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student organizations.

Starting a career and technical student organization (CTSO) at your school can prove beneficial to your students and community in many ways. Perhaps the greatest benefit is allowing your students to compete in the various competitive events that CTSOs offer, which could ultimately have an effect on guiding your students toward a better career path. The National Research Center for Career and Technical Education (2007) noted that students who participate in CTSOs demonstrate higher levels of employability than either students who are enrolled in career and technical education (CTE) courses but not CTSO members or general education students. Distributive Education Clubs of America (DECA), a U.S. Department of Education-recognized CTSO, found that more than 70 percent of attendees at its 2009 International Development Conference indicated that membership in DECA had influenced their future career plans. In the National Research Center for College and University Admissions' 2011 annual report to the Family, Career, and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA), FCCLA members reported that career preparation was among the top skills they developed through their involvement in the organization. Fiscusand Dixon Hyslop (2008) furthered these sentiments by stating, "CTSOs have proven their ability to connect education and careers" (p. 12).

For over a decade political, civic, and industry leaders have pushed for educational reform on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines (National Academies, 2006; National Center for Education and the Economy, 2007). Many CTE courses offer aspects of STEM education (Stone, 2011), and some even aid in education reform (Brand, 2008). CTSOs further aid in education reformation, as they "provide a structure that promotes hands-on contextual learning of classroom curriculum and helps students see the real-world value of their academic studies" (New Jersey Department of Education, 2008, p. 5). Further, Fiscus and Dixon Hyslop (2008) believe that CTSOs should be co-curricular (a term used to determine the relevance of a CTSO and the curriculum with which the CTSO is affiliated) and that, "educators have found that CTSOs are a powerful instructional tool that works best when it is integrated into [a] CTE curriculum" (p. 3). Lastly, Alfeld and Stone (2007) noted that, when comparing students enrolled in CTE courses with a CTSO, students enrolled in CTE courses without a CTSO, and regular education students, those who were in a CTSO showed a positive association between the CTSO participation and academic motivation, academic engagement, grades, self-efficacy, and college aspirations, among others. The Annotations/Notes section of this learning object includes an example that illustrates how CTE teachers and academic teachers can collaborate with one another in order to further understanding of abstract geometric concepts taught in mathematics by utilizing Computer-Aided Design (CAD) software to visualize those concepts.

Why Have a CTSO at Your School?

CTSOs pride themselves on cultivating professionalism by effectively developing communication and collaboration skills among the students that they serve (Association for Career and Technical Education, 2011). One strength of CTSOs is their ability to apply academics in the context of real-world situations. Higher-order thinking skills are often integrated in many of the competitive events CTSOs offer, which fosters teamwork and collaboration, i.e., soft skills. Although few research studies on CTSOs have addressed the role of CTSO participation in developing these soft skills, (U.S. Department of Labor, 1992), some CTSOs purposefully integrate activities that incorporate them (National Research Center for Career and Technical Education, 2007). These soft skills, often referred to as 21st century skills or employability skills, as identified by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21), include myriad skills in which students must excel in order to be effective workers in the 21st century (2011). CTSOs are uniquely positioned to further instill these skill sets into their participants by integrating them into the competitive events and leadership initiatives they provide. At a typical CTSO state conference, students from around the state would have the opportunity to compete against one another in a variety of individual and team events. Competitive events ranging from very technical subjects (i.e., robotics engineering, structural engineering, video communications, digital imaging/desktop publishing, etc.) to more leadership-style events (i.e., parliamentary procedure, debate, extemporaneous speech/presentation, career exploration, etc.) are often offered at the conferences.

Perhaps the greatest attribute of CTSOs is their ability to provide leadership opportunities to their participants. Alfeld and Stone (2007) noted in their research that, from students' perspectives, participation in a CTSO had positive effects on their leadership and community service development, among other attributes. Ullrich, et al. (2007) echoed these findings when researching administrators' perspectives of students' leadership development skills by being involved in CTSOs. It should also be noted that CTSOs strive to further their participants' leadership skill development by encouraging them to run for office at all levels (school, state, national) of the organization (Colorado Community College System, 2011). CTSOs further integrate leadership skill development by incorporating leadership-branded competitions into their competitive events (Future Business Leaders of America, 2012). Some CTSOs, like the Technology Student Association (TSA), send a CD mailer each year to affiliated schools that provides leadership lessons and activities in addition to membership and competitive event information.


Alfeld, C., Stone, J. R., Aragon, S. R., Hansen, D. M., Zirkle, C., Connors, J., et al., (2007). Looking inside the black box: The value added by career and technical student organizations to students' high school experience. St. Paul, MN: National Research Center for Career and Technical Education, University of Minnesota.

Association for Career and Technical Education. (2011). Expanding career readiness through career and technical student organizations. Alexandria, VA.

Brand, B. (2008). Supporting high quality career and technical education through federal and state policy. Washington, DC: American Youth Policy Forum.

Colorado Community College System. The benefits of implementing a career and technical student organization. Retrieved from

DECA, Inc. "College and Career Ready,"

Fiscus, L. & Dixon Hyslop, A. (Eds.). (2008). Career and technology student organizations: A reference guide (3rd ed.). Washington, DC: Association for Career and Technical Education.

National Research Center for College and University Admissions, (n.d.). FCCLA: 2011 annual report.

New Jersey Department of Education. (2008). New Jersey career and technical student organizations policies and procedures manual. Trenton, NJ.

Partnership for 21st Century Skills. (2011). Learning for the 21st century: A report and mile guide for 21st century skills. Washington, DC.

Stone, J. R. (2011). Delivering STEM education through career and technical education schools and programs. Washington. DC: National Academies Press.

Ullrich, D. R., Pavelock, D., & Fazarro, D, (2007). Effectiveness of career and technology student organizations in Texas. Journal of Workforce Education and Development, 2(4).

Richard Colelli is a teacher at Southern Lehigh High School in Lehigh County, PA.

Hal Harrison is owner of Hal Harrison Production Services, LLC.

Jeremy V. Ernst is Associate Dean at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

Aaron C. Clark, DTE is Department Head at NC State University.

Daniel P. Kelly is Assistant Professor at Texas Tech University.

V. William DeLuca is Associate Professor Emeritus at NC State University.

STEM Teacher Learning ( provides state-of-the-art STEM professional development and continuing education (CEUs) for Technology and Engineering Education teachers. Visit this site to review the eighteen units researched and developed under a National Science Foundation-funded project to improve classroom instruction. STEM Teacher Learning provides these NSF-researched units to local school districts and teachers using cloud-based, self-paced learning and certifies completion. Contact training@ for more information.
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Title Annotation:premier PD
Author:Colelli, Richard; Harrison, Hal; Ernst, Jeremy V.; Clark, Aaron C.; Kelly, Daniel P.; DeLuca, V. Wil
Publication:Technology and Engineering Teacher
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2019
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