Colorado Students Step into Leadership through Career and Technical Organizations 

For Amogh Varinasi, the road to a future career has zigged and zagged.

“I was a sixth grader who wanted to build robots and catapults and be some sort of mastermind engineer,” the Mountain Vista High School student said. “Very quickly, I found out that wasn’t it.”

Through his school’s Technology Student Association (TSA), he shifted his focus to computer science, then fashion design, then legislative advocacy, where he learned how to pass motions using Robert’s Rules of Order. Nothing seemed to click.

“So then finally I decided, how about biotechnology?” he said. “I fell in love at first sight.”

Sharpening Technical and Leadership Skills

Varinasi is one of more than 30,000 students exploring their next steps through Career and Technical Student Organizations, or CTSOs. Representatives from the state’s eight groups presented to the State Board for Community Colleges and Occupational Education last week to share their experiences and advocate for continued support.

As the students explained, CTSOs provide opportunities to practice skills learned in Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs, which span industries from aviation and manufacturing to construction and hospitality.

“What makes Future Farmers of America unique is the work-based learning that we provide our members,” said Antone Sellers, a recent Callahan High School graduate who’s planning to become a commercial airline pilot. “My project is a stocker operation, where I purchase steers at 400 pounds and sell them when they’re 1200 pounds. I found a niche market and sold it directly to consumers.”

Ratna Unnikrisnan, the social media director for Colorado’s Distributive Education Clubs of America (DECA), helps run a student café at Air Academy High School where she develops and markets specialty drinks. The business has been so successful, they’re expanding to a second location, she said. 

“We are taking these skills that we learn in our classroom through DECA and applying it to a real-life business,” she said. “In fact, it’s inspired me so much, I plan to pursue a degree in marketing next year in the fall.”

Putting Skills to the Test

CTSOs aren’t just about practice, however. Students are also putting skills to the test through statewide competitions and conferences. 

As president of Colorado TSA, Varinasi helps organize more than 93 events in engineering, technology, and media arts. At the college level, for example, TSA students build formula cars judged by Colorado School of Mines (Mines) professors, he said.

“We had STEM Day at the Rockies recently, where we had students in TSA make their own little robot to throw the first pitch,” said Varinasi, who has been admitted to several colleges with plans to study neuroscience next year. “For younger kids, we had them drop an egg from a drone. We’re making sure that everybody in TSA has something for them.”

Sellers competed in an extemporaneous speaking event, where students have just 20 minutes to prepare a seven-to-ten-minute speech. Through (SC) 2, which teaches workforce readiness skills, Jakeem Cooper participated in a resume writing competition that brought together peers from across the state.

Besides amping up the fun, these competitions are key to engaging students in CTE, said Sydney Riggenbach, president of Colorado SkillsUSA and a Durango High School senior. 

“My teacher came up to me in my woodworking class and said, ‘I think you’d be really good at this cabinet-making competition.’ From there, I learned more about the leadership, the different attributes of it, and kept going.”

Preparing Students for College, Careers, and Beyond

Whether students are planning to go to college, move into the workforce, or both, CTE is a great way to get a head start on their goals, the leaders said.

About half had taken Concurrent Enrollment classes as part of their CTE program, saving valuable time and money as they start college. Brayden Clark, the District 3 state officer for Colorado’s Future Business Leaders of America chapter, has already earned more than 40 credits through Northeastern Junior College.

“It’s been really nice to knock out some of those harder programming classes and Calc 1 before I go to Mines,” he said.

For Jatin Potnuri, becoming president of Colorado HOSA – Future Health Professionals gave him the confidence to study medicine.


“Every single memory that I made through HOSA helped encourage me to pursue a specific career in the medical field.” – Jatin Potnuri, President of Colorado HOSA

“Every single memory that I made through HOSA helped encourage me to pursue a specific career in the medical field,” said Potnuri, a senior at Mountain Vista High School. “I personally want to become a surgeon, and that’s exactly what HOSA has helped me to move into.”

Beyond working in Colorado’s critical industries, CTSO students are also giving back to their communities and inspiring others to become engaged citizens, Potnuri added.

“As a collective whole, we do contribute a lot to society. We give the best of what we can do, and we promote our students to step up and lead.”

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