The road to leadership: AS DECA president, Dakota Ridge grad will sing praises of business group

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By AJ Vicens

Many high school students dream of traveling the world after graduation, taking time to find themselves before plunging into another round of formal education at college.

But a lack of cash and a surplus of convention mean that many grads never take the road less traveled.

However, Ryan Dyck, a recent graduate of Dakota Ridge High School, will have that opportunity. Dyck was recently elected international president of the Distributive Education Clubs of America, or, as it's more commonly known to tens of thousands of high school students, DECA. The organization is dedicated to developing leaders in entrepreneurship, marketing and management.

"It's really exciting," Dyck said, seemingly embarrassed by the attention the honor affords him. "I haven't gotten used to the title."

Dyck is now the student-level head of an organization with roughly 185,000 worldwide members, all dedicated to learning and competing in events like business planning, marketing of fashion and apparel, and accounting.

Dyck was elected to the post in May at the International Career Development Conference in Anaheim, Calif., an annual international competition for DECA teams.

"It was very, very intense," said Jenny Lippiatt, Dyck's business and marketing teacher at Dakota Ridge during the 2008-09 school year. She and several other Dakota Ridge students were at the conference with Dyck, and the announcement of who won the presidency was the last order of business.

"We waited and waited through like 25 event winners," Lippiatt said. "Finally, it came to (the announcement). Everybody was screaming."

Lippiatt said Dyck was the catalyst behind Dakota Ridge's DECA group growing from seven students to 25.

Dyck is a tireless advocate of DECA. He came to Dakota Ridge at the end of his sophomore year from Clinton, Mo., where the DECA team had more than 100 members.

"I guess in small towns, schools are a lot more involved in the community," he said. "DECA was more popular there. (Coming to Dakota) was a good opportunity to take what I'd seen from Missouri and help Dakota out."

Dyck is looking forward to strengthening the organization by making it more appealing to students. He believes students can only help themselves by getting involved with a group like DECA at the beginning of high school, especially if they want to pursue a career in business or marketing.

"It's kind of like an internship," Dyck said. "You take what you've learned in the classroom and apply it hands-on."

Over the course of a high school career, a student in DECA can learn about organizing a business or what it takes to market and sell a product. DECA members travel around their states and throughout the country to meet other students and business professionals and create an invaluable network of contacts, Dyck said.

"They get to learn what the business world is really like," he said.

Dyck hopes to expand the opportunities for DECA members while president. He wants the group to revamp its website to make it easier to learn about and join the group. He hopes to create more networking opportunities by making DECA more accessible via Facebook, MySpace and Twitter. He also wants to expand travel opportunities beyond regional and national conferences in the U.S.

"I've experienced a lot of different things most people haven't with my family background," said Dyck, whose father was in the military. Military life meant frequent moves, and Dyck found himself living in places he knew little about.

"Moving around and being out of my comfort zone helped me," he said. "I was exposed to different ideas and businesses, and that's helped me get to this point."

Dyck's job won't be easy. Over the course of his one-year term as president, he will spend more than 100 days on the road meeting with local DECA groups and schools, encouraging them to support the program. He already has more than 100 speaking engagements booked in the U.S. and beyond, and more will probably come his way.

"It's a little overwhelming at first to get used to all this," Dyck said. "But it's something I really enjoy. I'm ready for all the work."

Even though he'll rarely be home and will live out of a suitcase for the better part of a year, "it's all worth it. I definitely can admit that I'm probably the biggest DECA dork in the world."

After his year as president, Dyck plans to attend college and study international business and tourism.

"Any way I can incorporate my marketing background," he said with a laugh. Johnson and Wales University is his top choice right now, but he plans to "shop around" a bit before fully committing to any school.

He doesn't mind not heading to college right away, because his opportunity to travel and gain experience in the real world will be invaluable. He won't be paid, but his travel, accommodations and food will come courtesy of DECA.

"The opportunities I have through this are payment enough," Dyck said. "I can't wait."

Contact AJ Vicens at aj@evergreenco.com, and check www.columbinecourier.com for updates and breaking news.