Nebraska FCCLA's 2022 State Leadership's audience in a packed Pinnacle Bank Arena.
Nebraska FCCLA has been apart for three years, but finally reunited in early April for its state leadership conference in Lincoln at Pinnacle Bank Arena. Photo Courtesy of Kate DeCoste Photography.

1,092 days. 

That’s how long it’s been since the last in-person Nebraska Family, Career and Community Leaders of America State Leadership conference. In between all of those days was a global pandemic, long days spent on Zoom and a change in the group’s leadership. 

But as the 2022 FCCLA State Leadership conference came to an end on April 3, it marked the first in-person conference for FCCLA in nearly three years. 

The nation-wide organization aims to offer high school students with resources and materials related to consumer science curriculum while also putting together state conferences, including competitive events to showcase students’ skills and knowledge. 

Founded in 1945, FCCLA has been a constant presence in high schools around the country including Nebraska. Nebraska is home to 100 separate FCCLA chapters, 2,700 student members and 250 FCS teachers. 

Chelsey Greene, the current Nebraska State adviser, was in charge of organizing the conference, but since she took over the role in the middle of the pandemic in July 2020, the planning became  quite a learning process. 

“So, not having been in this role to host something in-person before was a huge learning curve for me, but we had some great conference staff that have been part of it in person,” Greene said. “I had no idea how we would have done it without their knowledge of how things happened in-person before.” 

This included organizing partnerships with multiple businesses and guest speakers to appear at the conference, including reserving Pinnacle Bank Arena and hotels and setting up extracirruclar activities, including a movie and dancing. 

Despite the challenges, the state conference went off without a hitch. 

But the state conference also gives a platform for students to start thinking about their post-high school plans.  

The state conference offers an opportunity for Lincoln businesses to appeal to the over 1,000 students who attended the event and might someday be future employees. One organization that took advantage of the three-day conference was the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce. President Jason Ball spoke at the conference. 

In addition to the industry connections that the state conference presents to students, the event also gives them an opportunity to compete using the knowledge and skills they’ve gained throughout their time with the school chapter. The competitions are known as STAR events — Students Taking Action with Recognition.

“Really, that means they (students) put a lot of work and effort into some sort of big project,” Greene said. “And then, when they are competing at the district, state or national level, they’re really sharing a recap of what they did.” 

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One of the many opportunities FCCLA gives is the chance for students to compete in STAR events which centers around real world skills. Photo Courtesy of Kate DeCoste Photography

This year, students competed in 33 events, ranging from sports nutrition to design. Each competitor presents to a panel of evaluators that grades each competitor based on a rubric rather than against each other. 

Bronze, silver and gold medals are handed out with the top two gaining eligibility to showcase their project at the National Leadership Conference, which takes place this summer in San Diego. 

All of those events contribute to the skill building theme that Nebraska FCCLA prides itself on. That also includes financial literacy, a key characteristic that has become a much more desirable skill in today’s world.

“Our competitive events and our programming are focused around human services, hospitality and tourism, education and training and visual arts and design,” Greene said. “But the content of those four program areas rest on a foundation of real world skills through FCS education, so that includes the financial literacy aspect, also the teamwork and the goal setting communication.” 

Students say they learn real life skills that they use after high school.  

Abby Fiske, a state officer at this year’s State Leadership Conference, agreed. 

“I actually plan on being an elementary and special education teacher and so education is one of the career pathways that FCCLA prepares you for,” Fiske said. “I’m very fortunate to have experienced STAR events and doing community service within my community, just to better understand not only youth, but also parents.” 

Fiske also praised the camaraderie of the FCCLA community. 

“But also FCCLA is just a place where members can be themselves and they can express ideas and thoughts,” Fiske said. “And then not only express them, but also turn them into either projects or stuff like that to really benefit the community around us.”  

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Minden native Abby Fiske, who joined FCCLA as a freshman, waves her final goodbye to the crowd on the final night of the State Leadership Conference. Photo Courtesy of Kate DeCoste Photography.

Fiske was like any other freshman entering high school, eager and ready to make their mark with any opportunity that came her way, she said. From Minden, Nebraska, Fiske found her crowd within Minden’s FCCLA chapter led by adviser Pam Johnson. After attending recruitment night, Fiske was hooked, attending every weekly meeting that she could. 

However, what really got her involved was taking on a STAR project. Along with her partner, they taught a fourth-grade class about grit, perseverance and growth mindset. They showed the importance of learning that young, so when those fourth-graders reach high school, they can use those skills to take advantage of all the new opportunities in high school. 

The project was so successful, in fact, that it was selected to go onto nationals that summer in California. 

But as much as FCCLA was about learning new skills, it also served as an outlet and a welcome distraction for Fiske. Two weeks before learning for the National Leadership Conference, Fiske’s younger brother died in a car accident. 

“I, of course, was numb and didn’t know what I was going to do,” Fiske said. “…Would I be able to go to another state on my first big trip without my parents? And so we talked about it and we decided it might be good for me.” 

Because FCCLA centered around group interaction and relationship building, the convention was exactly what Fiske said she needed, and she was able to enjoy the sunny skies of Los Angeles while also being able to heal. 

“I think I would have still dwelled on my brother’s passing,” Fiske said, if she hadn’t gone to California. “I truly needed to get, I needed to experience the world and I needed to see that there’s so much more than just the little town of Minden.” 

Fiske would later be inspired by watching the state officers conduct the State Leadership Conference, and by junior year, she was elected as one of the eight state officers for the 2021-2022 school year as the vice president of public relations. 

As Fiske reflected on her time in FCCLA and as a state officer, she realized the importance of being exposed to bigger cities. Having most of the 100 Nebraska chapters located in small towns, FCCLA presents a unique opportunity for those students to experience the wonders of the Haymarket and Pinnacle Bank Arena in downtown Lincoln for three days. 

“I think a big aspect of FCCLA is definitely career and post secondary education readiness,” Fiske said. “I think being able to navigate different businesses or restaurants by yourself without a parent is very important and I think the Haymarket is a big area, but yet it’s still pretty small.” 

As the state conference wrapped up in its closing session on April 5, Fiske shed some tears. The closing session featured final goodbye videos from each of the eight state officers. 

Greene also was among those crying as she said goodbye to her second state officer crew. But while she’s sad to see them go, she’s confident that she and FCCLA helped set them on the right path as they enter the post-high school world. 

“We know all of our students don’t pursue careers within these four career pathways, but even as they enter careers in a different sector, I still wholeheartedly believe they’re taking skills and experiences with them that will benefit them no matter what job they choose to pursue,” she said. 

And for Fiske, it’s a time in her life that she’ll never forget. 

“Truly life changing,” she said. “I would not be the same person I am without being in FCCLA.”

My name is Geoff Exstrom and I am a senior at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. I pursuing a major in both Sports Media and Broadcast Production. Along with school, I am also a sports writer for the Lincoln Journal Star covering numerous high school and collegiate sporting events. I am also the Sports Director for 90.3 KRNU - UNL's student radio station. I've also had the great opportunity to create many podcasts throughout my media career including Athletes Unfiltered, the podcast hosted by myself as well as former Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez.