South Whidbey High senior takes first place at state DECA competition

South Whidbey High School teacher and DECA leader Sharyl Harless congratulates DECA state competition winner Amber Gilkerson, a senior who took first place in the Employment Acquisitions category at the state finals in Bellevue. - Photo courtesy of Evan Thompson
South Whidbey High School teacher and DECA leader Sharyl Harless congratulates DECA state competition winner Amber Gilkerson, a senior who took first place in the Employment Acquisitions category at the state finals in Bellevue.
— image credit: Photo courtesy of Evan Thompson

When it comes to business acumen, Amber Gilkerson can ring up another winning sale.

The South Whidbey High School senior won first place at this year’s DECA competition, along with a place in history next to other South Whidbey DECA champions and high placing students.

Distributive Education Clubs of America (DECA) is better known as the International Association of Marketing Students, and aims to prepare marketing-education students in the business world.

Gilkerson traveled with fellow students Guy O’Connor, Avery Grant, Victoria Rosenthal and Isabella Matossi to Bellevue to compete against 35 other Washington students in their respective divisions. Each of them advanced to the state level at a previous all-area DECA event held at Monroe High School.

One of the main goals of DECA is to help students develop leadership characteristics and social and business etiquette. It also improves communication skills and helps students adapt to the occupational competencies needed for careers in marketing management and entrepreneurship.

The South Whidbey DECA club is run by Sharyl Harless. Harless, a career and technology teacher at the school, traveled to several statewide events throughout the school year, culminating with the state competition held March 3-5 at several Bellevue-area hotels.

There are five main-level events in DECA competitions in the areas of Business Administration and Management, Marketing Sales and Service, Hospitality and Tourism, Finance and Entrepreneurship. Each area branches into about a dozen occupational categories — each an option to DECA students — in which each student must specialize and participate. DECA students may enter as individuals or as a team, which can have up to four members.

Gilkerson entered as an individual, specializing in Employment Acquisitions.

For Employment Acquisitions, the student conducts a real-life job interview in one of four categories. Gilkerson chose that of retail sales associate. Essentially, the student acts as if she is at a real job interview, even though it is a fictitious one. Judges ask several questions over the span of the interview, such as “Why do you want to work here?” and “What qualifications do you possess?”

Points are scored individually and added to a total. Points are given for a series of criteria each worth up to 10 points, including the student’s introduction, attire, answers and effectiveness of communication, which are all scored by a panel of volunteer judges from real businesses.

“For me, it just went like a normal interview,” Gilkerson said.

“I had a cover letter, résumé and a few letters of recommendation. I’ve had a lot of experience in retail sales because of working in my parents’ business, so I just used that as my examples when questions were asked,” she added.

After the first day of competition, points were tallied qualifying certain contestants for the second day, and Gilkerson was the only South Whidbey participant to advance to the state final held on March 5.

In the second round, more judges evaluated the competitors and the top three were chosen.  Gilkerson finished first in her respective event, Employment Acquisitions, bringing  another DECA title to South Whidbey.

“My ultimate goal was to have fun,” Gilkerson said.

“It’s my last year, so I wanted to enjoy it. I honestly wasn’t expecting to win,” she added.

Winning the state title qualified Gilkerson for the national competition held annually in Orlando, Fla. However, she won’t compete for health reasons.

“I feel that it would have been a real honor to represent Washington DECA on an international level, especially from a school as small as South Whidbey,” Gilkerson said.

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