The Benefits of Belonging to an NSO

This article was updated in August 2023 to reflect the latest statistics.

Did you know that 19% of Johnson & Wales students participated in a National Student Organization (NSO) as high schoolers — and chose to continue participating in their organization while at JWU?

Better yet, did you know that any incoming JWU student who checks off on their admissions application that they were a member of DECA, SkillsUSA, Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA), National FFA, HOSA — Future Health Professionals, Business Professionals of America (BPA), Technology Student Association (TSA), Junior Achievement or Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA) in high school is eligible for an NSO scholarship?

And that 95% of JWU NSO students have been awarded NSO scholarship funds, which could range up to full tuition?

But there’s so much more to belonging to an NSO than getting help paying for college (although that is a great perk!).

JWU students Asraf Soltani and Mackenzie Weber are among a large group of students posing for a photo at Mercedes Benz stadium in Atlanta, Georgia


We spoke to several students involved in NSOs while at JWU, as well as staff members helping to advise them, for a bigger picture of what belonging to a National Student Organization means. We’ve rounded up five of the best benefits NSOs can offer — and also some NSO student leaders’ advice for making the most of your college and NSO experiences.

5 Benefits of Belonging to an NSO

1. NSOs Hone Your Leadership Skills

"My favorite thing about belonging to NSO is having the ability to guide students into being leaders in their organization," says Victoria Cuttone ’23, a double major in Finance and Sports, Entertainment and Event Management (SEEM). After being recruited by NSO colleague Evan Pedneault in May and then taking on the role of president, she has found value through belonging to an NSO at JWU and in connecting with other students eager to continue their past membership in an NSO or start a new journey.

"I think my experience at NSO has taught me how to manage different projects and organizations at the same time. I will use this throughout my career and life after JWU. It has taught me how to shift my thinking from organization to organization because each club has different needs and desires."

As a JWU DECA chapter student leader, she also learned some valuable management skills that some people don’t develop until later in life. "My NSO experience has taught me to offer support when necessary and that it is OK to let the leaders of these organizations figure things out on their own sometimes. As much as I want to help and offer guidance, some things need to be a learning experience to help them grow as individuals and leaders within their time at JWU and their organization."

2. NSOs Provide Competitive Opportunities

"Being a part of a National Student Organization like DECA continues to bring me joy in a program I truly care deeply about" - Mackenzie Weber '24

As a new student leader in JWU Colleagiate DECA, SEEM major Mackenzie Weber ’24 is recruiting new members and is excited for the journeys she and her DECA colleagues are embarking on, including participating in the 2022 Engage Conference in Atlanta, Georgia. "We are all excited to see what this amazing program brings us," she states.

JWU students celebrate after winning the 2019 DECA Northeast Regional Conference


Competitions are Weber’s favorite thing about DECA, and she’s looking forward to more competitive opportunities during her college years. "Being a part of a National Student Organization like DECA continues to bring me joy in a program I truly care deeply about," she says.

3. You Get to Support Young Leaders

"I always enjoy helping foster young leaders and supporting them as they grow" - Evan Pedneault '23

In his current JWU NSO leadership position, Evan Pedneault ’23, a Hotel & Resort Management major, says he has a responsibility to be a soundboard for individuals who need it and to help troubleshoot issues. "I know how things work at JWU – whom to ask, what to fill out, requirements for things, etc. This stuff is oftentimes not easily known to new students or young leaders. My role is a supportive and diplomatic one."

For Pedneault, the best payoff of his NSO activity is in helping to build future leaders among his colleagues. "I always enjoy helping foster young leaders and supporting them as they grow," he says. "I enjoy being an NSO leader because I am able to apply the knowledge and experience I have gained over my 7+ years as a leader in the guidance and supporting role of NSO vice president."

4. You’re More Prepared for a Career

"NSO puts you ahead of lots of people, teaching you life skills that you need" - Garett Koch '23

Garett Koch ’23, a double major in Accounting and Finance, credits Associate Professor of Business Jean Holt for connecting him with an internship and with JWU alumni who helped him land his dream job at Goldman Sachs; he’ll be heading to Dallas, Texas after he graduates to become a "finance guy" in wealth management. But his NSO experience taught him the skills he needed to do well in his interview for the position, because his high school advisor for FBLA had "hammered" him with mock interview questions to prepare him to be a leader and debater, which he carried into his JWU NSO experience.

"NSO puts you ahead of lots of people, teaching you life skills that you need," says Koch. "Because of that, I could talk about so much in these interviews! My mentors, the teams I’ve been part of, the lessons I’ve learned in JWU classes and especially my NSO experience have all prepared me for life."

5. JWU Is Here For You

Although student leaders drive the NSOs, faculty and staff help guide and support. On JWU’s Providence Campus, Director of Educational Partnerships Thomas Gauthier and Associate Director of Student Engagement Sandy Cardoza work closely with JWU’s NSO members, from helping students run the organizations to encouraging them to run for leadership positions to budgeting money towards events and recruitment flyers. Gauthier and Cardoza work with organizations at the national level to make sure that JWU’s NSOs are doing everything they need to do to have a successful chapter and to ensure that any JWU students running for national office include the most pressing issues in their election campaigns.

In addition to awarding scholarships to many of the students who apply to JWU and indicate on their applications that they are members of an NSO, JWU helps NSO members travel to competitions and cluster meetings and by hosting NSO conferences and events. (Note: DECA, FBLA, FCCLA and SkillsUSA members seeking full scholarships must complete their JWU applications by January 1.)

If a student didn’t participate in an NSO in high school but wants to join one in college, Gauthier and Cardoza also help those students navigate through belonging to a chapter and building leadership and communication skills.

Opportunities to Broaden Your Horizons

Belonging to an NSO gets you off campus and into new environments and meeting new people. Weber shared how eight JWU Providence students and advisor Bryan Mullin, assistant director of experiential education at JWU Providence, traveled to Atlanta, Georgia in November 2022 to participate in the Collegiate DECA Engage Conference.

JWU NSO students pause for a photo while dining in a restaurant on a trip to Georgia


"As conference attendees, we were able to participate in activities that will in the future build the foundations of our careers, and we received guided training on competing at the Collegiate DECA level," Weber reported. "JWU competitors Rebecca Benowitz and Mackenzie Weber placed Top 20 in a given role-play situation, while all students were able to network with college students and advisors through the conference’s social experiences and shared meals, as well as interactive sessions and workshops."

Weber also shared that JWU Collegiate DECA students participated in educational tours specifc to their majors, from experiencing signature features of the Mercedes Benz Stadium, home of the Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United, to touring foodie and wine lover’s paradise EpicUrean Atlanta - Autograph Collection Hotels, to encountering the immersive cinematic experience of the Illuminarium. They ended their trip – but not the connections they’d forged – by exploring the world’s largest aquarium and the Olympic Centennial Park together.

JWU DECA chapter students pose for a photo at the colorful Illuminarium in Atlanta, Georgia


"I think my experience at NSO has taught me how to manage different projects and organizations at the same time. I will use this throughout my career and life after JWU." - Victoria Cuttone '23

Also this fall, a group from JWU’s University Involvement Board traveled to Hartford, Connecticut for NACA’s annual conference. NACA is the premiere national organization for college programming. Associate Director of Student Engagement Sandy Cardoza shared, "Our students returned to campus with plenty of contacts and inspiration for upcoming campus programming!"

And when JWU’s Club Managers Association of America (CMAA) chapter participated in the 2022 CMAA World Conference in Chicago, Illinois, NSOs were on hand. The group of seven female JWU student leaders interacted with student NSO alumni, networked with current students around the country and returned with new insights into the private club industry.

How NSO Students Are Supported by JWU

When Koch first came to JWU, he saw that Tom Gauthier had all the energy needed to put on an NSO conference. "He’s always there to help the students, which I really love to see, and Sandy Cardoza is so energetic and ready to go," Koch shares. "Both want to see students succeed, and you can really feel that. JWU’s NSOs focus on being student-run, but they provide the mentorship you need to align your feet in the right direction to be successful.

"NSO faculty advisors are really special, too," Koch continues. "They focus on the student, not themselves which you can oftentimes see happen. Students have real leadership positions and a real say in the organization. Faculty are behind you to help or defend or educate you but never tell you what to do. Their giddiness is what I loved."

group photo of JWU DECA students at a conference in 2020


Cuttone shares of Gauthier and Cardoza, "They have so much knowledge and offer information and guidance with anything these organizations would like to participate in or know about. They have helped shape what these organizations will look like during my presidency.

"Tom and Sandy continue to support the students and encourage them to be the best they can in and out of these organizations. They offer immense guidance and have such a devotion to the students. They want to see them succeed and offer the tools to do so."

Pedneault agrees. "Tom has been very supportive and helpful from the start," he says. "He is understanding about students being busy and having other commitments while serving on NSO, and he is very enthusiastic about getting students involved and supporting them in whatever they want to do, traveling included. Tom’s support is very helpful and necessary to the success of NSO, DECA, and each individual student and leader."

NSO Experience Lives on: Student Legacies

Pedneault credits former NSO president Colin DeVico ’22 for serving as a mentor to him at JWU. DeVico, now a Tourism & Hospitality Management alumnus, had been a high school leader and advocate for his local chapter of FCCLA and carried on that work as a DECA student leader at JWU, ultimately becoming National Student Organizations president for the Providence Campus in his last two years at JWU.

"I always appreciated and respected Colin for his support and work while I was moving up, and I am honored and happy to be able to give it back and pass it on," Pedneault shares.

Gauthier’s proudest moments in his work with JWU NSO students have resulted from seeing the legacies that Wildcats have created, whether serving as university commencement speakers or taking on leadership roles to become national presidents of student organizations.

He has never forgotten the thrill of supporting Daylan Torres '20, who represented JWU at WorldSkills 2019 in Kazan, Russia, or Morgan Thompson '17, who led the JWU ADTEAM to a first-place win at the 2017 National Student Advertising Competition in New Orleans, Louisiana. Gauthier recalls when Oscar Chilabato, associate professor in the Johnson & Wales University College of Business, was asked JWU’s secret for beating out so many larger and well-recognized universities at the competition. "That’s easy: DECA," he says Chilabato replied.

Daylan Torres and Chef Harvey at the 2018 SkillsUSA Qualifiers


"I have students going back 20 years that I’m still connected with, and it’s such a good feeling to see these students really, really doing well," says Gauthier. "And seeing where they were while at JWU, it doesn’t surprise me."

How Faculty and Staff Get Involved in NSOs, Too

Gauthier notes that NSOs provide an opportunity for all departments to participate in student organizations as advisors, trainers and coaches, helping students practice for competitions around the country in a variety of disciplines. "When you see these students flourish under your guidance, you think, 'I’m doing something really worth my while,'" he shares.

In that spirit, JWU’s Charlotte Campus recently supported DECA’s high school-level district competition in Fall 2022 to help younger students find their path inside a student organization. Nine faculty and staff members participated, from judging events to hosting a JWU admissions booth. James Woods, assistant professor college chair in the College of Business, says it was an honor.

"JWU and DECA share a common goal, to help students achieve their career goals and become leaders in their respective industries. By serving as judges and attending this competition, we want these high school students to know that we support them in their pursuits," Woods stated. "We are also working diligently to revitalize DECA on the Charlotte Campus."

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