MARSHALL - The Minnesota State Business Professionals of America (BPA) offers a variety of leadership opportunities for high school students who are interested in preparing for careers in the business world.
This past week, Marshall High School senior Tom Wyatt-Yerka was chosen to serve as the Minnesota State BPA vice president, giving him the opportunity to put his leadership skills to the test. He's been part of BPA since his sophomore year.
"I think there are lots of great opportunities that are available to me because of BPA," Wyatt-Yerka said. "I've enjoyed being in the organization, and I've also seen some things that could be changed a little bit to make the organization as great of an experience as possible for everybody involved. Now I have the opportunity to do that."
Wyatt-Yerka found out he was voted in as vice president on the second day of the state fall conference this past week.
"They announced it about a half-hour before everybody left, and we went up on stage at the end of the conference," he said. "I had felt pretty confident the night before, after all the campaigning, that I had a good shot at being a member of the officer team. But then to find out the position, it was pretty exciting. It was a big relief after that."
Wyatt-Yerka said he was appreciative of all the support from his fellow BPA members from Marshall and especially his campaign manager Riley VanOverbeke.
"Riley was a big help," Wyatt-Yerka said. "He had to carry a lot of stuff all weekend. I had a couple of coolers filled with pop, so he got to carry those around for me. And it was nice to see everybody get behind me. We went around to all our different regions for little question and answer periods, and when I got to the region our school was in, it was nice to be able to relax and just converse with friends."
Brenda Kellen, MHS business teacher and BPA adviser, said that the campaign process was an extensive one, but that Wyatt-Yerka was highly qualified and determined.
"Students at the fall conference attend leadership and career activities and also elect the state officers for the year," she said. "Tom was elected the state BPA vice president. He worked very hard, and this is a huge accomplishment."
After approving Wyatt-Yerka to go forward in his quest to become a state officer, Kellen said he then had to get three letters of recommendation, put together an essay, create his resume and then send all of the paperwork in.
"At the state level, they will then slot him as a possible candidate," Kellen said. "Then Tom had to prepare for a test on BPA knowledge. He also had to put together a campaign booth, prepare materials, do a speech and do a question and answer caucus. It's a very difficult process."
Kellen noted that the students were slotted into the officer positions based on a professional interview, which accounted for 20 percent of their points. The other 80 percent was based on student voting.
"Each region is allocated 10 voting delegates, and they have to go to some training on what is a good candidate, what to look for," she said. "Then they have to go to the campaign speeches, visit the candidate booths, attend the caucuses and then vote after that."
The biggest challenge, Wyatt-Yerka said, was having to speak for five hours during the campaigning when he was just getting over a bad cold.
"It was a little tough," he said. "I found myself repeating thing quite often."
Having been a BPA adviser for more than 20 years, Kellen said she was confident that Wyatt-Yerka had what it took to be a state officer.
"Tom will be my fifth state officer since I've been the adviser here," she said. "He did a very nice job all the way through. He scored a 100 percent on the test, and he was the only one to do that. He also gave a very good speech."
Wyatt-Yerka is a member of the MHS speech team, which Kellen said benefited him.
"Those speech skills came in handy because he was very professional in his answers at the caucus," Kellen said. "You could tell he was a very mature and knowledgeable candidate. Along with that comes responsibility now. He'll have a lot of duties. They're charged with running the conferences for the next year, and they have to travel to other chapters if they request an officer visit."
But Wyatt-Yerka is ready for action. At the end of November, the newly-elected state officers will participate in a training session for three days up in the Twin Cities.
"We get to tour the hotel that our spring state competition will be at and kind of plan that," Wyatt-Yerka said. "We can also try to enact some of our ideas. We were given a sheet for the first 25 days of being an officer, some little projects to complete along the way. We'll get some more of those to kind of keep us on track."
One of the things Wyatt-Yerka said he'd like to change as a state officer is to make it easier for new members and new chapters to join and take part in "all the great things." He also wants to challenge himself.
"I think there's a great sense of community through state competition and conferences and then at nationals, you really get to meet a wide variety of people," he said. "You actually stay connected with some of those people at some other activities. You also get to learn a lot of valuable skills but then actually put them into practice, too."
Last year, Wyatt-Yerka competed in interview skills and human resource management categories for BPA. He placed first in the region and second at state in interview skills. He was also second in regions and fourth in state for the human resource management competition. He plans to build on those experiences for competition this year.
"I competed at nationals for interview skills," he said. "With that, I've noticed that, in doing interviews for college applications, it's given me a big leg up as far as being able to speak one-on-one with adults. I will probably do advanced interview skills and HR management again."
Along with the practical opportunities that BPA has for students at the state and national level, Kellen said that there are also scholarship opportunities available. With the new leadership position, Wyatt-Yerka has put himself near the top of the pack, she said.
"Having this leadership experience now will really help Tom, along with his academic success already in BPA," she said. "He'll have the leadership now, too."
Along with the training, the officers will also get together in January and February and connect through technology in the upcoming months. There's no telling what they can accomplish in that amount of time.
"We'll be preparing for the state competition, which is in March," Wyatt-Yerka said. "We'll also use Google Hangouts, kind of as a Skype meeting for all of us to do some face-to-face interactions over the computer. I'm definitely glad I decided to do this. It's been an interesting ride so far, and I'm excited to see where it takes me."