When 20-year-old Paige Mentzer heard the Future Business Leaders of America’s (FBLA) National Collegiate Career Connections Conference was coming to Des Moines, she jumped at the chance to participate in her second year at the event.  

Each year, the National Collegiate Career Connections Conference is held in two locations across the country and provides opportunities for FBLA collegiate members and other college students to strengthen professional skills and network with local employers before entering the workforce. This year along with Charlotte, N.C., Des Moines served as the host for the conference on Oct. 26-28 and saw over 250 students attend. 

“I had such a great experience last year at the conference in Omaha that I knew I wanted to attend again,” Mentzer said. “It was a moment that hit me that I was where I was supposed to be, meeting people in the industry, networking with other students and learning new skills.” 

Students participating in this year’s conference were able to participate in fast-paced professional development opportunities, such as mock interviews, professional headshots and networking events. The conference also featured presentations on recruitment, corporate citizenship and employee benefits, and onsite tours and interview opportunities with some of the area’s top employers were offered to attendees. 

Paige Mentzer

“The National Collegiate Career Connections Conference brings together students and valuable opportunities,” said Cale Hutchings, education program consultant for the Iowa Department of Education. “The mix of activities and networking at the conference provides a well-rounded experience for students who are preparing to start their careers.” 

Mentzer, a second-year student at Des Moines Area Community College and current state officer for FBLA, noted she was most looking forward to participating in the case study during the conference. This opportunity provides a real-world business scenario where student teams provide proposals on how to address a challenging work situation. 

“It’s a real question from a real local business that requires you to work together and think through how you would handle the problem,” she said. “You receive score sheets and in-depth feedback on the areas you did well and the areas you can improve on. It’s a cool experience.”

FBLA is one of Iowa’s featured career and technical student organizations (CTSO) that offers students opportunities to apply skills they have developed in classrooms in practice events at conferences and  competitions, like the National Collegiate Career Connections Conference. FBLA focuses on business leadership and assists more than 230,000 student members each year. Participation in CTSOs like FBLA help students explore career paths, make connections with businesses and strengthen technical and professional skills. 

Paige Mentzer

“I know from my experience in FBLA and at the conference, I have gained a lot of confidence in myself as a student and in my future career,” Mentzer said. “It’s a low-risk way to learn interview and networking skills or your elevator pitch. It’s been very rewarding.” 

Mentzer is slated to receive her associate degree in marketing and management next spring. Afterwards, she plans to work full-time while pursuing her bachelor’s degree in business administration online at the University of Northern Iowa. She hopes to one day work in business strategy or intelligence and knows with hard work, big things are ahead of her. 

“Before I joined FBLA, I didn’t know what I was doing or have the confidence or passion I do now,” she said. “Now, I have connections and people who will go to bat for me. I have a big personality and am confident that I can get the job done.” 

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