Nearly 300 students gathered at Woodland High School for the Future Business Leaders (FBLA) of America Winter Conference where student teams from 22 schools in Southwest Washington competed in 70 events ranging from graphic and website design to job interviews and budgeting for businesses along with specialized workshops to train students for business careers after high school. This year featured new events including Journalism and Organizational Leadership along with many format changes from previous competitions.

The day begins with FBLA Southwest Region Advisor Bob Berrigan, a teacher from Heritage High School in Evergreen Public Schools, providing instruction to volunteers who include business owners, political representatives, and community members from around the state. These volunteers serve as receptionists, preparation assistants, judges, and organizers for the massive event. “Time management continues to be complex as the timing of each competition is a priority in ensuring every team has fair preparation time,” explained Berrigan. “We have a great outpouring of judges who tell me amazing stories about their time watching high school students perform in a professional environment and demonstrating the promise of future generations.”

This marks the second year for Woodland High School as the location for the FBLA conference as it grew too large for other schools in the area. “Thanks to Woodland’s brand-new high school, we have plenty of room to put on the conference with all of its different events and competitions,” said Rose Ruff, the business teacher at Woodland High who serves as the lead organizer for the event. “The new high school is such a beautiful venue allowing the students, coaches, and judges to have a great time enjoying the ample space provided by our wonderful facility.”

Lea Drees, a junior German exchange student at Woodland High School, joined FBLA for the first time this year. “Being from Germany, I really wanted to try something new, and since I’m interested in design, I decided to compete in graphic design,” she said. “Time management is definitely the biggest challenge as there’s a lot of work in preparing, but there’s so much camaraderie and teamwork in the club that we all help each other out.”

Volunteering at the conference provides opportunities for community members to see local students excel. This year, Woodland Mayor Pro Tem Susan Humbyrd served as a judge for the conference after hearing about FBLA from a presentation at the local Rotary Club. “I am all about getting teenagers involved in their communities and FBLA seems like a fabulous start,” she explained. “I had such a good time and was so impressed with all of the presenters who were professional, interactive, and made their projects so exciting to watch!”

Participating in FBLA helps students prepare for careers after high school, and, sometimes, can help students land a great job just because they have their participation listed on their resume. “I had a student apply for a ditch-digging job who was offered a quality office job during her interview,” said Kathy Schmit, a business and technology teacher at Kalama High School. “The interviewer saw that she had participated in FBLA and offered her a better job than the one she was applying for because of FBLA.”

Schmit graduated from Woodland High School, but didn’t participate in FBLA while she was there. “I really regret not taking advantage of the FBLA club while I was in school,” she said. “Students rise to meet the expectations we set for them, and now, I have kids come back 10 years after graduating to tell me how their work conferences are identical to FBLA and how FBLA gave them confidence in their careers and professional lives.”

With 70 different events, FBLA offers something to fit the interests of nearly any student, and helps shy students learn to reach out. “I love seeing kids jump in, find an event that fits their personality, and see how rewarding FBLA can be,” said Kathy Scobba, a business education teacher for Washougal School District. “I had a student who spoke maybe two words her entire freshman year in FBLA, but by her senior year, she was speaking in front of an audience of 2,000 attendees.”

FBLA advisers helped arrange for students at Woodland High School and other schools in the area to receive Microsoft Certified Solution Expert (MCSE) certifications in Microsoft Office, Microsoft Active Server Pages (ASP), and many more by taking classes and participating in FBLA. Microsoft waives the cost of credential testing which can cost hundreds of dollars. “Having MCSE credentials enables students to work while attending college to pay their tuition or get decent office jobs right out of high school,” said Schmit. “Thanks to certification, students graduate even more prepared for the professional world than ever before.”

The biggest challenge facing the FBLA advisers is coordinating the event with its 70 events including more than 30 speaking competitions. “Coordinating all the moving parts can be a nightmare to make sure they’re all working together, but we have a great team of people working to get it done,” said Berrigan. “What inspires me is seeing the students change over time; one of my students was going to drop out of school before I got him involved in FBLA and his participation motivated him to stay in school.”

Any interested student can join the Future Business Leaders of America which offers competitions in banking and financial systems; business ethics; client service; 3D animation; computer game and simulation programming; emerging business issues, entrepreneurship; impromptu speaking; and much more. For Ruff, she enjoys the coaching aspect of being the FBLA Advisor for Woodland High School. “Coaching FBLA is similar to coaching any other activity except the kids need to be much more independent in FBLA,” explained Ruff. “Their competitive events in FBLA require them to be on top of managing their time as they prepare for their competitions.”

For more information on FBLA, you can visit their website at