Westwood goes west

Business students earn national honors

Westwood High School students visit Callifornia during their recent trip to the National Leadership Conference of the Business Professionals of America. Front row from left are: Amanda Matznick, Claire Gilles, Avery Mariuzza and Meg Harmon. Back row from left are: Aili Harmon, Makenzie Rajala, Katelyn Anttila, Brock Sundberg, Hunter LeClair, Trent Holmgren, Heidi Hinkens, AJ Suardini and Jacob Adriano. (Photo courtesy of Ronalyn Arseneau)

ISHPEMING — Westwood High School students have earned accolades for their business acumen — and a trip to Disneyland.

Westwood students garnered national awards at May’s National Leadership Conference of the Business Professionals of America, which took place in Anaheim, California.

BPA is a student organization that contributes to the preparation of global professionals through the advancement of leadership, citizenship, and academic and technological skills for students, who compete at the regional, state and national levels every year.

Thirteen Westwood students qualified to compete in Anaheim, and were among the approximately 6,000 students who came from around the United States.

They won eight top 10 awards, including Aili Harmon, who was a national champion in two events: SQL (Structured Query Language) Database Fundamentals and Financial Math & Analysis.

The Westwood BPA has a long history of success since it began in 1978, qualifying students for national competition every year since.

One of those students is junior Makenzie Rajala, who took second place in May in Anaheim in Legal Office Procedures after placing first at the state and regional competitions.

“That’s basically typing up documents and answering questions about that topic and different legal documents, and how they pertain to certain cases,” Rajala said.

She has taken many business classes at Westwood, having been involved this semester with the yearbook and an entrepreneurship course. Last semester, Rajala studied business administration, which allowed her to prepare for the BPA competition.

In fact, she believes all the Westwood businesses classes help get them ready.

Her entrepreneurship class, for example, was geared toward teaching kids how to get jobs.

“A lot of the classes pertain to a certain thing you want to do,” Rajala said, “and they’re really good about helping you find your own path.”

For example, the growing field of cybersecurity was a focus this year, but she also worked on legal documents, one of her specialties.

Rajala has another year of high school left, but wants to enter the business field, with cybersecurity or web development being possible career goals.

Whatever her chosen field, she’ll always have Anaheim.

“Anaheim was amazing,” Rajala said. “It was definitely a culture shock. It’s very different from here. It was really warm, so we had a great time. We had a lot of fun, getting to just walk around.”

And going to Disneyland.

“It’s different than any other theme park I’ve ever been because I’ve never been to Disneyland before,” she said. “We had a lot of fun. We went on all kinds of rides.”

Sophomore Avery Mariuzza placed third in Basic Office Systems & Procedures.

She said the event was stressful because there were many people in her competition, but obviously, she performed well enough to place in the top three.

Mariuzza also just enjoys the topic.

“It’s just really interesting because my mom works in an office, so I think I can see what she does, the documents she has to type and answer questions about it,” Mariuzza said.

Accompanying the students on their trip west were Ronalyn Arseneau and Sabina Villar, BPA advisers and business educators at Westwood.

The students who went to Anaheim competed at the regionals in Escanaba in January, with qualifiers taking part in the state competition in Grand Rapids in March.

The national event had a number of variables.

“Some of the contests have paper and pencil tests where they’re tested on their knowledge of the topic, but many of them are application tests where they’re on a computer and showing what they can do in that application, whether it be access for database applications or for some of these office contests,” Arseneau said.

Villar said BPA is a “wonderful opportunity” for the students, allowing them to explore different areas through different competition ranks.

“These kids have really honed their skills to even make it to that level, and it’s wonderful to see them succeed and try new things,” said Villar, who noted those skills could come in useful regardless of their future careers.

“There’s things that are not computerized or paper-pencil,” she said. “You also have interview skills, video production, graphic design.”

Harmon, a junior, also finished third in Integrated Office Applications, sixth in Administrative Support Concepts and eighth in Management/Marketing/Human Resources Concepts.

Sophomore Hunter LeClair took sixth place in Fundamental Wood Processing.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.