Stevenson High School DECA students excel at virtual Innovate2020 conference, learning business, entrepreneurship, and leadership skills

Wednesday, January 13, 2021-Stevenson, Wash.-Stevenson High School students participating in DECA, the business, entrepreneurship, and leadership club, attended this year’s Western Leadership Development Conference, Innovate2020, virtually due to restrictions stemming from the pandemic, however, the students did not let attending virtually hold them back from excelling and participating. 

During normal years, students attend the annual leadership conference in Bellevue, Washington, stay at the Hyatt hotel and compete against chapters from around the state in a variety of activities. “The entire trip is a really special experience for our students and, obviously, one of the best parts of DECA conferences is going to Bellevue and connecting with other chapters to network with DECA members from other school districts,” said Katie Mantel, Stevenson High School’s business teacher who also serves as the school chapter’s DECA adviser. “So, it was a bummer with the conference being virtual-only, however, the students engaged more than I thought they would and really enjoyed the conference; DECA truly did an outstanding job of still making the conference fun and engaging for students, even if it was virtual.” 

In order to allow students to continue participating in DECA during the global pandemic, DECA implemented DECA Direct Online, a digital platform for students and advisors to access all of the related content in one place. DECA Direct enabled the organization to hold Innovate2020 virtually using video conference software.  

Students in DECA practice leadership skills including goal setting, consensus building, and project management by participating in a variety of individual and team-based competitive events separated into career clusters: Business Management and Administration; Hospitality and Tourism; Entrepreneurship; Marketing; Finance; and Personal Financial Literacy.  

While attending Innovate2020, students listened to Howard White, Vice President of Nike’s Jordan brand, give the conference’s keynote speech; they participated in a sneaker design competition with brand designers from the Jordan brand; and they competed in a scavenger hunt of activities. The team capped off the conference with a mock competition in front of judges over video conference. “Several of our students placed high on the leaderboard for the GooseChase digital scavenger hunt with Breckin Anderson, one of our students, coming in fourth place and had her video on “Community Awareness” featured during the closing ceremony,” said Mantel.  

In addition, Elizabeth Lanz, one of the students in Stevenson’s chapter, had served as Area President for DECA as well as the VP of Marketing for Washington DECA. “Serving for the state chapter is a really huge deal and Elizabeth has done a tremendous job,” said Mantel. “We got to see her work on display during this conference as she was involved in the live sessions, the breakout sessions, and was on the DECA Instagram Live ‘conference de-brief’ video on the last day.” 

Normally, students in DECA run a student store which was started last year, however remote learning has prevented physically running the store. “We are still filling apparel orders this year, and I have some amazing coworkers helping me fill those orders,” said Mantel. “When we return to school, we hope to open the student store to give students an opportunity to practice taking inventory and stock; cashiering; ordering; and marketing.” 

DECA provides skills that benefit every student, no matter if their future goals include a career in the business world. “My students tell me that DECA pushes them out of their comfort zone and puts them into situations where they have to learn how to present themselves as professional adults,” she said. “Students say the mock interviews and competition make them more comfortable with a professional setting, which, in turn, helps prepare them for success in job interviews and their future workplace, regardless of what industry they choose for their careers.” 

Mantel credits DECA with helping her to develop effective teaching-learning relationships with her students. “DECA lets me get to know my students on a completely different level as we become more like a family than just a teacher and students in a classroom,” she said. “I love getting to talk to my students about their lives, their hobbies and their dreams; I swear I am the most blessed human to get the chance to work with these students.” 

For any Stevenson High School student interested in participating in DECA, reach out to Katie Mantell via email at [email protected]. For those who want to follow the team, check out their Instagram at or their Facebook page at   

Learn more about DECA: 
For more than 75 years, DECA prepares emerging leaders and entrepreneurs for careers in marketing, finance, hospitality, and management in high schools and colleges around the globe including more than 3,700 high school chapters and 225,000 members. You can learn more from their website at

To learn more about how Stevenson-Carson School District teaches our kids and partners with community members and area businesses to create rich and robust learning opportunities, please visit our website at