Old Mill a winner at Tenn. contest

NEIGHBORS

August 15, 2002|By Joni Guhne | Joni Guhne,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

THE FOUR-DAY national conference of the Future Business Leaders of America last month in Nashville, Tenn., was the scene of hard-fought competitions among the club's top members. The finals in the network design category had all the makings of a David-vs.-Goliath match.

Old Mill High School students Jon Bronson, Steve Brower and Adam Sawyer made it to the national competition sponsored by the 250,000-member organization by winning their school, regional and state contests. They arrived in Nashville ready to take on their teen-age counterparts from traditional technological powerhouse states such as New York and California.

For example, to qualify for the finals, the team from California's Silicon Valley had to defeat many more teams than the winners from smaller states like Maryland. The Silicon Valley team was so experienced it even had a network consulting business with its own business cards, said Old Mill FBLA club adviser Janet DeVore.

At the convention, qualifiers were given a written test that narrowed the field to 10 final teams, and Old Mill made the cut. The finalists had 15 minutes to analyze the problems of a fictitious company and 10 minutes to present a network solution. This was followed by five minutes of questioning by a panel of judges, an experience that DeVore called nothing less than a "grilling" of the students.

On top of knowing their subject, one of the big challenges was to design a presentation that the average person could understand, said Brower, a senior.

In the end, the team from Old Mill wasn't quite able to slay the giant, but the three young men came amazingly close when they were named second-place national winners.

"You have to look at it from the perspective of the quality of their competition to appreciate the accomplishment of our kids," DeVore said. Under any conditions, Maryland would be overjoyed to see its participants even make it to the finals, said DeVore, who teaches office systems management, a class for seniors at Old Mill.

The students understood the significance of their accomplishment. Minutes after they received their award, Sawyer was at his laptop, upgrading his resume.

"I don't think people realize how sophisticated these kids are with computers," said DeVore, who has taught at Old Mill since 1976. "When I started out as a business education teacher, I felt lucky to have electric typewriters in class."

Some of DeVore's students are in a work-study program - attending school half-day, working the rest of the day. She has a mix of students, she said, some preparing for college, others going directly into the work force.

"Quite a few work at NSA and Goddard," she said, "but the county makes up the bulk of hiring kids." She praised the county for the quality of the work experiences it offers.

Brower, who spent this summer as a medical research coordinator at the Veterans Administration's Maryland Health System, plans to study information technology in college to pursue his dream of owning a computer business. In the immediate future, because his two teammates have now graduated from Old Mill, he plans to recruit members for next year's convention in Dallas.

Brower said club members usually meet twice a month after school, often performing service projects in the community such as running carwashes and helping park cars at events sponsored by charitable organizations.

Also representing Old Mill at the conference were Philip McPhail, who placed in the final 15 in the job interview category, and Karen Jung, who competed in the economics category.

"No doubt about it," DeVore added. "I expect to hear wonderful things [about these students] in years to come."

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