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Goldendale participates in successful online TSA conference


The Washington Technology Student Association (TSA) State Conference was scheduled to begin on March 18, 2020, in Seatac, Washington, for 1,200 students and advisors from around the state. TSA is the Career and Technical Student Organization for students interested in STEM careers, and students had been working for the past six months to qualify and get ready for the state conference.

As the COVID-19 concerns started to grow and schools restricted travel, the Washington TSA Board held a conference call on March 8 and made the decision to take the entire conference remote. This wasn’t an easy decision, as TSA hosts 70 competitive events over the course of the three-day conference, many with physical models and structures.

“We didn’t know if we could pull it off,” said executive director Jennifer Smith. “We know how much time students put into their events, and how important TSA is to them, and we didn’t want to just cancel it, but taking it remote seemed like an overwhelming task.”

The conference usually pulls in about 200 judges from industry, including architects, engineers, fashion designers, librarians and others who have the expertise to judge the events, which include Architectural Design, Flight, Robotics, Fashion Design, Structural Engineering and more.

“About 75 percent of our judges said they were still willing to judge, if they could do it remotely,” said Smith. “That gave us the confidence to think that we could make it work.”

Smith contacted TRI Leadership, the group who was going to manage the live sessions at the state conference. TRI shipped equipment to Goldendale and sent two of their Washington-based contractors to run the live shows.

Instead of bringing models and projects to state, students made video presentations of them, and uploaded those. They mailed CO2 dragsters to Goldendale, and mailed bridge models to Everett, where a TSA advisor had testing equipment. For speech, debate and interview events, Smith set up videoconferencing sessions between students and judges. Tests that were supposed to be proctored were set up as timed Kahoot challenges instead, so students could compete online.

The group set up equipment, along with the backdrop and podium, in the empty Klickitat PUD meeting room. They set up the 20 meter-long dragster track in the old Grange building.

“We livestreamed the Opening Session on Thursday morning, the Business Session on Friday morning, and the Awards Session on Saturday morning,” said Smith. “During the first two sessions, we gave details of the competitive events for that day, and posted everything to our website as well. Then we spent all day opening and closing events, posting information, answering student and advisor emails, and generally managing just as we would have at the state conference. We videoed the dragster testing, and posted it so people could watch, and did the same with structural testing.”

During a normal conference, Smith would have had her Board members, advisors, and state officer team students to help manage the event. This time, she had her three daughters, Thea, Jade, and Nadia, and husband Jim, and the two TRI Leadership contractors. Senior Cameron Mains joined them to help test dragsters.

Jade and Thea, a senior and freshman, are both TSA State Officers. In addition to helping run the conference, they had to pre-record several sessions, including Thea’s officer candidate speech, as she was running for office again this year. Other state officers from around the state pre-recorded sessions as well, and all officer candidates pre-recorded their speeches too.

“Overall, it was an amazing success. We had more than 500 people watching the session on Thursday morning, and received thousands of event entries,” said Smith. “Since we were running it with only a handful of people, we didn’t get much sleep for those three days, but the students still got to participate, and it was a fun event in the middle of all the craziness and school closures.”

In addition to helping run the remote conference, the students were competing in their own events. Thea took 1st in Prepared Presentation and Career Prep, and placed 5th in Extemp Speech. Jade placed 3rd in Prepared, and Mains placed 4th in CAD Engineering. The group also placed 6th in On Demand Video. Jade also received the Ross Short Distinguished Service Award, a statewide TSA award.

—Jennifer Smith


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