By Mitchell Willetts
VALE – For Vale teacher David Paulsen, education recently came in the form of four people crammed into one hotel room for three nights.
And for four Vale students, that education continued at a crowded convention center far from home filled with people who’ve never met and will likely never meet again.
Josh Andersen, Japheth Carlson, Luis Diaz and Jake Milleson recently flew with Paulsen to Anaheim, Calif., to compete in business skills against 10,000 other students from across the country. The national Future Business Leaders of America conference tested students in more than 70 business subjects such as computer applications and agribusiness.
The Vale students earned the right to face off in national competition by placing top four in their chosen subjects at the state conference in Portland.
Diaz, 16, placed seventh in information technology at the state conference, but three competitors ahead of him either couldn’t make it to nationals, or chose another event. That left the door open for Diaz.
“I knew there were going to be a lot of competitors there so I told myself I’m just going to do my best, enjoy the moment and learn what I can just being there,” Diaz said. When he wasn’t studying, he was chatting with others, taking in workshops or the California coast, all very new to him.
“Being nervous would just ruin my experience, so I just thought whatever happens, I’m okay with it,” he said.
The national conference boasted $170,000 in awards to the top competitors.
The Vale crew walked away without a cent, but not with nothing, Paulsen said.
“It would have been nice to see them recognized with an award, but they have a sense of accomplishment just making it to the national conference and performing there,” he said.
The money is beside the point, and while the skills they pick up prepping to compete are valuable, that is only part of what the students get.
The trips themselves are equally important.
Paulsen said such travels help students escape the small town bubble that can limit perspectives.
“I had one student that had never flown before. Three of them had never been to California,” he said.
Diaz has rarely set foot outside of Vale, and never onto an airplane. It’s always been long rides by car or bus for the sophomore.
The last two years with the program showed him much he’d miss otherwise.
“The conference is great, but I want them to see the sights of going through a city and seeing different people and groups,” Paulsen said.
Even a short immersion somewhere new can have a lasting impact.
“When you’re going from small town Vale, getting out into that can be a little scary, a little overwhelming, but a little enlightening too,” Paulsen said. “Then to be in such a mass of people, it validates them being smart and academic.”
There’s no reason tomorrow’s movers and shakers can’t be from Vale. Good minds crop up anywhere, Paulsen said. The competitions help prove that, not only to competitors, but also to the students themselves.
“That’s what I tell the kids. You are on the national stage,” he said. “You’re no less that anybody else just because you’re from Vale.”