WCHS Deca wins big at Internationals in Atlanta, GA (2023)

Photo courtesy of Dustin Showen

WCHS DECA club smiles as they celebrate their many awards and successful experience at ICDC on April 26, in Atlanta, GA.

“Maximize your momentum.” This year, as the theme for DECA’s International Career Development Conference (ICDC) in Atlanta, GA, these words were permanently engraved into participants’ memories. Without a doubt, momentum was certainly maximized for WCHS.

On April 22, 24 WCHS students and two WCHS teachers packed their bags and departed BWI airport. They landed about 500 miles away in Atlanta, GA, alongside 18,000 other students and teachers worldwide. Little did they know that they would be bringing back numerous awards and unforgettable memories.

For the first time in WCHS history, juniors Sayuri Modi and Maxwell Ye hoisted the first-place DECA glass. Sophomore Jeremy Chung, junior Luna Wang and seniors Thomas Huang and Andrew Yu received finalist medals and achievement awards, with Wang being a Top 10 finalist.

“I was shocked and so happy [when I heard when I was a finalist]. It was such a good feeling when you realize efforts paid off,” Wang said. “You can learn so much by stepping out of your comfort zone.”

DECA Inc. is a non-profit organization with over 170,000 members in 3,200 schools internationally. It aims to help students develop their business, leadership, and presentational skills by providing real-world experiences through various competitions and conferences. Event categories include marketing, finance, hospitality and management. Students work individually or in teams throughout the school year to research and prepare for regional, state, and, possibly, international competitions. This year, 24 WCHS students qualified for ICDC.

WCHS’ DECA club, officially established in 2016, is advised by WCHS mathematics teacher Dustin Showen. Since then, the club has grown significantly.

“When it truly started, it was because a group of three or four students approached me asking about the club DECA that was still listed under me as its advisor. I told them it fell through because no one participated in the activities and competitions, and I was not entirely sure I wanted to continue with the club if it wasn’t going to be done the way it was intended by National DECA,” Showen said. “[However,] we discussed what it would entail and they really wanted to try it in its entirety. It took off from there!”

This was only the second time Showen and WCHS organized a group trip to ICDC, with the first time in 2019 with 19 students. With a larger group this time around, along with six additional students from WJ and Clarksburg that Showen also had to accompany, she would need extra help to supervise students and organize the trip. With that being said, she turned to WCHS colleague and friend Hsinyu Ho, who went along with WCHS as a chaperone.

“I have known Showen for over 10 years. She originally asked me to go on the [ICDC 2020] Nashville trip as a chaperone, but because of COVID-19, it got canceled,” Ho said. “My main concern was taking 30 teenagers on a trip that would not take no for an answer or would get injured. Luckily, nothing bad happened and I hope to do it again next year.”

Before the ICDC trip, students needed a lot of hard work and dedication. Preparing for a competition with experienced international student competitors was, as expected, challenging. Extensive practice and research were needed to maximize WCHS’ chances of winning.

“As high school students, making formal business reports and presentations is not the easiest thing to do,” Wang said.Before I could write the paper, it took months getting to know the business and conducting the research [for my event]. I spent hours talking to managers, employees, and customers so that I could learn about them. The research paper and presentation came naturally after I had a good understanding of the business and strategies.”

The logistics behind hosting a large conference like ICDC were no straightforward task. As the first conference since 2019 to be hosted in-person, DECA had to plan out the event’s setup thoroughly. Perhaps one of their most extraordinary feats was booking the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, a state-of-the-art $1.5 billion, 71,000-seat stadium in the heart of Atlanta, home to the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons, to use for hosting DECA’s opening, closing and award ceremonies.

“ICDC has a sense of magnitude and gravity that prelims lack,” Ye said. “Everything there is big, whether that be the [venues], the scope of the competition, or the city of Atlanta itself. As you meet different people from all over the country, you realize how tremendous it is to be one of tens of thousands of competitors at an international event.”

With so many people attending ICDC across the globe, WCHS members said it was surprisingly easy to strike up a conversation with anyone. There were endless opportunities to meet new faces: at the hotel, catching the shuttle, exchanging colorful state pins at the stadium or just seeing someone with a purple DECA wristband nearby.

“My favorite encounter was probably when [my team and I were] waiting in line before our presentation. We got the chance to talk to competitors from all over the country, even Montana!” WCHS sophomore Allison Zhang said. “The atmosphere felt super supportive and even though we were competing in the same event, everyone was so encouraging.”

The five-day trip was not just about competition. DECA hosted fun attractions the city of Atlanta had to offer for students to celebrate their hard work and success. This included a thrilling day at Six Flags, a private tour of the Georgia Aquarium, the largest aquarium in the U.S., and a fizzing experience at the World of Coca-Cola Factory.

“The attractions were all really cool, but my favorite was definitely Coca Cola World,” Zhang said. “I got to sample flavors of soda from all over the world and the gift shop was full of cute souvenirs.”

After the lively attractions, the ICDC competition wraps up with what everyone is waiting for: the award ceremonies. WCHS students sat at the edge of their seats that Tuesday, eager to cheer each other on.

“Whenever someone won an award, we’d all be there to cheer them on and congratulate them,” Huang and Yu said. “Conversely, when someone was feeling down or needed help, everyone was extremely supportive and willing to give a helping hand. I was overwhelmed with emotions [when we heard our names called]. Four years of hard work culminated into something special.”

For Modi and Ye, being called the first place team internationally is a phrase still hard to fathom. As first-place winners, they received prize money of $6,000 and have taken WCHS DECA to the next level.

“We knew we were going to be top three because we were in the top three on the final scoreboard, but we didn’t know what the order was,” Modi said. “On the stage, I remember holding my breath as third place was called, and freaking out when second place was called because that meant we were first – we did it! We both could not stop smiling the entire night.”

It would be the following morning when the fun was over, and WCHS DECA landed back into their daily lives. No matter win or lose, everyone returned with new friendships and memories that will last a lifetime.

“We did practically everything together, from eating, sleeping, traveling, and having fun,” Modi said. “This trip helped us strengthen our bonds with each other, to the point when I can say they will be unforgettable and unbreakable.”

With these experiences, WCHS DECA hopes to increase membership and take a larger group to ICDC next year, with the possibility of obtaining another glass title again and more medals. So while WCHS maximized its momentum this year, they are more than ready to “get the edge” next year at ICDC 2023 in Orlando, Fl.

“I think simply seeing our winners walk the stage has motivated those who attended ICDC immensely,” Modi said. “We can definitely persuade more people to join the club by emphasizing how much fun ICDC is, and if we could win, so can you. For those of you reading, Join DECA!”

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