Tartan girl wows judges with car-service knowledge

It was the kind of strategy that would impress a NASCAR driver.

Faced with the choice of a topic for her DECA marketing studies this year, Tartan junior Caitlin Stene knew she had to find something where she would stand out and make herself memorable to judges, above and beyond mastering information about a type of business.

That left out fashion, jewelry and "soft lines," in Stene’s opinion. Her choice: vehicle and petroleum management.

"To be quite honest, I talked to some former students who said it is a male-dominated roleplay, so when you’re a girl, you stand out to the judges," Stene says. "I also wanted to learn more about it."

Soon, she was studying how car engines work, how quick-lube stations are run and how to most efficiently manage a gas station, using computerized inventory models.

"My parents thought I was crazy. My relatives laughed at me when they heard what I was competing in," she says.

The laugh’s on them. Stene rose through regional competitions to place in the top three students in her topic at the state DECA convention, then went on to take third place at the international DECA convention in Anaheim, Calif., in late April.

At the international competition, Stene placed third after answering a 100-question test and being presented a "case study" of how to solve a problem in a hypothetical vehicle/petroleum business.

"She was given a problem to solve, and had 10 minutes to figure out how to solve it and then sit down with a judge to present her ideas," Tartan DECA advisor Craig Spreiter explains. "There were about 350 students in that event, so she had to be different enough and good enough to advance beyond them."

Stene, a Woodbury resident, is Tartan’s fifth student to place at international competition; the school has had first- through third-place winners at that level for the past three years. She said she was "shocked" to win the award, after just planning to attend the international competition "to get my feet wet, because I still have a year left." She says after graduating she wants to study advertising and marketing, either at Bemidji State University or Iowa State.

Stene is a Tartan cross-country runner, Nordic skier and is currently participating in track and field. She’s a freshman mentor at the school and leads a local chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

And, thanks to her newfound knowledge, she’s quick at diagnosing the problem if she has trouble with her car getting to and from all those activities. "Now I can even tell my dad what’s wrong with it," she says.

From professional development to

young entrepreneurs

In all, 14 students from Tartan attended the international competition, joining 13,000 other students from around the world.

Spreiter says that only 105 first- through 10th-place trophies are given out at the competition. Of those, Minnesota DECA teams took eight, and of that number Tartan came in with three. (Tartan’s sister school, North, which also fields a strong DECA program, did not attend the international event.)

"It’s phenomenal," Spreiter says of Tartan’s success with such stiff competition.

Spreiter has coached DECA at Tartan since 1998 and says many former students are still in fields that built on their DECA experience. "They just love pursuing the advertising and marketing side of things. ... Tons of them stay in touch, and we have some who come back and judge and mentor current students."

A team of two Tartan students took fifth place in retail marketing research at the international competition after studying the employee training programs at Savvi Formalwear at Maplewood Mall. Junior Ryan Wickard and senior Brian Edman met with management and researched all the training procedures at the local store, then drafted recommendations to the business on how they could enhance, change or add employee training to improve Savvi’s service. "They loved it," Spreiter said of the business owners’ reaction to the students and their plans.

A group of Tartan seniors — Adam Tollefson, Joe Juliano and Doug Marmar — placed 10th in the international competition for a project in which they taught Oakdale Elementary second-graders about entrepreneurship.

"It was a three-month project, and to be honest, before they started, I thought, ‘Oh boy — this is gonna be way over my students’ heads!’" second-grade teacher Shelley Dorff says. "But they came in and explained the vocabulary — entrepreneurship, product, profit margin — and showed visual examples, and after a couple weeks, the students were using those words in their everyday conversation."

The DECA students guided the second-graders in choosing specific types of products that might appeal to high-schoolers, and each of five groups of several second-graders chose a "business" selling either beverages, food, car supplies, entertainment or school supplies. Area businesses donated some of the items used in the project; funds to buy the rest came from Tartan’s parent-teacher organization.

DECA students presented the items to the second-graders with a list of their "wholesale" cost. From there, they coached the second-graders, who decided what retail price each item should be sold for in order to secure sufficient profit but not drive away business. The youngsters also created their own "marketing" campaigns with posters designed to use color and grab people’s attention.

At the Tartan entrepreneurship fair this spring, the second-graders set up their "businesses" and quickly sold out of their goods to both Tartan students and staff, Dorff reports. With a little guidance, they were able to make change and balance their cash drawers, and overall brought in $375. That money was used to purchase games for the classroom and supplies for the writing center, as well as one book for each student from the Oakdale book fair. "They could each pick out their favorite book," Dorff says. "That was especially nice for those who couldn’t otherwise afford it."

Best of all, the lessons — and the vocabulary — seem to have stuck. When the Tartan students visited Oakdale again to show off their medals and show their young counterparts how they presented the project in California, one youngster could be heard in the hall telling another, "Those are the guys who taught us entrepreneurship!"

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