Career Student Organizations

Career Student Organizations (CSOs) add real-world relevance to classroom learning

Experience gained enhances success in career and college

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If you want to witness some of the best and the brightest among Nebraska high school students, a Career Student Organization (CSO) is a good place to start.

Each Career Student Organization is focused on specific career areas or significant area such as community and family. CSO activity is cocurricular, not extracurricular like sports. Cocurricular means students are typically taking classes related to the organization, because the knowledge gained in class is applied toward competitions and career preparation that are integral to CSO activity. Students in CSOs can also simply have an interest in that particular career area.

These organizations are closely tied to Career Education in Nebraska schools, providing opportunities for students to further develop skills in a specific career area—as well as gain experience in teamwork, collaboration, leadership, public speaking and community service. From business to agriculture, from health care to skilled trades, from computer technology to entrepreneurship—CSOs help students apply classroom learning to the real world, while gathering experience that builds their resumés for career and college.

There are seven different Career Student Organizations offered in Nebraska schools, though not all CSOs are available in all schools. CSOs in Nebraska include:

Students in CSOs get involved in community service projects and take part in state competitions that hone their skills and can lead to competition on the national stage. Some CSO students rise to leadership positions within their local organizations—as well on the national and international level.

CSOs connect classroom learning with real-world experience. “Students are doing hands-on activities, applying core subject areas by using them in a presentation or competition setting,” said Gwen Davidson, marketing instructor and DECA advisor at Hastings Senior High School. “I know students that are not particularly good math students, but they are amazing machinists who are designing precision tooling; or they are amazing at figuring square footage when painting a room—or applying high end mathematics to solve a technical challenge. It’s about matching up that math with something they can relate to.”

CSOs do a good job of integrating people from various backgrounds and with different levels of academic achievement—an environment very similar to the workplace.

The skills developed in CSOs show up in the academic classroom as well, according to Nancy Burkhart, FEA advisor at Omaha Burke. “One of our honors English teachers says she can always tell the students who have been in FEA, because when they present in front of the class, it’s different,” she said. “They are more organized. They use different strategies.” Burkhart said the experiences gained in a Career Student Organization can change students’ self image and their view of the future. “I’ve seen the light bulb go on for a number of students. They feel confident that they can tackle more—and it helps them realize that attending a two-year or four-year college is important in order to reach their career goals.”

Skills USA advisor Kurt Holliday, who is also an athletic coach at Seward High, sees a parallel in what he does in his Skills USA program. “You’re trying to prepare students for employment or postsecondary education,” he said. “You’re still coaching them; you’re coaching them for the real world.”