The State Capitol was the perfect backdrop last week as student leaders from across the state took part in the annual Career and Technical Student Organizations (CTSO) Creating Outstanding Officers through Leadership (COOL) training. Held at the Grimes Building, home of the Iowa Department of Education, student officers participated in lively, hands-on activities to help develop and strengthen their budding leadership skills.

Forty-five student officers representing Iowa’s eight CTSOs attended the full-day learning event, which highlighted their teamwork, communication and professional skill abilities. Facilitated by youth leadership trainer, Ashley Brinton, the CTSO COOL training provided students with opportunities to build confidence and motivational skills that will be helpful to them in their upcoming year as state officers next fall.  

CTSO COOL training

“It’s important that we invest in our students who will be serving as CTSO state officers and potentially as Iowa’s future leaders,” said Cale Hutchings. “The leadership skills that they will hone today will not only help them as state officers but also as individuals who are discovering their college and career pathways. This skill development can help them far beyond their year as a state officer.”

CTSOs enhance career and technical education (CTE) programs and provide opportunities for students to apply the skills they have developed in classrooms through conferences, competitions, community service events, worksite visits and other activities. More than just an extracurricular activity, participation in CTSOs can help students explore potential career paths, make connections in the community and strengthen desirable soft skills, such as communication, organization and time management, among others.  

Student officers from all eight CTSOs gathered for this year’s training and took advantage of the networking and learning opportunities. Representatives from DECA, HOSA-Future Health Professionals, Business Professionals of America (BPA), Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA), SkillsUSA, Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA), FFA Association and Technology Student Association joined in this year’s CTSO COOL training event.  

Alyssa Griffin, SkillsUSA president
Alyssa Griffin, SkillsUSA president

Alyssa Griffin from Lewis Central High School in Council Bluffs represented SkillsUSA, a CTSO highlighting skilled trades and leadership in applied sciences and industrial technology educational programming. Serving in the role as president, Alyssa was attending her first CTSO COOL training to meet her fellow officers and brainstorm ideas on how to grow the organization.

“I’m excited to help SkillsUSA grow, especially with girls,” she said. “SkillsUSA and the trades are often thought about as just for guys, but I want to inspire other girls that they can and should join, too.”

As a third-year member of SkillsUSA, Alyssa is developing skills that will be useful to her after graduation. She plans to pursue studies in architectural engineering.

“You can really use the skills you learn from being in a CTSO, whether at school, in a job, in relationships and everyday life,” she said.

Will Woodard, DECA vice president of career development
Will Woodard, DECA vice president of career development

For Burlington Community High School student Will Woodard, he was excited to get started in his role as vice president of career development for DECA, a CTSO focused on business leadership and professional skill building.

“We hit an all-time high in membership last year in Iowa, and this year, we want to grow it even bigger,” he said. “As a leader, I’m here to help students prepare and develop skills that they can use in competitions, both at state and internationally, and in professional settings.”

As a senior this fall, Will is participating in his fourth year in DECA, where he also serves as president of his local school chapter. Through his participation, he believes his own professional skills have grown exponentially.

“I have learned so much about professionalism and in areas like leadership, public speaking, problem-solving and business-specific skills and terminology,” he said.

CTSO COOL training

Will believes his membership within DECA will help him get a head start on his career goals, and he plans to attend a four-year college, majoring in business after high school.

CTSOs are a valuable outlet for students to expand their skill sets and prepare for further education, training and the workforce, and the CTSO COOL training provides a kickstart to the activities that will begin next fall for state officers and other members.

“We have an exciting school year ahead of us,” Hutchings said. “We look forward to working with all of the CTSOs and their state officers to provide quality skill development and leadership opportunities for over 35,000 student members across the state.”