In Hosting High School DECA Students, Nichols Helps Future Business Leaders Emerge


DUDLEY, Mass.—Seventy budding business leaders and entrepreneurs from local high schools recently honed their pitching and presentation skills before a “DECA Day” judging panel of faculty and staff at Nichols College, a college of choice for business and leadership education.

For the past three years, students from DECA programs at Bartlett High School in Webster, Grafton and Northbridge high schools, Algonquin Regional High School in Northborough, and Nipmuc Regional High School in Upton, have sought the expertise of Nichols faculty and staff to polish their presentation skills before they head off to compete in a district-level DECA contest.

Two Grafton High School students present to Nichols College Professor Mauri Pelto, Ph.D.

DECA is an international association of high school and college students and teachers of marketing, management, and entrepreneurship in business, finance, hospitality, and marketing sales, and service. It holds annual district, regional, national, and international competitions; the local district competition will be held Jan. 11 in Boxborough, Mass. Bartlett, Grafton, and Northbridge students were at Nichols Nov. 28 to prepare for that event, during which teams from 18 high schools will compete.

In September, teams of two high school students were each given a fictional case study topic for which they had to determine a solution, or develop a business proposal to address certain needs. Their case study this year focused on how to rebrand a city-based hotel property. After spending the bulk of the fall strategizing and practicing, the students from Bartlett, Grafton, and Northbridge were ready Nov. 28 to make their 10-minute pitches to Nichols faculty and staff.

And their feedback was essential, according to Bartlett business teacher Maryanne Hoenig.

“The Nichols judges helped my 19 students with several aspects of presenting, which is a large part of the DECA program: the eye contact, the handshake, the expectations of answering their role-play questions concisely, and with details,” she explained.

Hoenig has been Bartlett’s DECA advisor for almost 20 years. She said it was a natural fit for Nichols to host DECA Day, as both organizations work with young emerging leaders and entrepreneurs in marketing, finance, hospitality, and management. 

“The faculty at Nichols teach as part of a business-related curriculum,” said Hoenig. “This is exactly what DECA is all about: preparing students for jobs in the business world or entrepreneurship.”

Rachel Ferreira

Nichols is a natural host for DECA Days because Nichols and DECA both share the mission of prepping emerging leaders to be career ready, according to Rachel Ferreira, assistant director of enrollment for peer engagement at Nichols College.

“The concept of challenging students to tackle real-world business problems and prep solutions quickly is something students experience with DECA and in Nichols College classrooms,” she said. “Because Nichols College faculty are in touch with what the professional world is looking for, they will not only give feedback as it relates to the case study but also the specific field the students are interested in.”

Hoenig explained that the Nichols DECA Day’s purpose was threefold: It was the first opportunity for them to see what the Jan. 11 DECA District Competition would be like; to put into practice the “21st Century Skills” they learned in class (critical thinking, problem solving, communication and collaboration, and creativity and innovation); and to experience a taste of a business career. Preparation also entailed dressing for the job; students visiting Nichols on DECA Day were all professionally dressed in business attire.

Professor Mauri Pelto, Ph.D., vice president for academic affairs at Nichols College

“They’re taking ownership of their education and career goals; they don’t have to do this,” Professor Mauri Pelto, Ph.D., vice president for academic affairs at Nichols College, said of the high school students. “We’re helping to empower these students.

Dr. Pelto served as one of the 25 Nichols judges. He listened to and observed two Grafton High School students present to him about what type of business the fictional city hotel should open on its ground floor. The students made a strong case for a “Common Coffee” café, as it would bring in the most revenue for the hotel. Dr. Pelto said they made good points and offered them advice on how to fine-tune their pitch.

After the Nichols judges provided feedback on how well the students performed—taking into account eye contact, format, conclusion, and how they answered follow-up questions—the students had an opportunity to tour the Nichols campus and enjoy lunch at Lombard Dining Hall, part of which is undergoing a facelift.


Nichols places a strong emphasis on supporting high school students in local communities and proudly offers several partnership programs. Earlier this year, it deepened its commitment to partnering with high school DECA and FBLA (Future Business Leaders of America) groups: Individual high school students who participate in DECA or FBLA programs and enroll at Nichols are eligible to receive the new Business Forward Scholarship.

In addition, DECA and FBLA teams that win practice competitions at Nichols will receive a grant toward travel to state- or regional-level tournaments.

Other ways Nichols partners with local high schools include the Nichols Honors Academy with Bartlett and Northbridge high schools, the College Connection for female students at Bartlett High School, offering an accelerator course for high school students for 10 consecutive semesters, and the Global Awareness Program partnership with Shepherd Hill Regional High School in Dudley. Articulation agreements for hospitality and accounting programs enable students to count their completed high school work as equivalent to specific Nichols courses.

Lorraine U. Martinelle is director of public relations and social media at Nichols College.

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