DECA team wins state competition, sights set on 10th national championship 

Mar 29, 2024

Bellevue College students won 19 individual first-place finishes, as well as the team title, at the collegiate DECA state competition last month. Next up? Nationals in April. 

Bellevue College at the 2024 collegiate DECA state competition.

Bellevue College students won 19 individual first-place finishes, as well as the team title, at the collegiate DECA state competition last month. Next up? Nationals in April. 

Held Feb. 23-24 at Shoreline Community College, the state competition saw competitors from across Washington, including Shoreline, Washington State University, and Columbia Basin College. The recent victories from Bellevue College’s 42-member DECA team continue the college’s winning tradition, which has been in place since its inception. Now in its 10th year, the team has been national champions every year so far—competing mostly against four-year colleges and universities. They’re currently preparing for the upcoming national competition, which will be April 20-24 in Austin, Texas. 

“While we have had an uninterrupted streak of success, it’s still exciting each year as I see the new students begin to realize their potential,” Bellevue College DECA team director Kyle Barber said. “When they win, it validates their choice to take time to learn professional skills and better their career readiness.” 

DECA is a national career development organization that started in 1946 and focuses on preparing young leaders and entrepreneurs in marketing, finance, hospitality and management. Barber, who is also the chair of the college’s academic marketing department, said it was designed to teach students about marketing in a way that they could apply what they learned practically. 

In competitions, students receive theoretical case studies and challenges related to marketing, business, accounting, or hospitality. Students, working alone or in partners, review the case study and then present to judges how they would solve the problem—which would be similar to what they could face in a real-life situation while working in business or marketing. 

“Instead of just memorizing terms and concepts, it’s, ‘How do you put it all together to serve client needs?’” Barber explained. “It’s doing the training that is needed from employers because they see too many students who are graduating from school now, who are not self-starters. They might have knowledge, but they don’t know how to take the lead.” 

DECA competitions consist of on-the-spot events in which students are presented with challenges that day, as well as prepared events in which they receive their prompts ahead of time and bring their completed projects to the competitions. Barber said the college’s DECA team members participate in one of each type of event at these competitions. 

A practical approach to learning 

When Barber started DECA at Bellevue College 10 years ago, his hope was just for students to get some practical hands-on experience in business and marketing. 

“I actually thought it was going to be good for them to go to a national competition and get their butts kicked a little bit,” Barber admitted. “I was really surprised that our students did so well against big universities.” 

Those “big universities” include schools such as Harvard and Stanford universities. 

Barber said the college’s success at these DECA competitions validated his department’s approach to learning, which is project-based work and focused on “client service, versus just theoretical marketing knowledge.” 

“Our marketing program is really big at Bellevue, and it’s unique in that we’re focused on digital marketing. So, a lot of the way our curriculum is designed is really well suited for (DECA),” Barber said. “We have students do a lot of project-based work in our classes…which really sets the students up well for doing this kind of case study competition. And that’s why we’ve had such great success with it and been national champions for 10 years.” 

Real-world benefits 

DECA is open to all students, and Barber said his team ranges from marketing majors, transfer students and international students looking to practice their English, to Running Start high schoolers and older students who have gone back to school because they’re changing careers or want to learn new skills. And while the team is open to all majors, Barber noted that the team’s success has gone hand in hand with the success of the college’s academic marketing department.  

“I never anticipated winning the national championship our first year and by the end of the second year, I really began to realize I could use this extracurricular program to effectively drive interest in [the college’s] new marketing bachelor degree,” he said, adding that the practical experience DECA provides has also helped students figure out what they want to study and the types of careers they want to pursue—and sometimes that’s not marketing, which is okay.  

When Barber started at the college 10 years ago, there were about 20 students in the marketing department—now, they’re up to about 400. 

Barber credits these successes to the community DECA creates, as it’s an opportunity for students to be part of a team and get to know other students. In addition, he said knowing other people in their major helps students stick with a program and complete their degree. They now have people to study with and partners for group projects. Barber said this has been particularly important since the COVID-19 pandemic, as some students question the value of higher education. 

“Immediately at the very end of the tournament, you really start to see friendships beginning to form, because now they have the shared experience that they can talk about with each other when they’re in class,” Barber said. “And that’s the thing that I love the most, more than winning, seeing how just participating in the activity together is the catalyst for a lot of friendships. It’s building that community.”