GENEVA – For the first time in the history of Geneva High School, one of its students was elected president of Illinois DECA, and it’s only the second time the school has had a state officer.
DECA stands for Distributive Education Clubs of America, a high school and college program that prepares emerging leaders and entrepreneurs for careers in marketing, finance, hospitality and management.
Meet senior Minzie Choi, 17, elected at the DECA fall conference Oct. 3 in Rosemont.
Minzie not only leads more than 1,500 DECA students in the Illinois chapter, but she is co-president of 145 students in the high school chapter. A nonprofit based in Aurora, DECA has more than 180,000 high school members internationally, according to its website, www.ildeca.org.
“Business was something I excelled at naturally with my personality,” Minzie said. “And my dad is an entrepreneur and my mom, too, she has her own business. That helped me fit into the business world fairly easily.”
Minzie said she will lead the state action team in managing events for local chapters. The events teach participants to develop an entrepreneurial mindset using virtual business models.
One example is when participants are given a business scenario – with a problem – and a time limit to solve it.
“You present your proposed solution to the business scenario in front of a judge,” Minzie said. “It’s almost as if it were a business pitch and these judges are business professionals. That’s where the public speaking development comes in. You are learning certain skills, like how to shake hands the right way, to maintain eye contact, to speak with clarity and confidence.”
DECA also teaches its members to be creative.
“Business is not always a one-way street. You can create many different solutions to different scenarios,” Minzie said. “It is essential in business to be able to come up with solutions.”
Gaining professional skills
Minzie’s involvement in DECA almost didn’t happen.
“I started my freshman year during COVID, 2020-21 because my friend wanted someone to go with her to the first meeting,” Minzie said. “After that, I started to get a little more involved in it and DECA was actually a lot of fun.”
Minzie said she kept going to meetings because she was getting something out of it.
“I felt like it was a really unique way to gain professional skills, to learn how to have a professional mindset through DECA, to learn how to speak and act professionally,” Minzie said. “I learned how to be confident and carry myself in a way that was mature. I learned how to act beyond high school and in professional settings.”
Minzie said she wanted to pursue a medical career ever since she was little because her two younger sisters both have Type 1 diabetes.
“I saw how all these doctors and nurses really supported our family and how they were able to help my sisters,” Minzie said. “Because of that, I wanted to be a doctor as the best way for me to be able to help other people. I wanted to be a radiologist.”
DECA changed that. Minzie said she wants to combine her passion for business with medicine as a hospital administrator.
Failure led to success
Getting to be president of Illinois DECA was not an easy path.
It’s a complicated four-part application process involving testing and interviewing with past Illinois DECA state officers who now are business professionals.
Each participating high school gets two delegates to vote for state officers, culling the initial submissions down from two dozen to 10 at the annual fall conference.
The candidates have to give speeches. First comes a two-minute speech on why they want to be a state officer.
The 10 are culled down to three finalists who give one-minute speeches and then the president is chosen.
“I prepared my two-minute speech. I ran through it so many times, I could have written it all over my wall,” Minzie said about last year’s preparation. “I had memorized every single word and exactly how I was going to present it. … I did not make it past the first speech round.”
She used last year’s failure to prepare for this year’s application.
“I talked to a lot of people about where I had gone wrong last year and fixed as much as I could,” Minzie said. “I would not be where I am if I had not failed the first time that I tried.”
Minzie’s mother, Hyesoo, recalled how devastated her daughter was.
“She walked in the door and broke down and started crying,” Hyesoo said. “I never saw her crushed like that. Anything she worked at always worked in her favor. I wondered where she was going to go from here. She picked herself right back up and tried 10 times harder.”
Hyesoo said the failure last year was a humbling experience that taught Minzie that sometimes things don’t work out no matter how well you plan or how hard you work.
“Your fate was in somebody else’s hand,” Hyesoo said. “But in the process, she learned how to reach the audience with the right material.”
Minzie’s father, Dan Choi, a District 304 school board member, said they were proud of how she used last year’s failure as a learning experience.
“She had not had a lot of setbacks for things she wanted,” Dan said. “Every team she tried out for, she made. We were super proud of how she overcame … and made herself a better candidate the following year.”
DECA adviser and business education teacher Jamie Dunlap echoed the sentiment
“Kids have to learn through the hard knocks – the mom part of me comes out when dealing with these kids,” Dunlap said. “My heart was broken for Minzie. She worked her fanny off to get that position. But she brushed herself off and said, ‘OK. On to next year.’ She’s just a little dynamo. She is a phenomenal young lady.”