the conference itself, she continues, “It was the chance of a lifetime to be able to go to ICDC, and I was proud to represent Mississippi State. Competing helped me gain professional experience and raise my self-confidence. I was able to network with other students and company representatives. It was a great experience all around.”

Miller agrees, “It gives you insight into how you’ll use your knowledge in your career, and it helps identify your goals and what you need to do to get there.”

DECA offers many ways for its members to put their education to work and develop their base of skills and experience.

As a state-level officer, Miller helped organize all of Mississippi’s ICDC delegates and educate them on how to get the most out of the conference through networking and participation. He also served at ICDC as a voting delegate for the national officers, which included caucusing with each candidate. Throughout the year, he works with Mississippi’s high schools and colleges to increase DECA membership, and he helps plan and manage state conferences.

Miller has also attended Engage, DECA’s annual leadership academy in New York, along with others from MSU-Meridian. Activities are geared to offer insight into industry trends and personal development toward a career. Participants select an industry track, and they are able to converse with executives in their chosen fields and take behind the scenes tours of sites ranging from Madison Square Garden to the Men’s Wearhouse Madison Avenue store. Each track also includes a case study competition culminating with presentations to DECA National Advisory Board members.

Preparing students for successful careers is the reason DECA exists, and nowhere is this truer than at the chapter level.

Says Randle, “I tell our chapter they need to do three things: professional development, service and industrial site visits.”

DECA members have toured sites such as U.S. Blades in Meridian, MS, which manufactures industrial saw blades, and a coal and energy plant in Kemper County.

The chapter has assisted with Career Chats on the Meridian campus, in which alumni and others serve as classroom speakers offering advice and perspective to students as they plan for the future. It has also presented a “Women in Leadership” panel discussion in which local businesswomen shared their journeys and talked about their careers.

Community service has found DECA members collecting canned goods to feed the homeless at LOVE’s Kitchen in Meridian, raising funds for tornado relief at William Carey University, gathering old newspapers for the local animal shelter and filling shoeboxes with toys and necessities for needy children through Operation Christmas Child. They have also participated in campus activities like Welcome Back Week events and tailgates.

“DECA prepares students for their careers. It provides practical leadership experience,” comments Randle. “They have to apply critical thinking skills. They learn to run an organization. They have opportunities to network, and they get to travel.”

Many MSU-Meridian students are non-traditional, often having full-time jobs and attending classes in the evenings. They live at home and may have families. With so much on their plates, it may be hard to imagine adding “extras” like organizations and competitions, but DECA members agree the experience is enriching.

“I have unbelievable friendships from being in that chapter,” says May. “It’s not only fun, but it teaches you to look beyond your own needs and focus on others. At the same time, you’re networking and building skills for your future career. I would encourage anybody starting in school to get into an organization like DECA and compete.”

Claiming first place in any competition can be a reward in itself, but for MSU-Meridian’s DECA members, it’s clear that their experiences are the real prize.

Story by Kirsten Shaw for College of Business, DIVIDENDS Magazine


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