The snow and a one-hour delay didn’t stop 100 Rhode Island high school students from attending their Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) conference at JWU’s Providence Campus.
THE RI STATE OFFICERS (FROM LEFT TO RIGHT): NICOLE MEDEIROS, PRESIDENT; JESSICA CATERSON, VICE PRESIDENT; FRED BEBE, SECRETARY; JASON PAGE, TREASURER; HOLLY VIPHAKONE, REPORTER ; ARI DULCHINOS, WEBMASTER.
The State Fall Leadership Conference (SFLC) was held on November 16th. The prior day’s snow that blanketed Harborside Campus may have put the students behind schedule, but the late start did nothing to diminish their energy. They chattered excitedly over a continental breakfast spread before heading into the Culinary Amphitheater to begin the presentation.
FBLA’s Rhode Island chapter boasts members from all over the state. Students from Lincoln High School, Barrington High School, Cumberland High School, Westerly High School and St. Raphael Academy were in attendance. Dr. Robert Brooks, RI-FBLA’s state advisor, kicked things off by introducing the state president, Nicole Medeiros of St. Raphael Academy. The entire room rose for the Pledge of Allegiance, then Medeiros introduced the speakers.
The keynote speaker was Dean Mistretta '14 MBA, an assistant professor in JWU's College of Hospitality. Though he’s not a business professor, Mistretta’s story was all about persevering as a businessman. He captivated the audience from the beginning with his opening remarks. “I’d like to start by saying today is my 55th birthday,” he said to the room, earning cheers and applause. “I’d like to follow by saying I lied — I just needed some positive approval from you guys.” The students erupted into laughter at the joke.
If I could get through that failure, I could get through anything.”
From there, he had their full attention as he told the story of how he came to be where he is. Despite a failed nightclub venture and being let go from a catering company he helped build, Mistretta’s story was still a very positive one. “All of that embarrassment, shame and disappointment turned me into a killer. Nothing was going to stop me — I was going to go after it again,” he said. “Whatever I wanted in my life, I knew I could get it. If I could get through that failure, I could get through anything.”
DEAN MISTRETTA SHARING HIS STORY WITH THE AUDIENCE.
He returned to the nightclub industry, and was eventually offered a job running a new catering company. That company later worked with JWU to provide experiential education for students. Working with those students inspired Mistretta to pursue a master’s degree at JWU.
Now, as an assistant professor at JWU and the director of Decadent Catering Company, he proves that if you’re willing to work hard and not give up, you can do just about anything.
I feel like I’ve finally found success in my life.”
“I have to pinch myself sometimes to even believe that I’m here. I feel like I’ve finally found success in my life,” he said at the end of his talk.
After Mistretta inspired the students with his JWU story, the presentation was turned over to Justin Mercier, a JWU admissions representative. He shared information about the new programs JWU is offering and the scholarships the students could receive as an FBLA member. FBLA's collegiate level, Phi Beta Lambda (PBL), is one of JWU’s National Student Organizations (NSO), and more than 95% of NSO students have received scholarships out of high school. Mercier also highlighted some of the recent accomplishments of JWU NSO students, including a SkillsUSA student who will represent the U.S. at the World Commercial Baking competition in Russia next year.
"Johnson & Wales takes great pride in our NSOs," said Mercier. "We support FBLA members by awarding multiple scholarships, hosting these conferences and providing an easy transition to the collegiate level of the organization."
The single best decision I made in high school was joining FBLA.”
Current JWU student Daniel Willis '20 can attest to this, since he joined FBLA back in his first year of high school and is now building an active PBL chapter for JWU. "The single best decision I made in high school was joining FBLA. The competitions and leadership experience you gain is unparalleled," Willis said. "It's one of the few organizations that can set you up for success throughout high school, college and beyond. That's why I'm currently working to re-structure JWU's PBL chapter to become a dominating force in competitions.”
MISTRETTA ANSWERING QUESTIONS DURING HIS WORKSHOP SESSION.
After the opening presentation, the students were split into three groups to attend workshops while state officers remained in the Amphitheater for leadership training. Workshop themes included setting your goals and academic plans with Robert Silva, working with community and charity organizations with Amy Eldridge and continuing the keynote speech with Dean Mistretta, who delved further into his story and answered questions from the students. The leadership training discussed the roles of each member, fundraising, competitions and more.
I can't wait for further events to take place at JWU."
"JWU was very hospitable and the facilities were a wonderful asset to the learning during the conference," said Fred Bebe, the RI FBLA State Secretary. "I can't wait for further events to take place at JWU." Bebe is a sophomore at Tiverton High School, and is considering JWU for his future college plans.
After the workshops, students relaxed and had lunch at Red Sauce before returning to the Amphitheater to see their 2018-19 officers be officially installed to office. The officers were sworn in by Allyssa Covert, the southern-region vice president of PBL. The ceremony was simple, and ended with smiles and cheers for their newly installed officers.
“This year’s FBLA state conference was an empowering experience for both those who ran the event and those who attended," said Holly Viphakone, the RI FBLA reporter/historian. Viphakone is a junior at Woonsocket High School. "Until recently, I wasn't considering JWU for college," she said. "However, after the SFLC I spoke to a member of the JWU staff about the university, and now I may be interested. I want to study either international relations or international business."The good news is Viphakone will get a chance to learn more about JWU and see more of the Providence campus when the FBLA returns to JWU for their next state leadership conference on February 27th at the John J. Bowen Center.