May 18, 2024

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Trio of St. Mary’s students qualify for international business competition

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Three St. Mary’s High School students have qualified for a prestigious international competition meant to prepare emerging leaders and entrepreneurs.

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Rose Merritt, Islay Graham and Jiya Kukreja are headed to the DECA International Career Development Conference in California in April to compete against some of the brightest young business minds in the world.

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The DECA International Career Development Conference in Anaheim, Calif. will be host to more than 20,000 high school students, teacher advisors and business professionals over a three-day competition from April 27 to 30.

DECA, which stands for Demonstrating Excellence, Celebrating Achievement, is an organization of competitive high school and post-secondary business clubs that offers a series of workshops, conferences, and competitions.

Students compete as individuals or in teams at the regional level before moving on to provincials in Toronto if they are successful. If successful at the provincial competition, students proceed to international competition.

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There are 13,000 DECA members in Ontario and more than 215,000 members worldwide.

The DECA Business Club at St. Mary’s is one of those members and three of its students are set to hit the international stage.

Merritt qualified by scoring high enough on a 100-question multiple choice exam at the regional competition and then by giving a 15-minute presentation at the DECA provincial competition in early February – a competition that features more than 6,000 students over three days in Toronto.

The Grade 12 student formulated her winning idea with the help of some people on her bus while riding to a co-op placement at Bruce Power. Merritt’s Open Dining project aims to help provide lower-income people and families in the community with a free restaurant experience.

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“I was speaking with people on the bus and they mentioned there was a lot of food bank dependency in our area. I thought this would be a great way to help solve that problem,” Merritt said.

The Open Dining project builds off initiatives in Stratford and elsewhere. In those initiatives, diners can prepay for meals and leave the receipts at the restaurant so community members can simply come in, select a receipt and get a free meal or coffee.

In Merritt’s Open Dining project plan, instead of diners purchasing meals, corporate and community sponsors would work directly with the food bank to fund dining “tickets” with each ticket worth $30 at a participating restaurant with the community.

Rose Merritt's Open Dining concept helped the Grade 12 St. Mary's High School qualify for the DECA International Career Development Conference in California this April. Photo supplied
Rose Merritt’s Open Dining concept helped the Grade 12 St. Mary’s High School qualify for the DECA International Career Development Conference in California this April. Photo supplied

Merritt said the benefit of the Open Dining plan is that it provides a more structured approach the the “pay-it-forward” model and gives diners a more flexible option, rather than relying on meals already purchased.

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Merritt said it’s a win-win for restaurants that can engage in charity work within their community while growing a customer base that wouldn’t have previously been able to afford to eat at the establishment.

“Restaurant experiences are really nice. A lot of people like to go out for special occasions. This would give them the opportunity to do that,” Merritt said. “The research I did indicates this could work in the area, it’s definitely necessary.”

Merritt’s presentation ranked in the top seven in her category at provincials, earning her a berth into the international competition.

Merritt is heading to university next year. She joined St. Mary’s DECA club this year and said it has helped to improve her public speaking.

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“It’s a wonderful opportunity and gives students a lot of experience in a lot of areas they wouldn’t otherwise be able to see or work on,” she said.

Graham and Kukreja are the creators of the Pencil Project, which is dedicated to showcasing the narratives of first-generation immigrants in Grey and Bruce counties.

The pair of Grade 12 students began The Pencil Project, along with former St. Mary’s valedictorian Heavlyn Sekyere, who now attends the University of Waterloo.

The students compiled the stories of new immigrants and first-generation Canadians who now call the Grey-Bruce area home. Some of the stories have now been published. The book Pencilling It In: 27 Stories of Success Achieved by Grey-Bruce Newcomers will officially be unveiled at a launch party on Thursday, March 28, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Owen Sound Library.

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Graham and Kukreja have said it’s their goal to have a copy of the book available at each of the public libraries in Grey and Bruce counties.

Kukreja’s family moved to Canada from India when she was in Grade 4. Today, the Grade 12 student is the school’s student council president, a two-time recipient of the Applause Breakfast award and was her school’s MVP for badminton and volleyball.

Graham first moved to the area in 2007. She is a four-time Best of Fair winner at the Bluewater Regional Science and Technology Fair and received the platinum award as the Best Junior Science project in Canada at the Canada Wide Science Fair in Fredericton, New Brunswick for her study of the endangered Great Lakes Piping Plover.

Merritt, Graham and Kukreja aren’t the first students from the Owen Sound school to qualify for the DECA international competition.

In 2018, Sasha Dobisz and Troy Sgro from Owen Sound qualified for the big show.

St. Mary’s began its DECA club chapter in 2016 under the guidance of Andrew Low and Kristina Simons.

To help the students cover the cost of the students’ travel to the competition donations can be made by visiting and making a donation to St. Mary’s with a note in the message section detailing the donation is for the DECA team. All donations over $20 are eligible for a tax credit. A receipt will be issued at check out.

Or, call the school at 519-376-4278 ext. 113.

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