Being prepared for the first year on a college campus is easier said than done sometimes. But for students Abby Renoux and John Woodward, they are more than just prepared; they are ready to thrive. Armed with their collegiate memberships to Business Professionals of America, a career and technical student organization (CTSO), Renoux and Woodward already have what it takes to succeed, with strong professional skills, valuable connections and confidence to prosper not only in college but also in future career pathways.

BPA students

Memberships to collegiate CTSOs are traditionally not as common as in high school chapters, but Renoux, 19, and Woodward, 18, both advocate for the benefits of collegiate membership. Each of them became involved in Business Professionals of America, better known as BPA, early in their high school careers and continued their involvement in college to reach for their maximum potential.

“I have come so far and didn’t want to stop my growth,” Renoux said. “A lot of my leadership skills have come through BPA. If I want to continue growing, both personally and professionally, I have to continue my involvement with the organization.”

Renoux is attending her first semester at the University of Northern Iowa as business major, building on her associate degree in liberal arts from Kirkwood Community College. A local BPA chapter is not currently offered on campus, so Renoux found a virtual chapter that joins members together nationwide.

“It was an easy decision for me to join the virtual chapter,” she said. “If your campus doesn’t have a local one, sign up and join virtually. It’s a unique way to meet people across the country and stay engaged. BPA works hard to give us a quality experience even though it is virtual.”

BPA serves over 45,000 members and 1,800 chapters worldwide and focuses on developing leadership skills within the business and information technology fields. Like other CTSOs featured in Iowa, BPA helps students strengthen professional and technical skills learned in classrooms through competitions, conferences and networking opportunities. In collegiate chapters, BPA also provides valuable experiences for students to prepare for entering the workforce.

“Career and technical student organizations like BPA provide high-value opportunities for students in both secondary and postsecondary institutions and help prepare them for their futures,” said Dennis Harden, section chief for the Bureau of Community Colleges and Postsecondary Readiness at the Iowa Department of Education. “Having students who are skilled, confident and well-prepared will strengthen Iowa’s future workforce as well as our local communities.”

For Woodward, he has just wrapped up his first semester finals at the University of Iowa where he is a double-major in business and physiology. This Iowa City-native notes that BPA has assisted him greatly this year in developing professional skills and stepping outside of his usual boundaries.

“BPA isn’t just for high schoolers,” he said. “I feel that being a part of BPA has helped me grow as a college student. I can get out of my comfort zone now and feel comfortable when approaching new people. These are useful skills to have in college and as I prepare for life after graduation.”

Along with Renoux, who serves as the national secretary for the secondary division, Woodward was elected as an executive officer for BPA. He currently is serving as the national parliamentarian for the secondary division, which allows him to provide guidance to local BPA chapters and plan high-profile activities for the organization such as the 2024 National Leadership Conference in Chicago next May.

“I like being a leader for BPA,” he said. “It allows me to give back to the organization that has given me so much and have fun while continuing to develop my leadership and professional skills.”

Both Renoux and Woodward are having busy college lives this year, navigating new classes, people and landscapes. Serving as not only members but also national officers on the BPA executive council takes even more time, but they would agree that it is worth it.

“I think BPA has helped me in every aspect of my life,” Renoux said. “It’s rewarding to know I can go into a room and create a connection due to the skills I’ve learned. It’s a great community to be in. I’ll be a part of it until they kick me out.”