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Two-day conference connects students with leadership skills and businesses

Date: Tuesday, November 15, 2022

The past two days have been a whirlwind of activity for over 1,000 students, educators and advisers from across the state.

The 2022 United Fall Leadership Conference, themed this year as “Amplify,” convened in Des Moines on Nov. 13-14 to bring together Iowa’s three business career and technical student organizations (CTSO). Held every four years, this conference provided members from Business Professionals of America (BPA), DECA and Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) with workshops and panel sessions on leadership, professional skill-building and innovation in business.

View photo highlights of the United Fall Leadership Conference on Flickr.

CTSOs enhance career and technical education (CTE) programs and provide opportunities for students to apply the skills they have developed in classrooms through conferences, competitions, community services events, worksite visits and other activities. More than just an extracurricular activity, participation in CTSOs help students explore careers paths, develop skills and make connections within their community.

The United Fall Leadership Conference offered the three CTSOs with another opportunity to advance their skills further and learn more about business and leadership. Many of the CTSOs took advantage of chapter meetings and business tours during their two days in the capital city. Valuable opportunities to network with other school districts and postsecondary institutions as well as partners from Iowa’s business and industry community were provided.

“The United Fall Leadership Conference allows students to hear directly from employers in Iowa businesses on skills that will be relevant to their future,” said Chris Dzurick, CTSO consultant for the Iowa Department of Education. “Instructors and advisers can also hear more from employers on how they can elevate their programs and what they’re teaching in their classrooms to meet the changing demands in business and industry.”

Many Iowa business and industry colleagues took part in the United Fall Leadership Conference to provide presentations, exhibits and networking opportunities for chapter members. The variety of participating partners provided a well-rounded perspective and included representatives from private corporations, community colleges, state and local agencies, entrepreneurs and more.

“It was important to have strong representation from industry partners,” Dzurick said. “This allowed high school and college student members to meet with employers and make valuable connections.”

"Nathan Nevenhoven"
FBLA officer and Waukee junior Nathan Nevenhoven

Waukee Community School District junior and FBLA officer Nathan Nevenhoven, 17, agreed the United Fall Leadership Conference provided the perfect opportunity to meet and learn from others, and the sessions offered new, applicable concepts.

“It’s been a great way to network with people across the state, not just those in FBLA but also other students in DECA and BPA,” he said. “And the workshops were great. You could take in a lot of different things, like a workshop on accounting or entrepreneurship or how to become a state officer and starting a chapter. It was interesting to hear what everyone had to say and how we could use it for our chapter and region.”

The trending topic of entrepreneurship was a highlight of the conference with several workshops and panel discussions focused on the issue. Students had opportunities to learn more about developing a viable business idea, pitching to investors and sustainability. An interactive session on how to raise money for a start-up company was also offered. Partners like Iowa Economic Development Authority, Iowa Association of Business and Industry and others were vital in coordinating the conference opportunities on entrepreneurship.

“Connecting students to key aspects for entrepreneurial success provides the opportunity to accelerate innovation in Iowa,” said Kristy Volesky, work-based learning consultant at the Iowa Department of Education. “This conference was the perfect platform to provide opportunities to connect with resources and organizations that encourage young entrepreneurs to invest in Iowa. Iowa Economic Development Authority and Iowa Association of Business and Industry have been pivotal in providing resources and access to key industry professionals for attendees.

“The conference successfully bridged the value of career and technical student organizations with work-based learning to inspire these future business leaders.”

"Janelle Larson"
Waukee FBLA adviser Janelle Larson

Waukee’s FBLA adviser Janelle Larson believes events like the United Fall Leadership Conference truly help students strengthen their skills and branch out as individuals.

“I love taking students to these conferences and competitions,” she said. “You can see students mature and come out of their shells. They really do gain confidence through these events and gain valuable professional skills.”

Waukee’s FBLA chapter has a lot to accomplish this year, and the information and best practices shared at the conference will be an asset in their planning. They anticipate having several business tours and guest speakers as well as community service and fundraising projects. Students will also work on public speaking for competitions and presentations, oftentimes with input from local business partners. Through these activities, the FBLA members will continue to increase their knowledge, skill sets and connections.

“We provide a lot of activities for our FBLA students,” Larson said. “By doing so, students can find something they really like and latch onto it. This allows them to own the activity, and, as a team, they can plan and organize, speak about it and work together to get it accomplished.”

The United Fall Leadership Conference won’t return until 2026, but Nathan is confident the information and skills provided at the event will help him find success in the future. He is eager to see what is next for FBLA and his chapter.

“I’m excited to see FBLA at its peak,” he said. “Let’s see how far FBLA can go and take it to the next level this year. I’m excited to see that happen and for us to continue learning.”