Capital High School’s Karey Conn never pictured herself in her current job as marketing business teacher and DECA adviser.

And, little did she know she would someday be named to the prestigious Montana DECA Hall of Fame.

She admits she was stunned to hear her name being called for the award at the February State DECA Conference.

She had no idea who the award was going to, she said, until she saw her husband step on stage -- as the “supportive man” behind a “great woman.”

Conn is just the 11th inductee to Montana DECA’s Hall of Fame in the state organization’s 66-year history, which is an association of marketing students.

It is the highest honor a DECA member can receive.

There are a lot of people who can speak to why Conn deserves the honor.

You can start in her classroom and watch her business and marketing students at work.

Thursday morning, her classroom was humming with quiet conversations as small teams of students worked together on business case studies.

The “business owner” challenge that morning was dealing with their hypothetical company’s recall of a blu-ray DVD player and the economic consequences.

The assignment is just one of the many ways Conn prepares her students for the real world.

Conn is passionate about a number of things that her students should learn -- from financial literacy and personal finance, to how to step into the work world, to doing community service.

And that’s probably where many Helenans may have seen Conn’s students.

For the past 17 years, as DECA adviser, Conn’s worked with her students to promote and run the popular annual Night to Shine talent show, a project done in cooperation with Helena High School’s DECA students.

CHS DECA students have also stepped up to help with such community events as the annual Montana NAMI Walk.

“We really do work on community service,” Conn said. Her students participate in the walk, but also find ways to boost involvement.

CHS School Counselor Jamie Bawden, a NAMI Walk volunteer, said Conn’s students do everything from setting up tables and kids activities to running CHS homeroom challenges to get more participants and pledges for the Walk.

Bawden is particularly grateful for DECA students helping with the Bruin Food Pantry that provides supplemental food for evenings and weekends for students who need it.

“It’s been phenomenal,” said Bawden. “We’re serving twice as many students -- 32 kids.”

DECA students do food drives, stock the food pantry once or twice a week and also did a survey of those using the pantry, changing the way food is distributed.

The program “morphed from ready-made bags for kids into letting them take what they want and need,” said Bawden.

“I think her enrollment numbers speak for themselves,” she said of Conn’s classes.

DECA club has 70 members. And they are excelling -- with 42 competing statewide at the recent DECA conference, and 32 of them going on to nationals in Anaheim, California.

“I’ve never had this many qualify,” said Conn.

Conn’s students are adept at taking the knowledge they learn and applying it, said CHS Principal Brett Zanto. “They’re using their skills out in the world.”

Conn estimates that about 30 percent of her DECA students go on to careers in marketing or business.

“What I enjoy,” said Zanto, “is DECA gets more students involved in school,” adding that the more they’re involved -- the more likely they are to graduate.

Twenty-one years ago, Conn started teaching at CHS in typing and accounting, she said. Then, one day, she was drafted to take over teaching marketing.

“It was a whole different world,” admitted Conn, but she took to it.

“It’s a lot of interaction with the kids,” she said. “I’ve created hundreds of relationships outside of high school. ...That’s probably been the most rewarding part.”

This year Conn announced that she will be stepping down as DECA adviser, but will continue to teach business and marketing.

Zanto is on the lookout for a replacement, but admits Conn’s leaving behind some “big shoes to fill.”

But perhaps the most important praise for Conn is from her students.

“She definitely wants to teach you everything she can,” said senior Belle Burk, who’s taken three years of business classes with Conn and is going to national DECA competitions for the third year.

“She wants you to take chances,” said Burk, having students look at career ideas from different points of view. “She wants you to pursue your dream.”

For Burk, that dream is to be an accountant, and Conn guided her in how to select the college with the best program for her.

“She’s very kind-hearted,” said Burk. “She’s definitely there for you, and she’s always willing to talk to you.”

Reporter Marga Lincoln can be reached at 447-4083 or marga.lincoln@helenair.com

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